Entering Professional Theatre
Chapter 2 Techniques and Etiquette
By John Bent Jr. (MSW)
Basic Sound Walking
Now that we have covered the history behind the noble profession of sound walking, we will investigate the complex procedures involved in this age old activity.
When Jack Apogee first simulated an actor in front of a speaker, it was discovered that perception was in the ear of the beholder. The actor might be tall, or fat, or dancing. So Jack was told to take different positions on the stage. “Back up Jack, now move to your right, now to your left, stand on one leg”, and so forth.
Jack Apogee Walking Sound
Soon a pattern emerged, and the first basic steps of the sound walking industry were born. Various techniques were developed for different situations, but Jack Apogee’s step was the standard on which all others were built.
Jimmy “The Cowboy” Hong’s variation on the standard also made an impact on the industry and is very useful in farce and musicals about the old west.
Sometimes walking just isn’t enough and alternative methods are needed. Maybe the actor only has one leg? The following step is recommended in that situation.
In some extreme cases (such as the 1982 musical “Kong, The Big Dancing Monkey”), radical methods are needed, but beware, some steps should only be employed by very experienced walkers.
A Day in the life of a Sound Walker
Let us now follow a typical day of work as a sound walker. Our day starts as we wake up to our radio alarm clock playing the dulcet power chords of Pantera at 6:00 A.M.
A quick shower, a cup of coffee, and a bowl of chocolate covered smack ‘ems later and we’re out the door of our 423 square foot trailer.
A typical Sound Walker Domicile
Upon arriving at the theatre, and after commiserating with the other walkers about how bad the weather, local sports team, and the current production are, the sound walker changes into the appropriate clothing.
The choice of clothing for sound walking is extremely important. Sound wave absorption is effected by the attire that is chosen for the walker. A basic cotton t-shirt and jeans does not resemble the absorption rates of the walker’s surroundings and is therefor inappropriate. Typical sound walker clothing consists of a velveteen suit much like the stage draperies, and sometimes, a helmet.
Examples of inappropriate and appropriate sound walking attire
While the Sound Walkers are getting dressed, the power up sequence can begin for the theatre. Modern audio components are very sophisticated pieces of equipment consisting of many thing-a-ma-jigs and doodads. Only qualified technicians with degrees in nuclear science and molecular physics should operate such machinery. These handsome, virile, god-like technicians are the most important part of the theatrical experience.
Audio Technician starts up the whatchamacallit with it’s many doo-dads.
Once all of these preparations are complete, the task of walking sound can begin. Starting on center stage, the sound walker starts by putting his right foot in, then his right foot out, then his right foot in, the he shakes it all about. Various audio tracks are played over top of this while the Sound designer and director set sound levels.
Many Sound Walking sessions are mistaken for the set of the major motion picture TRON.
Once the initial hokey pokey is complete, the designer or director will tell the walker to move to a different spot on the stage. This can be problematic if the walker does not know the lingo. Use the following to decipher the instructions of the designer:
“Move Downstage Left” – an instruction indicating the designers wish for the walker to skip to the edge of the stage on the left (your left) side.
“Go Up Center” – an instruction to summersault to the wall at the back of the theatre on the center line.
“Going dark” – The stage will have all the light sucked out of it (it will look a lot like it does when you close your eyes). It is customary to yell obscenities at the top of your lungs when the stage is in this state.
“Hey Shit For Brains…” – Ignore this, he’s talking to the Light Walker.
Shit For Brains
There are also various techniques for deciphering the designers directions. A sound walker might write a large L on his left foot, and a large R on his right, so he will know where to go. It must be noted that this will only work if the correct shoe is on the correct foot.
Some stages in the modern era of theatre, have the stage directions written right on the floor for the convenience of the sound walker.
Example of a theatre that has the directions marked out on the stage.
This formula continues for the rest of the session until all the audio requirements are satisfied. At the end of the session, the sound walker is paid with a can of ham and some shiny beads.
The next chapter shall deal with advanced fundamentals of sound walking, evolutions in the technology surrounding sound walking, and where to spend those shiny beads.
PDF Download: SoundwalkingChapter2