Heading into rehearsals for Charise Castro Smith’s horror comedy Feathers and Teeth, many of the cast members may stretch or perform other exercises as they prepare to get into character. Carolyn Hoerdemann’s process will likely vary from those of her co-stars as she surveys a prop table to ensure all her tools are in the necessary places. As the production’s Foley artist, Hoerdemann provides a live sound scape for the mysterious creature that invades the home of the family at the center of the play. Below Hoerdemann describes the responsibilities of a Foley artist and why she’s excited to fill the Owen Theatre with intriguing noises this fall.
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Named for Jack Foley, the term “Foley artist” dates back to the early days of radio dramas and silent films when filmmakers needed someone on hand in the studio to create sound effects for movies. Universal Studios called on radio drama artist Jack Foley to provide sounds for their productions. For example, if the film required the sound of someone walking down a hallway, the Foley artist would be present, perhaps with shoes on their hands, to traipse across a board to mimic that effect. A Foley artist’s sound station could include any number of props to utilize including brushes, pieces of metal, bells, boards, doors, food and much more.
My experiences as a Foley artist began years ago when I was in The Joy of Going Somewhere Definite at Collaboraction Theatre Company, which included a Foley artist performing alongside the actors on stage. As we mimed with props, the Foley Artist provided the accompanying sounds. It was fascinating and moving. I have also directed radio horror plays for WildClaw Theatre of Chicago’s Deathscribe, an annual horror festival performed on the first Monday of December at the Mayne Stage. The evening consists of a contest of live radio dramas that feature Foley artists on stage. Watching all the radio dramas at the festival is like going back in time. It’s a very unique and fun night at the theater.
My involvement with Feathers and Teeth was sort of a happy accident. The play began life at the Goodman as a reading during the 2013 New Stages Festival. A reading is just like it sounds: actors are seated with scripts-in-hand reciting the play without costumes, sets, lighting or any of the other design elements of a full production. Director Henry Godinez and Charise Castro Smith felt they needed the visceral sound of Feather and Teeth’s creature to be included in the reading to achieve the full effect of the play. The casting director asked if I would be able to create the sounds of the creature with my voice, which then resulted in me creating more sound effects in the rehearsal room, and ultimately became a happy alchemy of voice and Foley artistry. I was thrilled when I received a call the following year asking me to return for the play’s workshop production at New Stages. I think hearing the sound effects live rather than pre-recording them adds another layer to the play that’s so alive, juicy and tangible. Charise now says she can’t imagine the play without the sound effects present. I’m truly humbled and thrilled at this sentiment. That’s what’s really interesting about the process of the New Stages Festival—developing the play in this unique environment made the necessity for a Foley artist clear to the artistic team. So my role sort of developed along with the play, which was really exciting for me as a performer.
I think hearing the sound effects live…adds another layer to the play that’s so alive, juicy and tangible.
I approached creating the noises of the creature just like I would any character. I must try to find the truth and vulnerability of the creature. It has motivations, desires and needs just like any other character and forms connections with each of the characters in the play. I did look to certain things for inspirations: sounds heard in nature, baby animals and even noises I make myself when in an intense environment or situation.
Despite not playing a human like my co-stars, I’m present with the cast throughout the rehearsal process. I have my own little Foley station set up, and as I watch the scenes unfold, I play with sound just as the other actors play off each other. We work together to find the right rhythms and nuances that will adhere to Charise and Henry’s overall vision. Working with Charise and Henry is so amazing. They’re relaxed, fun, focused and have a clear vision while still remaining open to outside ideas. Feathers and Teeth’s combination of darkness and comedy really creates a great new genre. The live presence of a Foley artist even pushes the envelope and moves the play into a new form of theater. However, it also adds a retro sensibility by paying homage to Foley artists of the past. I’ve never read anything like this play and am thrilled to bring this creature to life yet again. I hope you enjoy this unique night in the theater!