PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Mic Pool

Brief Encounter   PLAYBILL.COM'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Mic Pool Not too many people took notice of the veteran English sound designer Mic Pool's first work on Broadway, even though the play, Art, did win a Tony Award.
Mic Pool
Mic Pool

This time around, however, he got more attention. His intricate, witty work on the staged Hitchcock spoof The 39 Steps netted him a Drama Desk Award nomination and a Tony Award. Every phone ring, every train whistle, every gun shot, every snatch of suspenseful music in the tongue-in-cheek, minimalistic comedy was his doing, with each cue timed down to a split second. Pool was in the U.S. for just 24 hours for the recent ceremony, and spoke to Playbill.com from his native England, where he is already working on another production.

Playbill.com: Did you fly back to London after the Tony ceremony?
Mic Pool: Yeah, I went back on Monday. It was really a flying visit. I didn't get to New York until Sunday afternoon.

Playbill.com: It must have seemed like a dream afterwards.
MP: It did, because I was in previews for another show on Saturday night, and then I flew out to New York.

Playbill.com: But you have a little trinket you can look at and remind yourself that it actually happened.
MP: Yeah. Indeed.

Playbill.com: Were you surprised by winning?
MP: Yeah. I hadn't prepared a speech. As I walked down the aisle, I thought "There are 6,000 people here." Playbill.com: You had your work cut out for you in designing the sound of The 39 Steps.
MP: Yes, because everything else [in the show] is so minimal. There are four actors and a few props on a bare stage. To recreate a film that has some really big sequences in it, like the train on the Forth Bridge and the chase across the moors with airplanes is a challenge. But it's an enormous opportunity really. There aren't that many plays where you're providing so much life to the story through the effects and also the music. It was a great place to do music research. There is music from "The 39 Steps" and also music from other Hitchcock films. We set ourselves the rule that everything you hear should sound like it could have come from a Hitchcock film. A lot of it wasn't.

Mic Pool with his Tony Award
photo by Aubrey Reuben

Playbill.com: Did you work very closely with the director as far as choosing the sounds you used and deciding where they would be inserted?
MP: I've been involved in the show since the original production that this production is based on, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2005. One thing about the show is it does require a great deal of comic timing in the sound, which is quite unusual. The timing of the sounds has to be exactly correct for the individual actors that are doing it in each cast. So we make a lot of adjustments on each cast change. A whole gag can fall flat. Even something very simple, like a train stopping when the communication cord is pulled. Depending how far the actors are able to lean, how far they want to hold that for and how violently they're going to swing the other way when the train stops, we adjust all the timings of those sequences for each cast. Playbill.com: You've been doing sound for 31 years. How did you get in this line of work?
MP: I started off from a musical background really. I was a chorister at Oxford when I was 10. I did a lot of singing. But I was fascinated when we were doing recordings by the paraphernalia of those early recordings in the '70s and '80s, the tape decks and things. Alongside the music, I had an early interest in sound recording. I had my first tape recorder when I was 11. It was a proper reel-to-reel and I had all the editing kits and everything. I realized when I was 16 or 17 that I wasn't going to be a professional musician. At that time, I found an interest in the theatre, and initially specialized in lighting and sound. By the time I left college, I'd pretty much found that sound was my thing.

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