An award-winning sound designer finds work in some of New York's biggest venues

What started out as a scheduling snafu in college was a life-changing mistake for Elisheba Ittoop (’07), an alumna of UNCSA’s graduate Sound Design program. While enrolled in an acting program at New York University, she was mistakenly scheduled for a sound and design course but decided, “Why not? I’m game” and gave it a try.

Now a professional Sound Designer with a resume that includes shows at The Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall, it’s a good thing she didn’t correct the mistake.

Ittoop was born in London, England, moving to North Carolina at only 6 months old. Her mother introduced Ittoop, along with her brother and sister, to music and art at an early age. She encouraged Ittoop, who admits to being extremely shy in her childhood, to explore theater as a way to break out of her shell. She began taking part in teen improv at a local theater, summer camps for acting and high school plays.

Thinking acting was her true calling, Ittoop entered NYU’s Playwrights Horizons Theater School.

“In the first few months, I knew it wasn’t what I wanted,” Ittoop said, “but I stuck with it.”

After an artistic decision to turn a dramatic scene of a play into a self-described “comic fest” backfired, Ittoop was told by a professor, “I don’t see a future in acting for you.” And neither did she.

She wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, however. Her future became more clear when she was accidentally enrolled in a sound design course. Always one to try new things and never back away from a challenge, Ittoop went ahead with the course and quickly fell in love with the concept of storytelling through sound.

“It was amazing that I could put on headphones and make my own little world. I didn’t really think sound design was a thing you could do,” Ittoop said.

Listen to Elisheba Ittoop's work

She dove into sound design headfirst, designing more than half of the shows at NYU. She graduated a year early from her program but had only gotten her feet wet in her newfound passion of sound design.

She started researching graduate sound design programs and quickly discovered UNCSA and David Smith, Director of UNCSA’s Sound Design program.

At her interview, Smith told her “You’re good, but I can make you better.”

She was sold.

Entering the program as an actor with only a year of sound design under her belt made Ittoop a bit nervous, but she was eager to learn.

“It felt more right than what I had been doing,” Ittoop said. “In the first year of grad school I knew it was the right path.”

The graduate Sound Design program covers both the engineering and design components of the field, introducing all in the program to the nuts-and-bolts of the trade as well as the artistic side of sound.

“It definitely made me a stronger designer,” Ittoop said. “It made me feel empowered in my own sound design knowing what was possible, and even how to do it myself.”

Smith became her mentor and somewhat of a dad figure during her three years at UNCSA. “David was so supportive, he’d always have an answer for me and we still keep in touch. He’s definitely someone I can quickly and casually email for advice,” Ittoop said.

For her thesis, Ittoop explored the relationship between the Director and the Sound Designer, a collaborative relationship that can sometimes be the biggest challenge of her career, but also the most rewarding.

I love having conversations with directors when they ask me to make the sound colder, warmer, squishier,” she said. “That collaboration is probably the most fun.

In 2007, Ittoop graduated from the Sound Design program with a job already lined up. At a UNCSA job fair she was hired to be the Sound Designer for three shows at the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte. It was there that Ittoop made a lifelong friend and mentor in Alan Poindexter, Artistic Director of the theater, who sadly passed away two years ago.

“He is amazing,” Ittoop said, unable to put into words the extent of the impact he had on her life. All of her shows are dedicated to him, and she attributes her ongoing interest in dark, creepy epic plays to his dark, gothic sensibility.

For her work on the Children’s Theatre’s production of “The Wizard of Oz,” Ittoop won the USITT Rising Star Award, the same year Abe Jacob, the “godfather of sound,” was being presented with his lifetime achievement award. At the awards show in Houston, Ittoop did not miss an opportunity to introduce herself to the hoards of Broadway professionals there to honor Jacob.

It was there she met Nevin Steimberg, the Sound Designer for the Broadway phenomenon “Hamilton,” and made connections to eventually land gigs at The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and even Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “Twelfth Night” with Anne Hathaway.

New York City is currently home base for Ittoop, along with her kitten and 10-year old dog who was found as a stray back at UNCSA. Her sound design work can be heard in various New York theaters and all around the country in regional theaters.

But it was back at her first job out of school, the Children’s Theatre of Charlotte, where the most rewarding moment of her career occurred. In “The Wizard of Oz” when the Wicked Witch screams “I’ll get you my pretty!” Ittoop chose, along with Poindexter’s approval, to drop the sound eight or 12 octaves for the last two words.

The effect was so dramatic and jarring that a five-year-old boy had an “accident” in his seat. Instead of being scared and heading for the door, he turned to his mom and said, “Mommy, that was awesome!”

Knowing that her design can instill such a reaction has made sound design the most exciting career she can think of, even if it did start out as an accident.

Hear more of Elisheba's work at her website: