The Five Women of Waiting for the Parade
photo by Michael Bailey
SEPTEMBER, 2006 DEPARTMENT OF DRAMA
THE HELMS THEATRE
Some have called John Murrell’s Waiting for the Parade a mini masterpiece. This play follows five Canadian women in Calgary during World War Two. These women are united as members of the Red Triangle Hostesses who met soldiers as they passed through a Calgary train station on their way to war. As they work to support the war effort from home, we see them provide support for each other as they each deal with fears of never seeing their men again. Each woman presents a unique perspective of the meaning of supporting war. For example, one German born Canadian citizen named Marta, is incorrectly targeted as a Nazi sympathizer.
The piece is written as a continuous presentation of twenty-four scenes and feels somewhat like a musical review. One of the actors must be a trained pianist and the other four should be fantastic vocalists. Because the play is comprised of so many short scenes, sound is relied on very heavily as a practical way to relay setting. The physical set design is abstract and reminiscent of a living room. Therefore, the soundscape has to readily shift from living room, to train station, to air show, to victory parade, etc. The play also requires a great amount of research of wartime music as many scenes suggest particular songs from this era. These scenes are the major challenges for me as sound designer.
I chose to put the audience inside of the environmental ambience and music for this piece. Speakers placed throughout the space allow the sounds of airplanes to pass overhead and train sounds to pass from one side of the audience to the other. For some sequences, all the speakers are used to provide a visceral replication of war ambience.
My desire for the opening of the play is to contrast a 1940s war propaganda newsreel with a realistic sounding war ambience collage. There is an abundance of American propaganda newsreels, but few Canada-specific ones. I chose an American one that was not too specific and edited it down by removing any hint of nationality. The newsreel audio heard in this montage is heightened by editing extremely melodramatic pieces together. At the end of the newsreel, I bring the sounds World War II to life for the audience by immersing them in the environmental ambience of World War II. This part of the sequence originates from speakers placed above, below, and around the audience, in contrast to the newsreel, which comes from a single speaker. This montage is not called for by the script, but rather is an aesthetic choice.
The first scene of the play contains no written dialogue and instead is comprised of all stage directions. The very stage direction of the play reads, "A rattle of drums is heard, exploding into a march, like a regiment of Canadian infantry about to hit the parade ground." I needed to create a multi-track version of a military parade so I could control the movement and timbre of certain elements within the mix. After an exhaustive search of marching band music, I came across the Canadian Infantry Association's page of march music. "The Jockey of York" presented an appropriate tempo and attitude, but was obviously recorded indoors. I spent much time making this sound outdoors by painting in outdoor crowd noises, ambience and marching. The best sound recording I could find at the time was of female cadets marching. I dropped the pitch of the footsteps so they sounded heavier and more "manlike." I then broke up the recording into individual steps and spend much time aligning each to the beats in the music. Next, I caused the entire composition to pan from the left to the right, giving the audience the perspective of the band marching by. The outdoor crowd noises in this example are engineered to surround the audience. Click here to see a movie of the creation this composition.
In Murrell's stage directions, he calls for a men's chorus singing "Beer Barrel Polka". This request is very specific and actually difficult to find. Therefore, I employed the University of Virginia's Glee Club to sing it for me. I set up a portable recording studio in their facility and recorded them singing this. This piece is layered with the cue below, as if the singers are men on the troop train.
In this scene, the women send yet another group of Canadian men away on a troop train to be shipped off to war. The challenge is to give the impression of a train starting up and slowly chugging away with men shouting their farewells. The perspective of this composition for the audience is that they are standing at the station, with the train departing. Given the 1940's setting, the train must sound like a steam train. It is difficult to find many modern recordings of these older machines, so source material is limited. This limitation required me to take those recordings I could find and mold them into the movement required of the train in this scene. In order to put men on this train, I gathered five men from the Department of Drama and recorded several variations of them shouting departure phrases. I layered some of these variations to give the impression of many men.
This collage represents the final layering of several independent sound events from a stylized part of the play. The elements of this composition are presented to the audience individually, adding a new element at each presentation. The siren is heard first. Next, the siren plays again with the addition of a captain shouting orders. This all repeats with the addition of a group of men responding. After this, these items repeat again with addition of a machine gun, etc. The five women between each of these sonic events repeat dialogue. The collage culminates with all of the elements in the order as presented in the provided audio example.
The play ends with the promise of the men being welcomed home with a victory parade. This composition is a modified version of the one above, except this piece gives the impression of the band marching toward the audience and stopping in front of them.