Sharath Patel works his sound design magic for ACT Theatre’s ‘The Crucible’

Roxanne Ray October 20, 2017 0

The Crucible runs through November 12 at ACT Theatre. • Photo by Chris Bennion

The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s well-known play about the Salem witch trials, comes to ACT Theatre this month, and sound designer Sharath Patel will be delighting the ears of the show’s audiences. “Many people think sound design is just picking music and plugging-in speakers,” Patel said. “Sound design is much more than that.”

As a professional member of the Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association, Patel seeks to illuminate the world of sound design. “A sound designer is responsible for every aural aspect of a production,” he said.  “This means that they are in charge of the creation of sound effects, sound-scapes, music, ambient environments, frequency dampening, creating a sound delivery system, drafting schematic paperwork, creating sound cue sheets, drafting speaker plots, collaborating with the design team, and communicating with the production staff.”

These tasks involve a balance of artistry and science. “Whether it is determining the polar patterns of line-array speakers, calibrating a delay zone, or making a directional cardioid subwoofer position, physics plays a role,” Patel said. “Sometimes the budget doesn’t allow for all the sound equipment we desire so we have to make mountains out of molehills. I try to make my creative magic with the tools I have and sometimes that forces me to get extremely resourceful. Without my background in physics I would not be nearly as inventive.”

Sharath Patel. • Owen Carey (c) 2014

Patel reports that he has been at work on The Crucible for several months. “I have already had several meetings with the design team and even worked out things like sound dampening additions to the set on the physical stage,” he said.  “Thus far we have already begun choreographing dance sequences, started working on live singing, and executed recording sessions.”

He is looking forward to spending further time in Seattle during technical rehearsals, previews, and opening night. “I really love the people in the Seattle theatrical community,” he said. “They have made me feel so supported as a collaborating artist and welcomed me as a community member.”

He has had to balance this work with his concurrent duties as an Arts Envoy of the U.S. Department of State.  “In August of this year, I had the pleasure of co-leading the Sound and Light Training Program in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang Vietnam,” he said. “I was honored to act as a representative of the American Public and an ambassador for the American Theatrical Arts.”

This assignment kept Patel on his toes.  “While I was teaching everything from the fundamentals of sound to the recording arts, my colleagues did similar things in their respective fields,” he said. “Things got tricky for me while teaching since the participants had skill levels ranging from novice to expert. I restructured and remade my lesson plans every single day based on the participants needs.  The quality of their education and comporting myself as a proper ambassador were my top responsibilities. ”

But all of these positive opportunities almost didn’t happen, because in 2009, Patel was the victim of a hate crime. “The hate crime was one of the most horrific experiences of my entire life,” he remembered. “While designing a show in Southern Virginia, I was attacked while walking to my car around 9:30 p.m.”

Patel said that the attack was relentless and brutal. “A group of young men struck me in the back of the head with a weapon and proceeded to beat me for about 18 minutes,” he said. “I lost consciousness three times but forced myself to get up off the pavement and fight back.”

Although he fought back, Patel sustained significant damage.  “As a result of the trauma, I was given four to six months to live,” he said, “and it almost broke me.”

Patel’s journey back to normality has been lengthy.  “It has been eight years and two surgeries later, and I am still alive,” he said.  “The hate crime forced me take a step back and gave me some perspective on my life.”

This new perspective affected him in both personal and professional ways. “It led to meeting my wife, bringing me to the Pacific Northwest, guiding me to a love for teaching, and sparking my interest in minority rights activism work,” Patel said. “Every time I think about what happened, I remember how lucky I am to be an artist working in theatre. The hate crime was a terrible experience, but it eventually brought such positive things into my world.”

Despite his past experiences, Patel wants to convey his newfound joy in his work in sound design. “The job is artistic, managerial, educational, and technical,” Patel said.  “It is a job I absolutely love.”

The Crucible runs from October 13 to November 12 at ACT Theatre, 700 Union Street, Seattle.  For more information, visit www.acttheatre.org/Tickets/OnStage/TheCrucible.

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