Adapting to streaming – sound and set design

Tom Lane and Katie Davenport on designing ‘The Visiting Hour’ at The Gate Theatre, Dublin.
“Ballet stage lighting” by zaimoku_woodpile

The first streamed production by the Gate Theatre, ‘The Visiting Hour’, takes place at the end of April and will also be the first in the new Gate Creative Studio.

This newly created “socially distanced creative studio space” is the Gate’s response to the Covid-19 restrictions. The Gate have adapted their stage and auditorium by removing all seating and levelling out the stage to create one open floor plan space.

According to the Gate, this studio will “inspire artists to work together when guidelines allow, to stream and record, and eventually for audiences to access their work in person.”

This is not the first time the Gate have done a production in the open floor plan style – their extremely successful productions of The Great Gatsby saw the removal of seats and the audience members walking amongst the cast. The lack of a live audience however presents new challenges.

Tom Lane is the Gate’s associate artist for 2021 and is also working on the sound and composition for ‘The Visiting Hour’.

Lane, who is a composer, sound designer, and performer, explains how working on a streamed production is different to traditional theatre.

“Normally when you’re doing a play you spend a lot of time trying to make it sound right in the space and from all the different places where the audience are sitting,” said Lane. “Now it’s all completely different because there is no one sitting in certain places, it’s just got to sound right through the microphones and sound good for the people at home.”

As the Gate’s associate artist, Lane hopes to bring sound to the forefront and “focus on sound and listening in the context of theatre.” Something which he believes can often be considered as secondary in theatre. 

“In the last year I think listening and sound have become quite important because in some ways it’s easier to produce sound work than it is to produce kind of good video work from home,” he said.

He notes how even when theatres remained closed off, radio plays and other projects that rely on sound provided some of that creative outlet. “I think it’s kind of a recognition in the way that sound has played an important part in the kind of experience of theatre in the last 12 months,” said Lane.

Katie Davenport is the set and lighting designer for ‘The Visiting Hour’. She also noted how the open floor plan will affect how they manage the sound. “We’re not using the space in the stage area, which is kind of geared towards sound but we’re kind of maybe moving stuff out a little bit more into the open space,” she said.

Davenport compared her work on this production to “designing in the round.” However, she believed that the creative studio space can also add to the production, in particular for ‘The Visiting Hour’ which depicts a father (Stephen Rea) and a daughter (Judith Roddy) at a nursing home visit during Covid-19.

“The architecture of the space becomes more present,” she explained. “Elements of the room like the Georgian motifs and the chandeliers, because you’re kind of in the middle of the space, they become a lot more present.”

She plans to keep the set design minimal as she feels the open space of the room will add to the message of the ‘The Visiting Hour’. “You’re in a clearing of audience and there’s sort of the absence of people, so I think there’s something in that in terms of the show,” said Davenport.

“There’s a lot of imagery that I would lose if I put an awful lot in there…The metaphor is already very clear,” she said.

‘The Visiting Hour’ by Frank McGuinness and directed by Catríona McLaughlin will be streamed from the Gate Creative Studio on April 22nd, 23rd and 24th.

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