The MFA in theatre sound design is specifically designed for students who want to continue their education in theatre sound design. Students usually enter with an undergraduate background in theatre (including, but not limited to, theatre sound) or with an undergraduate background in sound from another area such as the media or broadcast fields.
The in-depth training and increasing level of skill acquisition is heavily practice-based and production-oriented. Each student will usually undertake three major production assignments each year, spread across dance, drama, musicals and opera, as well as numerous smaller production assignments. In the first year, graduate sound students will usually draft the sound system design paperwork and operate the system for the shows. This helps students become acquainted with our numerous and diverse performance spaces and shops, along with our comprehensive inventory of equipment. By the time the graduate student reaches their second year, they will usually assume the role of Production Sound Engineer, responsible for choosing the equipment and designing the entire sound system. In their final year, students will serve as the Sound Designer. They will also receive training in theatre music composition. No specific background in music is required.
Our innovative curriculum ensures that graduate sound students receive training in both the art and technology of sound design. This ensures that students will not only be able to conceptualize a sound design and collaborate with the director and other designers to create and compose it, but will also have the skills to execute that design on a technical level. In addition to sound-specific courses, sound design majors take other classes necessary for a career in theatre sound design, such as rigging, computer-aided drafting, theatre and audio electronics, as well as classes in innovation and creativity.
Each December for two weeks, UNCSA departs from its regular semester course schedule (a period known as “Intensive Arts”) to allow all programs to hold specialized workshops and classes, many of which are taught by leading industry professionals. These workshops range from two hours, to several days, depending on the level of detail to be covered. Over the years, we have developed close relationships with some of the leading sound equipment manufacturers in the world. During Intensive Arts, these manufacturers regularly conduct multiday workshops for our students on their newest technologies and practices. During this time, we also invite prominent sound designers from Broadway and regional theatres to present master classes for our students. The relationships our graduate students form with these industry professionals greatly influence students’ career trajectory.
The Sound Program at UNCSA boasts some wonderful facilities, not the least of which is our state of the art sound lab with its seven acoustically designed pre-production workstations. Each workstation houses a Mac computer that runs both Mac and Windows applications used in theatre sound. Each workstation has a MIDI keyboard and control surface and well as a multichannel sound card and sound mixer. Graduate sound students will also be required to purchase a specific laptop computer with specified software.
The sound program also has a fully stocked sound shop which functions like a professional rental shop. All performance spaces on campus are treated like an empty theatre without a sound system. For each show, the entire sound system is designed and specified, and all the equipment is pulled from our shop and installed into the theatre. When students become skilled in this process, they are prepared to work in all positions in theatre sound design, from the initial system design, to equipment rental and load-in, troubleshooting and technical rehearsals.
Our sound lab and shop are located near the performance spaces. There is also a studio space for MFA sound students working on productions. This space is located near the studio spaces for the other design areas in an effort to facilitate communication and collaboration among the design team. The sound studio has workspaces for designers to set up their computers and to work on their shows. The sound studio also houses our sound isolation booth for recording voiceovers, single instruments and Foley effects.
Collaborations with the UNCSA School of Filmmaking
In addition to the sound design training in the School of Design and Production, the School of Filmmaking at UNCSA also teaches sound classes geared toward sound design, mixing, and editing for film. Though these courses are not required for sound majors in D&P, students who are interested in learning to apply their skills in filmmaking may arrange to take these courses as electives.
Careers in Sound Design
Upon graduation, our MFA students continue their professional careers in advanced levels of the entertainment industry. Many have careers in major LORT regional theatres as department heads and resident sound designers, while others have careers as system designers in international audio visual and systems integration companies. Some graduates assist sound designers or become Associate Sound Designers both Off and On-Broadway. Other careers for our graduates have included designing shows for the cruise line industry or for houses of worship, or moving to a major city such as New York, Washington DC or Chicago, developing busy careers as a freelance theatre sound designers.
David Smith, Director of the Sound Design Program; Sound Design Faculty: Bio e-mail
Jason Romney, Sound Design Faculty: Bio e-mail