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One of Lee’s speaker plot plans for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park’s production of ‘Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical.’

One of Lee’s speaker plot plans for the Playhouse in the Park production of ‘Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical.’

Assistant Professor of Sound Design Wows Local Critics

Assistant Professor of Sound Design Jeremy J. Lee has gained attention both locally and nationally, thanks to his expertise as a world-class sound designer. In early 2014, he wowed CCM audiences with his work on the Mainstage Series production of Les Misérables. Later in the year, local theatre critics applauded his work on Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park's production of Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical. This January, Lee is featured in an article on sound design in the age of digital audio networking in Stage Directions magazine.

According to Lee, a sound designer is responsible for everything the audience hears during a live theatrical performance that doesn't come directly from an actor's mouth. A sound designer's job involves everything from amplifying an actor’s voice to creating live sound effects to writing music for underscores or transitional moments. It encompasses sound system design, with an ear for acoustics, human perception and the physics of sound, as well as an intense musicality and desire to help tell the playwright’s story.

Lee says, “Everything we do as sound designers from the placement of a speaker to the writing of the music must help in telling the story.”

His recent work on CCM’s acclaimed production of Les Misérables demonstrates how sound design helps connect the audience with the actors on stage. In Les Misérables, Lee says, “The words are king. Once you’ve heard the first 30 minutes or so of the show, you’ve more or less heard all of the musical motifs. But the characters live on the stage for another three hours!” Lee’s goal was to ensure that the orchestra sounded warm and full and that every single single seat in the house heard every single word. He also explains that he wanted to trick audience members' ears into thinking that all of the sound was coming from the actors, not the 32 wireless microphones on stage.

To achieve this goal, Lee taught himself an acoustical prediction program, put the virtual speakers into a virtual model of CCM's Patricia Corbett Theater and adjusted the positions of the speakers on the computer until every seat was being delivered the same sound across all frequencies. This was no easy task, but with the help of technology, his students and the rest of the creative team, it became a reality.

Lee feels that one of the most important aspects of being a sound designer is learning to trust your team. “In the professional theatre, the designers are there until opening night, but it’s up to the running crew to ensure that the design is maintained properly. You want every audience member to have at least as good of a show as when you last saw it.”

CCM’s Sound Design curriculum is student-driven and takes a conservatory approach, where much of the learning occurs in the theater, sound shop and studio. Students design, install, troubleshoot and operate sound systems for drama, musical theatre, opera and dance productions.

"Something that makes CCM unique is that there are no permanent sound systems in our venues. So whether we’re producing Les Mis or a chamber opera, everything must be installed on a per show basis. This might sound like a lot of unnecessary work, but it provides the students with the real-world experience that they need to excel in the profession. When you work on a show in New York City, whether Broadway or Off-Broadway, the theaters do not come with sound systems. Everything from the mixing console to the backstage paging system must be specified and installed each time. Our production paradigm gives the students experience in designing, installing, troubleshooting and operating sound systems for every show," Lee explains.

This unique approach gives graduates of CCM's Sound Design program a distinct advantage in the job market. Lee cites graduates Robin Clenard (BFA, 2014) and Gaven Wedemeyer (BFA, 2013) as two of his program's recent success stories. Clendard took a full year internship at Baltimore Center Stage after completing his studies, while Wedemeyer received a job on the national tours for Ghost and Sister Act.

In addition to his work at CCM, Lee recently designed a new Off-Broadway musical called Tamar of the River, which was directed by Danny Goldstein, who directed Godspell on Broadway a few years ago. Spiderman: Turn off the Dark choreographer Chase Brock and Shane Shanahan from Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble also worked on the piece.

Lee has also designed three shows at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park since moving to Cincinnati from New York. Joan The Girl of Arc, directed by Associate Artist KJ Sanchez; Roses & Thorns, directed by Mark Lutwak; and Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical, directed by Artistic Director Blake Robison. Tenderly was extended twice due to its popularity.

In his review of Tenderly for Behind the Curtain Cincinnati, Rob Bucher observed, "On the technical side, the excellent work by Set Designer Bill Clarke, Costume Designer Bill Black, Lighting Designer Phil Monat and Sound Designer Jeremy J. Lee, bring the whole show together."

From left to right: Jeremy Lee with 'Tenderly' cast members Michael Marotta and Susan Haefner and director and Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison.

From left to right: Jeremy Lee with 'Tenderly' cast members Michael Marotta and Susan Haefner and director and Playhouse Artistic Director Blake Robison.

Last summer, Lee designed Martin Blank’s Off-Broadway premiere of Law Of Return. Locally, he also designed Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s Hands On A Hardbody with Artistic Director D. Lynn Meyers directing. He turned his work on Hands On A Hardbody into an opportunity for his graduate students, as well, bringing them in to help put together and install the sound system. Lee hopes to continue engaging his students in his professional work as much as possible.

One of Lee’s most amazing experiences was working with the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and London’s Old Vic on the world tour of the Bridge Project. With Academy Award and Golden Globe-winner Sam Mendes directing, they produced As You Like It and The Tempest at BAM in New York City, then toured with the production to Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris, Madrid, Germany and Amsterdam. Lee says, “It really reinforced the idea that we don’t do theatre in a vacuum. We create it every night in a dark room with hundreds of collaborators, and it’s our job to connect to that audience every time.”

Even though moving his family from New York to Cincinnati has been tough, Lee is absolutely amazed at the civic pride in Cincinnati’s arts organizations.

"What other city of less than 500,000 people can boast the richness of the arts that this city has to offer? And that Cincinatti has one of the few, if not the only, Public K-12 Performing Arts schools in the country [the Cincinnati School for Creative and Performing Arts] was one of the reasons that this was an attractive move for me and my family," Lee says.

Lee is equally thrilled with the collaborative spirit he has found at CCM. “In the hall outside of my office, I can have fantastic conversations with not only faculty and students from CCM's Division of Theatre Arts, Production and Arts Administration, but with jazz professors and students and the in-house piano technicians, who are AMAZING," he says. "Sometimes I like to simply wander the halls on the 1000 level of the Corbett Center and soak in the cacophony of amazing sounds that are happening 24 hours a day.”

Learn more about CCM's Sound Design program by visiting ccm.uc.edu/theatre/tdp/sound.

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