Fitz Patton Sounds Things Out

 "The Humans"

"The Humans"

Fitz Patton hears things differently than most people do, but that's his job as a theatrical sound designer. 

"There's a thing called 'reduced listening' where you just hear sounds for what they are and you don't think about the source," says the Tony Award nominee. "But after you design enough shows, you start to hear other things inside a sound that don't have to do with the objects that produce it. You start to hear the feelings inside of sounds." 

Patton is conveying those feelings with a wide range of current projects, from creating the disturbing soundscape in The Humans, to composing the edgy incidental music in Our Mother's Brief Affair, to guiding Paul Simon's tunes into Prodigal Son.

 "Our Mother's Brief Affair"

"Our Mother's Brief Affair"

In the case of The Humans — which begins previews on Saturday at Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre, following Roundabout’s Off-Broadway run last year — Patton says playwright Stephen Karam "was fairly specific about where he wanted the sounds and what he wanted the source to be, but not necessarily how he wanted them." 

Superficially, Karam's play seems like a standard domestic drama about a family gathering for Thanksgiving in a dingy Chinatown apartment, but the holiday rituals are quickly infused with supernatural dread. We have to decide if the strange occurrences are just random accidents or a spectral manifestation of the family's secrets and lies. 

Much of this dread relies on sound, and Patton credits director Joe Mantello with helping shape the aural environment in "a big-picture, emotional, poetic way. I really hadn't realized what was truly there until Joe had found a way to express it with regard to the whole production. Sounds that I thought were informing became strangely unnerving, disturbing, and powerful."

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