Meet the ESCAPED ALONE Sound Engineer: Jake Rodriguez

Abigail Rosen
Behind the Scenes
Nov 30, 2020

An interview with Jake Rodriguez about Escaped Alone.

Streaming until November 15th.

Julia McNeal, Anne Darragh, Elizabeth Benedict, and Anne Hallinan at the recording session for Escaped Alone.

How did your role shift when the production evolved to an audio play?

It was going to be a live performance at Magic, and then it sort of drifted into no-man's-land, no-person’s territory. I actually thought it wasn't going to happen at all. And then Loretta gave me a call and said, “Hey what do you think about doing this as a radio play?” All the theaters started thinking about radio plays at about the same time. I got a couple phone calls about radio plays and I've worked on a couple myself, and I thought that this play reads kind of perfectly in my mind as a radio play. It's got one setting, and then the sort of “other” spaces that are sort of magical. And so to me, I felt like, oh yeah, this will work perfectly as a radio play. I can imagine just kind of putting headphones on and really kind of tuning into the language.

And so we had to kind-of figure out, how are we going to do this? How are we going to record it, for one, and do we have to do it on Zoom, which I really didn't want to do. Zoom doesn't have a great sound quality. And then there's the inherent strangeness of having distance between people. If we were going to record it in person, the rules prohibited us from doing it indoors, so we had to find an outdoor space to record it. If we were going to record it in person, the Magic Theater Fort Mason is very windy. So I mentioned to Loretta, “You know this takes place in a backyard, and I have a backyard that sounds like a backyard, so that's a [recording] possibility". So we did one pass of it, actually at Fort Mason, and it was incredibly windy and there was just constant seagulls. So it was basically like a rehearsal in a hurricane. So I said, “Hey let's do this in my backyard, this isn't going to work”. So then we set up a recording session in my backyard, all socially distanced and everybody had tests. So we did this recording session on a pretty lovely day and it sort of worked out. I mean what you hear in that play is really the ambience that we were sitting in. And so I became a recording engineer. 

Were there any difficulties in adapting Escaped Alone that you didn’t anticipate?

Oddly, like two days before we did a recording session, one of my neighbors got a rooster. And this rooster would just crow all day long, and weirdly I've never heard it again since the day of the recording.

I think what I really love about this play are the post-apocalyptic interjections that really give a contrast to the sort of lovely… on the surface, lovely... countryside chat that we're having with these women. I think those post-apocalyptic interludes are performed really well by Julia. It took a little bit for me to figure out what the tone should be and I kind of followed her and Loretta’s lead. I remember Loretta gave Julia the direction to incorporate more wonder, at least at the beginning of those interjections. And so my first take on it was to sort of look at the dark side of that. But as I listened to them, I realized they're actually hilarious, they're very funny, and I didn't want to get in the way of [the audience] seeing the humor as well as the dark.

I worked with a musician, Jason Stamberger, that I've worked with for years on several plays and on a lot of plays that Loretta has directed at Magic and ACT. Jason and I sat down and listened to Julia's monologues, and then improvised some soundscapes behind her monologues. I would give Jason some direction like, “You know, not not too heavy-handed, but not too whimsical either, something that can kind of incorporate the wonder and then as we go further into it it gets a little darker”. I'm pleased with the results of what Jason and I did.

What kind of work have you been doing during the pandemic?

Work is thin. Most performing arts folk that I know have very little work, or they're having to find other means to support themselves. I'm lucky that I have some work, and more [work] than other folks. Right now I'm working at ACT on a radio play of a Christmas Carol, which I designed originally for the stage 15 years ago and we're now doing it as a radio play. I'm recording all the voices through the internet and making sounds live in the room. I'm very grateful that I do have work, but it's few and far between. And the Christmas Carol that we're doing at ACT, for instance, normally employs a lot of people in the Bay Area -- a lot of actors, a lot of crew people, stagehands, designers -- that have a yearly Christmas paycheck that comes to them and it's been way, way, way, way reduced this year, you know, for obvious reasons. I'm the designer on this show so I don't take that lightly. I can see my work being thin for quite some time and I think that's just the reality of it.

What are you looking forward to when theatre comes back?

Well, I’m looking forward to getting out of this space I’m in all the time. To be able to stretch out a little bit, to sit in a room with actual humans, and be able to engage with them, that’s going to be just very relieving. I’ve had a little bit of that in my music life where I’ve been able to have socially distanced band practice. It’s amazing how you fall out of practice so easily, you know, not being on your feet and like engaging physically in an activity other than sitting at a desk looking at Zoom. There's a physical dexterity that just drops out of your ass and so I'm looking forward to just having a bit more life on my feet.

I have one more question, which is something we actually asked the actresses as well. What do you think Escaped Alone says to this moment?

For me, personally, having been there with these actors, sitting in an actual backyard and seeing them engage, and not just in the scene work but in between the scenes when we would take a break and eat and just have this sort of pleasant environment that was then interjected with these scenes of doom as the play goes on… You know they're having this pleasant time with each other and then they snap into their inner selves and you just see all the vulnerability.

I feel like now, as we're trying to live our normal lives while there’s a pandemic and an election and fires and all this stuff going on that we're all dealing with -- and yet we are still trying to live our normal lives at the same time. There's a casualness that we all want to adapt so quickly just to give ourselves some sort of normalcy, and have that run simultaneously alongside some pretty heavy stuff. In this play all that heavy stuff is interjected with this kind of absurd humor at the same time. I love those two things being held together at one time; I love the absurdity,the darkness, and the nicety on the outside. I feel like that absurdity reminds me not to take anything too seriously. We can just go through life just looking at the heavy things, or we can take a bit of an absurd take on things, and still take it seriously, and still participate in the normalcy of life.

Abigail Rosen

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