The stage is alive with the sound of Cricket. That’s Cricket S. Myers who is so ubiquitous on the Los Angeles theatre scene a regular patron cannot attend often without hearing her work.
As a sound designer Myers infuses so many local productions with aural augmentations she reels off a resume full of hits and reels in recognition for those hits with auspicious alacrity. In the last year alone she captivated Ovation voters to honor her with four nominations for Battle Hymn presented by Circle X Theatre at [Inside] the Ford, Mary’s Wedding at the Colony and two at the Kirk Douglas, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and The Little Dog Laughed. This brings her Ovation total to 10 nominations in a mere three years.
She first heard her calling while a freshman at her Michigan high school. She relates, “My mother who teaches there ran the drama club. She encouraged me to try out for the school play, Toad of Toad Hall. I was cast as one of the ferrets. I don’t remember a lot about that production except all us ferrets were costumed in these cute flowery dresses. We were the villains but it’s hard to be evil when you’re dressed in flowers.
“I quickly found out I have extreme stage fright. I coped with it because I could sort of conceal myself among the other ferrets. I knew though acting wasn’t for me. But I met the most amazing people backstage. I became enchanted with their energy and their passion. I wasn’t meant to be onstage but I couldn’t keep away from that energy. Our high school did two plays a year and I worked on all of them in all kinds of capacities, working my way up to stage managing my senior year.”
She let herself be talked into taking one last stab at an onstage appearance her senior year. “My friend who directed Memorandum persuaded me to play the secretary. I didn’t have many lines. I mostly had to sit there brushing my hair. I managed to handle that okay.”
She then headed off to Colorado College in Colorado Springs where she earned her BA in theatre. She says, “When you’re 18, you just want to get out of your own town. That wasn’t the only reason I went there though. Colorado College doesn’t offer the normal semester of classes. They’re on the block plan where you immerse yourself. You go to one class all day five days a week for three and a half weeks. Then you take four days off and start the next class. The classes are structured for maximum focus on a discipline. For example I took an astronomy class that met from 9 pm to midnight which allowed us to concentrate fully on our subject.”
If that system precipitated great benefits in studying the celestial bodies, Myers truly harvested an untold abundance when she shifted her stargazing to the luminaries of the theatre. She explains, “They have two different campus facilities in addition to the main campus. One is about a half hour away. The other consists of some cabins about three hours away. When we studied Shakespeare, our professor took us to the cabins because he wanted us removed from the distractions of everyday campus activities.
“Another class required us to see and discuss as many plays as possible. Well you can’t see too many plays in Colorado in three and a half weeks so that professor took the whole class to London. Each student chipped in $500 plus air fare but we got a refund from our dorm fees and cafeteria tickets for that time which just about covered our costs.”
Armed with her BA, Myers wanted more and decided to aim for a graduate degree but took a brief detour with an internship at Midland Community Theatre in Texas. “They have the third largest community theatre in the country,” she says, “and they require their interns to take stints in all the technical areas: lighting, props, set construction, sound, stage managing. I found I wasn’t geared for stage managing over the long haul of three months rehearsing the show and then running it. I needed the frequency of new creativity.”
Gravitating toward sound design, she investigated California Institute of the Arts at that same time and says, “I liked how they encouraged all their designers to assume an integral part of their productions from the very beginning and not just having their concepts layered on at the end of rehearsals or the start of tech run-throughs.”
She also enjoyed the mentoring of her instructors Jon Gottlieb and Drew Dalzell who hired her outside of class to assist them on productions at the Geffen Playhouse, the Ahmanson, the Kirk Douglas, the Ricardo Montalban, the Kodak, the Mark Taper Forum and South Coast Rep. “They introduced me to theatres in the area and actually guided work my way. If they couldn’t open a spot in their schedule, they’d say (to a producer), ‘I can’t do it at this time but you should call my assistant.'”
Her first solo job took place in 2002 at Santa Monica’s Powerhouse Theatre for Joy Gregory’s Dear Charlotte-The Story of Charlotte Bronte directed by Tracy Hudak. She remembers, “It was an abstract set so they wanted to use sound as underscoring to help plant us in each scene. For my first time on my own it was nothing too complex yet it gave me a chance to play.”
She admits to some initial concerns about this assignment but lessened her apprehensions through a good old-fashioned work ethic. She chuckles, “I had the first time jitters so I overcompensated. Whenever I met with the playwright and director, I took in about 15 versions of each cue to show them. I thought it might sound great in my apartment but not so great in the theatre. To this day when I listen to an effect in my headphones, it can sound one way but when I route it through a speaker in the theatre, it may sound totally different.”
When this kind of disconnection between controlled environment and performance space occurs, Myers starts experimenting to tweak it toward the desired end. She gives an example: “For one play we needed the springing of a mousetrap with the mouse in its obvious death throes. When I played it in the theatre, it came out like a tiny squeak, nothing like a mouse in real life. I tried different things. I finally got it by recording a child squealing, then shortening and compressing it.”
She talks through the process of preproduction consultations: “At the first meeting with a director we discuss the genre of the play and the ideas we need to develop to enhance the production. We’re searching for what works best for the play. I recently worked on Free Man of Color at the Colony with (director) Dan Bonnell. He had read about the history of the banjo and learned it had started in Africa. He wondered if there was a big difference between the African banjo as compared to its American version and wanted to explore the idea of incorporating banjo music throughout the play. As he rehearsed his actors, he’d say to me, ‘I think this might be a good place for a clip of music.’ Together we found specific locations in the script where the banjo could add to the story.”
Through her personal collection Myers has the capacity to factor in entire orchestral arrangements as well as individual instrumentalists to any of her projects because, she avers, “I have at least 10,000 songs in digital format on my computer. I-tunes is a dream for me. I can buy tracks of what I need, not whole albums.”
With so much consonance at her command and a lot more confidence since her Dear Charlotte commencement she no longer feels the need to prepare a dozen samples for each cue. “No, I come in with only a few these days. If they don’t like what I have, I ask, ‘What don’t you like about it? Is it too fast, too slow, too busy, too simple?’ Then I have the flexibility to slow it down, speed it up, simplify or intensify.”
She also of course is on the constant lookout-or would that be listen-up? -for new sounds on her journeys. And she travels a lot, throughout the United States and to 23 different countries on five continents so far. She observes, “A city in Asia sounds very different from a city in New York. In Africa I was up at dawn on many mornings because that’s the best time to see the animals. The sounds there that early are fantastic. I carry a portable tape recorder to capture them. The quality is not good enough for the theatre but it helps trigger memories for use later. Environmental sounds speak to me. I’m always recording them. I can be in a park and be captivated by the squeaking of a swing set or the rhythm of the cloth bumping against a flagpole. The echo of a car passing between two tall buildings can be fascinating. When I was in the Middle East, the bells for the call to prayers coming out of the mosque were overwhelming because you heard them ringing forth so beautifully and then you heard them 15 more times as they echoed off the buildings and bounced around the city.”
Seems sort of like Myers is always working even when she’s vacationing.
That may be partly true but she has developed interests away from the theatre as well. She talks about two of them: “I joined a ski patrol in high school because I grew up next to a ski resort. I was on a ski team for awhile but I’m not competitive so I never cared if I was the fastest one down the hill. I learned EMT procedures for injured skiers. Our job is not to treat them but to protect the wounded and get them off the hill as quickly as possible where medical treatment will be available. I go once a month to June Mountain just north of Mammoth. Not only does it get me away, it keeps me active and on my toes while I’m up there.
“I also volunteer at Zooh Corner Rabbit Rescue at the San Gabriel Humane Society. It started in 2003. Back then they held a rabbit only five to seven days before euthanizing it. We struck a deal with them so now it’s a 100 percent no-kill shelter. We haven’t lost one since then because we have volunteers in daily to care for them. Monday is my day. Right now we have 37 rabbits. I clean their pens, change their water and let them out for exercise. We also have foster homes for the sick ones that need extra care or help with medication. I have two bunnies in my home I’m fostering. It’s taken me two months to get the female which had been mistreated to lose some of her aggressive tendencies and not attack me.”
Her outright, overriding fervor though harks back to those passionate energies encountered behind the scenes as a ferret in a flowery frock. “I love to travel,” she maintains, “and I attempt to see theatre wherever I go. I’m fascinated by the different styles all over the world. I’ve seen Kabuki in Japan, water puppets in Viet Nam, the Black Light Theatre of Prague. But I’m always eager to return to work. If I take more than a week off at a time, I go stir crazy.”
One suspects she must rank our homegrown theatre with a regard comparable to those viewed abroad although she’s not unaware of its changing dynamics. She believes, “HDTV is destroying sound in the theatre. People can sit at home with their surround sound systems so loud it makes them want the same experience when they see a play. The audience is so accustomed to it they’ve lost the ability to sit and listen closely.
“The Ahmanson has everything miked now whether it’s a musical or not. The audience wants more so they push it harder. Look at Broadway’s revival of A Chorus Line. They said they wanted to keep it just like the original. The original Chorus Line wasn’t miked. The revival was because a modern audience wouldn’t tolerate it without it. My hope is the audience can go back to learning to listen again. I think it requires an internal peace.”
The audience may have to search for its peace but it won’t have to wander far to arrive in earshot of Cricket S. Myers’ work. She applied her auditory arts to a trio of recent shows-Life Could be a Dream at Laguna Playhouse, Topdog/Underdog at the Lillian Theatre and Free Man of Color at the Colony Theatre-with another trio to open before year’s end- Bell, Book and Candle also at the Colony, Little Shop of Horrors at Cal State Northridge and Nine, the Musical at Cal State Long Beach-with the bonus of Halloween Horror Nights tossed in for Universal Studios for good measure.
Looks as if she’s ringing out this old year for us and will doubtless ring in the New Year as well. Sounds cricket to us.