Having graduated from the BA (Hons) Media Production course, I was awaiting response from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) after interviewing for their PgDip Sound Design For The Theatre course, which was brand new this year, and listed a maximum of three places available in the prospectus. A few weeks later, I received the letter I was hoping for………..I had been successful (in no little part due to some sound examples I had worked on during my time in Lincoln), and not only that but I had been the only one picked for the course. And so my two years of madness (of which I am just 6 months through) began.
At RADA, the acting course lasts three years, and only the third year actors are involved in the actual productions, in RADA’s three theatres, which are provided with technical support by the students on technical courses (the Technical Theatre & Stage Management course numbers 30+). This year’s third year includes recent BBC ‘I’d Do Anything’ runner-up Jessie Buckley, and, from Harry Potter, young Tom Riddle actor Frank Dillane, although their previous fame/experience aside, the entire year are fantastic to watch and work with.
I was thrown in at the deep end, sound operating and assisting for Jessica Swale’s play about women being allowed to graduate, ‘Blue Stockings’. This included recording the cast for various choral recordings, as well as operating the music cues and spot effects live every night of the show’s run. Working with both a musical director and a composer, the play was a huge success, and has since transferred to Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.
Over my six months I have worked on two sets of radio dramas with the third years, including an entire Woman’s Hour serial, an adaptation of Robinson Crusoe, and a full hour-long remake of Orson Welles’ original broadcast of War Of The Worlds (a particular joy to do for me as a science fiction fan).
My time producing radio dramas at Lincoln proved invaluable during these sessions, as I knew the processes of writing, recording and editing such pieces. As studio engineer, I was in charge of the actors’ time management, of staying one scene ahead in terms of the furniture/foley effects in the live room, of running the desk, of ensuring as clean a recording as possible on ProTools and of providing appropriate live ambient effects and spots. It’s a big job, but hugely enjoyable being locked in the studio for two weeks trying to get all possibilities out of the RADA sound studios.
Due to a recent extremely useful investment by Shure, the sound department has a large amount of new technology (i.e. toys), so playing with that was a large part of my time on RADA radio dramas.
As a result of impressing the BBC director assigned to the dramas, I was also recently able to visit BBC Maida Vale studios to watch the production of an upcoming radio play and explore the studio – which is on two levels, with a multi-textured staircase, a spiral sound-trap, a full kitchen with working appliances and an amazing gallery.
I was then able to work as boom operator/sound assistant on two RADA films: a piece about an art studio and a horror film, which included a location shoot to Eastbourne. Again, my degree course had helped me with the basics of single-camera shooting, so I knew roughly what to expect – but the two weeks of filming were some of the most challenging and most fun of the course. Chasing along after tracking shots, having to creep into corners and stay out of frame, and having 100% control over a seemingly ever-heavier mic on the end of a long pole – boom operation is an art of its own!
My other shows at RADA have included being stage engineer and sound assistant for a devised musical version of Peter Pan (including micing and mixing a full band of electric drums, bass, guitar, keys, piano and three vox), and just recently I have assistant sound designed for a modern interpretation of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well alongside respected sound designer Richard Hammarton (Globe Theatre, various TV credits).
In my spare time, I have given a talk on sound design to the Conservatoire of Dance and Drama (of which RADA are a member), I have provided sound for various RADA events, including the rather exclusive black-tie RADA cabaret event, I have sound assisted for sci-fi/fantasy drama podcast Minister Of Chance (with a cast including Sylvester McCoy, Phil Glenister, Tamsin Greig), and currently run the RADA alumni audio archive; getting interviews with RADA graduates. I am also currently pioneering the first ever official RADA podcast.
Looking at present and beyond, I am just finishing a run as sound operator at CircusSpace, on a set of final year circus performances (tight-rope, trapeze, hoops – the lot!). The future weeks and months hold my first full sound design for RADA, followed by the first of my two secondments outside of RADA – hopefully to Europe’s biggest sound design company, Autograph, who work on a lot of West End shows.
There are so many opportunities in London for sound professionals; from boom work on TV shows to sound opping in any number of fringe venues, and everything between. RADA is a fantastic place to be able to train these skills: surrounded by a real pedigree of both artistic and technical quality – just take a look at the list of RADA Alumni on Wikipedia. These first months have been the busiest of my life – but I have learnt from every single day: this kind of practical training is invaluable, and I feel more and more prepared for working in the industry.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or my Twitter at @philmatejtschuk