sound effects for The Passion of Dracula

The Passion of Dracula is a challenging play for a community theatre.

The script calls for:

  • an exploding chandelier
  • an exploding fireplace
  • a bat that flies out over the audience
  • French doors that open and close by themselves, accompanied by wind
  • a camera that can take flash pictures before the invention of flashbulbs and can be operated by one person without a tripod
  • an exploding cross
  • a lighted, spinning wheel before the invention of the LED
  • musical underscoring
  • fog
  • reverberating voices from unseen speakers, known as “voice overs”

In addition to the music and wind, there are a large number of other sounds, a few of which have to be matched exactly to the action. Audiences today are accustomed to movies, where music and foley can be matched to the action in post-production; they expect the same in live stage plays.

Milford Area Players produced The Passion of Dracula in October of 2014 in the Amato Theater. The director was Kevin Linkrom, who asked me to provide sound for the show. There are so many sounds in the show that they come close to being a tenth character, so I arranged to play the sound effects during rehearsal, so the actors could become accustomed to their timing, and so I could get early feedback from the director.

For the music, wind, hounds, heartbeat and rats I used a Zoom R16, with each sound repeated on its track so I could run the unit continuously and adjust the volume of each sound independent of the others. If I had been using CD players, which is usual in community theatre productions, I would probably have needed three: one for music, one for wind, and the third for the rats, hounds and heartbeat since they never sound together.

For the remainder of the sounds I used a Roland SP-404SX. This device has only a single volume control, but lets you play a sound very precisely with the touch of a button. I used about 60 of the 120 possible sound slots, more than I have ever used before. In the usual community theatre production these sounds would have required a fourth CD player, and it would have been very difficult to provide the precise synchronization with the action required by, for example, the glass photographic plate breaking in the fireplace.

For the voice overs I used body microphones on the actors, and ran the signal through a Lexicon MX200 set for program 56, which is a large hall.

The Amato theater has a raised speaker to the left of the audience, and another to the right. I placed additional speakers up stage right (behind the fireplace), and up stage left (just outside the archway). I also placed a sub woofer up stage center (inside the drinks cabinet). This allowed the audience to perceive the sound as coming from the stage. The presence of the sub woofer made the music and thunder sound better. I did all the sounds in stereo so that, for example, the pounding on Dr. Seward's door came from stage right, where he goes to answer it. Sitting in the audience at the center of the theater the stereo field spread the music across the stage.

The directory below contains the sounds I used on the Roland SP-404SX, which you can download for your production. The file names are the SP-404SX button number, the script page number, and a brief reminder of the sound. Detailed notes are in file “Sound_effects_for_The_Passion_of_Dracula.pdf“, which also contains setup instructions and microphone notes. I have not included the wind and rat sounds, as they are very long. The Zoom R16 (unlike the Zoom R24) does not have looping, so I had to loop the sounds manually before transferring them to the Zoom R16.

One of the criticisms I received for the show was that the music was too much the same, so you should choose your own music rather than use what I picked. It would also be better, if you can manage it, to have a heartbeat whose tempo can be controlled. Included are recordings of the actors doing the voice-overs, in case the microphone fails. You should record your own actors instead.

Another criticism I received was that the banging on Dr. Seward's door didn't come from the right place on the stage, even though I directed it to the correct speaker. You would be better off with a practical for this effect.

Although logically the servant's bell shouldn't be heard in the drawing room, I recommend you include a faint bell when the rope is pulled, since the audience will expect to hear it.