This project explores narrative sound technique by presenting a dramatic audio autobiography–or audiography–of Hallie Flanagan Davis (director of the Federal Theatre Project, first woman to win a Guggenheim, and Grinnell College alum). The format of the audiography is similar to a radio drama. I used primary source materials–correspondences, newspaper articles, and Flanagan’s testimonies with the House Un-American Activities Committee–as the basis for the script. I recorded dramatic interpretations of the source material for use in the audiography. These recordings are embellished with period-appropriate audio filters* and “distortion,” environmental sound effects, and narration. The overall result is sonic-cinematic, using sound to distinguish between public and private/internal moments, and exploring the use of diegetic and nondiegetic sounds.
A little background: Flanagan was director of the Federal Theatre Productions (part of the WPA), which reached well beyond the usual theatre community, entertaining and informing the masses in the Great Depression; she created spirit-lifting children’s theatre, and her “living newspaper” plays were informative for a politically unaware public. I was drawn to this project because I, like Hallie, grew up in Grinnell and pursue theatre as a means of creative expression and social dialogue. As a theatre artist, I am also obviously interested in creating art in narrative contexts. This particular piece only showcases two “chapters” of Flanagan’s life (the first appeals on the local level; the second appeals on the national level). One day I’d like to create a full live radio drama about Flanagan’s life and professional pursuits.
I used QLab for playback. The piece is meant to be played in a room with three or four speakers, so that QLab may control movement of sound around the space, helping ground the audience in the space of the piece (the train sweeps around the audience, each person at the Committee hearing has their own position, and so on). The stereo version still utilizes some of these spatial techniques, but not to the same extent. The screenshots give a sense of the QLab workspace (120 cues, not counting some auto-follows!) and the nature of the programming/preparation that went into the creative process.
*I used the reverb filter that I created in my listening machine proto-project for the House Un-American Activities scene.