a story about getting it right

The dreaded book dance cue. 5 years. 5 long years.
It’s not often that we get the chance as designers to re-work our creations over a long period of time. We are usually constrained by timelines, the influence of the visioneer, etc… I was fortunate to have that rare opportunity to work on a show that was remounted three times over the course of a five year period. Like any design, time doesn’t always allow for us to be perfectly satisifed with all the compositions that contribute to the overall design of the show. In the production of Studies in Motion that I was working with there was this one cue that I just wasn’t happy with. The feeling with the director was mutual. On the first production I created no less than twelve iterations of this one damn cue that I just couldn’t get right. We finally settled on one composition and because we were satisfied overall with the sound design of the show, one 60 second cue from over 120 sound cues was going to be…ok.
But ‘ok’ is like a dissatisfying bottle of wine that you spent more than usual on. I’m not saying that it plagued me for years, but when I had another oportunity with the next remount a few years after, I swore I would get it right. But after another dozen versions the director and I shook our heads with a “no that’s not quite the right fit” either. I tried different tracks. I tried silence. I tried sfx. I even tried live voices or just going with the sound of books dropping from the grid, which, was part of the cue. But to no avail. So we settled with that same ‘ok’ one that we settled with before because it ‘worked’. The world wouldn’t end if I didn’t get the cue right. After all, it was only a dozen or so shows.
Then, like a bitter sweet moment from some film that I played over in my mind again and again, a few years passed, then I got the call. Great news. The show would be remounted. Once again I had the opportunity to re-work parts of the design. On the top of the list of course was that cue—what was to me one last opportunity to get that damn dreaded book dance cue right. And so after five years and over two dozen iterations, after taking the opposite approach that I had been until then, I sat down with a video of the cue and plowed through possibility after possibility. I don’t even remember the number of iterations….let’s just say, too many. I brought in at least a dozen possibilities to try. There was this one track that I just wasn’t sure about mixed in with all kinds of rain and thunder sfx, but I brought it to the Vancouver Playhouse anyway. Then, after trying all of the tracks with the actors (who I appreciate greatly) without success, I played that track I wasn’t sure about, and for some strange and fascinating reason it just worked. I remember that moment—the director looked at me and I at her and our jaws dropped in perfect synchronicity….or at least it felt like that. The reality was more likely an appreciative nod and let’s run through the next set of cues. But I left feeling a rare moment of satisfaction and appreciation that designers feel in the rush of creating work on such short deadlines for shows that most of the time never see the light again. That persistence to work until getting it right, to work iteratively until it’s right for the show, to not be too precious about what you compose when it’s not going to live independently of the visual scene that inspired it, all resonated with me that night. While you may not get the same satisfaction that I felt, I documented the final result of the book dance cue here: