The Magic of Sound Effects on Stage

Sound and sound effects are an integral part of any storytelling art including television, movies and any live stage performance. We probably can all hear the sound of a shark approaching if we saw the movie Jaws. For viewers who like thrillers, the shower scene in Psycho is probably a soundtrack that you will never forget. And for our Star Wars lovers, the sound of a lightsaber is the hallmark of sound effects for that entire series.

The magic of sound effects carries over into live theater as well. Prop masters and sound effect gurus spend hundreds of hours trying to get just the right sound for wind, thunder, rain, footsteps, and monsters. The list could go on and on, as the number of sound effects is so varied and wide.

There are three main purposes of sound effects that we should examine in order to understand the meaning behind the magic. Here are the top three motivations for using sound effects in live theater.

Creating a Mood

Audiences are counting on a production to take them to other places such as colonial times in Hamilton, a beachside home in Mama Mia, or the streets of France in Les Miserables. First and foremost, sound effects are meant to create a mood that can take the audience to another place – metaphysically speaking. Sound effects can create fear, anticipation, joy, laughter, or even overwhelming sadness. The mood that sounds can help create is quite amazing.

 

Simulating Reality

What would a sword fight be on stage without the sound effects and musical accompaniment? Or think about a scene where an actor is required to smash a dish, slam a door, or shoot a gun. Imagine how disconnected things would seem if the dish made no noise, the door was silent, or the gun went off without a shocking blast? Those sound effects can make or break a production especially in how they can simulate what is happening on stage and make it come alive.

Creating an Illusion

One area that sound effects become magical is how offstage sounds or soundtracks can create the illusion of something happening. For instance, in the musical The Lion King, the sounds of the jungle or other lions roaring can create the illusion that the theater is actually in a far away jungle. Or perhaps the play is trying to show a couple in an outdoor cafe. The sound effects could include a car horn, clinking dishes and glasses, or even the wind through the trees. All of this is done so the audience can buy into the illusion of the performance.

What are your favorite sound effects? We’d love to hear from you. Tell us in the comments below.