Have you ever watched a play with your eyes closed? Falling asleep doesn’t count. For some audiophiles, the sounds, voices, and music of theater are the very best part. This Halloween season, the immersive audio producers Knock at the Gate invite us to “gather our headphones and dim the lights” for an all-audio experience of Shakespeare’s chilling tragedy “Macbeth“. With award-winning voice actors and thrilling sound design, listeners will experience total immersion into “Macbeth’s” haunting tale of betrayal, madness, and political catastrophe. Knock at the Gate produced “Macbeth” in collaboration with Multiband Studios and will broadcast the experience Nov. 4-7 and 11-14. Knock at the Gate producer, and co-founder Sean Hudock joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom, along with Theater Emory artistic director and actor January LaVoy, who plays Lady Macbeth in the production.
Shakespeare on headphones in a dark room:
“I have to tell you,” said LaVoy, “My expectations were not super high because we had all been doing, you know, Zoom theater and trying to figure out how we could still do theater. And as many people know, a lot of it wasn’t terribly satisfying. And so when they sent me these sound files, I thought, ‘Well, I’ll give it a listen….’ Within forty-five seconds, I knew that I was listening to something that I had not heard before. I was totally engaged.”
“A lot of folks have described the experience as just, ‘feeling like you’re there,’” LaVoy continued. “One character was talking in one ear, the other character was talking in my other ear, and I truly had the experience of feeling like I was in the scene with them and sort of powerless to do anything about it. So when we say the word ‘immersive,’ I think that really is the word we want to hang on to when we talk about what people should expect to experience. It is a truly immersive experience.”
LaVoy on voice acting for audiobooks and theater:
“My career as an audiobook narrator and a voice actor has made me a better theater actor. The specificity of the way that you have to lock into storytelling when you’re working in long-form audio, I think, is really instructive to the stage actor. Because there’s a level on which you have to drill down into the language because the language is all you have.”
“I always tell people that audiobook narration is one of the most athletic endeavors I’ve ever experienced as an actor, which really sounds kind of bonkers, I guess. But the fact of the matter is, the breath that you have to engage to sit in a chair for seven hours a day and read a book in a way that feels alive and engaged, and inhabit all the characters – I feel stronger. I feel that I have more stamina… There is this real athletic ‘bellows’ effect of the lungs and the diaphragm, and the engagement of the body that can be a little exhausting. But again, channeling all of that energy into the words and the voice is exciting.”
“I’ve waited my whole life to play this role…. I’ve loved this role since I was a teenager. And so the voice just was ready. She just came out of me.”
On the intimate audio and sound design of Knock at the Gate’s ‘Macbeth’:
“The important thing that we always try to keep in mind is that the language is the most important thing. So whatever soundscape is created has to support, in some way, the language. It always helps to source from an organic place; to source from actual wind sounds, to source from actual footsteps, to source from wind and rain, all of those effects,” said Hudock. “The sound designer, of course, is responsible for putting all of those elements together. The soundscape ends up becoming a little bit of an orchestral piece, in a way…. It’s all very carefully choreographed.”
“It didn’t dawn on me, truly, the power of [Shakespeare]’s language until I sat in the dark the first time that we had done a project, and I think it was the witches’ scene in Macbeth. I literally felt like someone was breathing on my neck. It was just that, you know, goosebumps,” said Hudock. “Being on the producer side of things is just as exciting, to watch these pieces develop and to watch this language turn into something that you don’t even have to really try. It’s just automatically activated in your imagination.”
“It’s kind of weird, but when we’re doing these recordings… I’m listening to everything in the dark, which I know sounds a little creepy, but I know that there is scientific research that I’ve been looking into that has been studying the effects of darkness on sound and how we interpret sound,” Hudock said. “Your hearing is actually piqued in darkness, so that’s why we ask people to listen in the dark to these projects… so that their ears can be even more activated and tuned to the language that Shakespeare’s given us.”
More on Knock at the Gate’s immersive audio theater experiences, and registration for their broadcast of “Macbeth” with Theater Emory, can be found at www.knockatthegate.com.