Matthew Nielson is the Resident Sound Designer for Round House Theatre where his design for Double Indemnity will soon be heard. His many DC area credits include work at Arena Stage, Theater J, Ford’s Theatre, Forum Theatre (The Illusion coming soon) and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company. He is also an accomplished composer for film and television as well. His work has been heard on Fox TV’s UFC and in Asheville’s 48 hour Film Project submission of A Sleepover Story. He has won two Helen Hayes Awards and has at least five nominations. Matthew’s work is always a welcome addition to any production and coming from someone who does sound design I am quite jealous of how talented he is.
What was your first professional job as a sound designer in the DC area?
That’s kind of a tricky question to answer because I dabbled a little for several years before diving in head first. Officially my first productions were 12 Angry Men with Keegan Theatre and Strange Interlude with WSC, both in 2000. Then I went up to New York to work at the Public Theatre and when I came back, I worked on a handful of shows at Round House Theatre Silver Spring while on staff there. When I started freelancing again, my first productions were Ten Unknowns at Signature Theatre and Royal Hunt of the Sun with WSC.
You are Resident Sound Designer for Round House Theatre. What are some of your favorite designs for that venue?
I have quite a few favorites with Round House. I think my top favorite would be A Prayer For Owen Meany. That was such an amazing production. It was the first time I remember working on a production where everything lined up and fell into place perfectly. The cast was brilliant. Dan Wagner was the lighting designer and I learned how important it is that lighting and sound work hand in hand. It was my first production with Blake Robison. I learned how strong a sound design can be when it is nuanced and subtle, though there were many loud and in-your-face moments in that show.
Other favorites at Round House include Underneath the Lintel, A Body of Water (both with Jerry Whiddon on stage – enough said), Crime and Punishment, Treasure Island (my first experience scoring an entire production), The Book Club Play (my first time working with JJ Kaczinski on projections design), Around the World in 80 Days, and Amadeus.
When you start to work on a design for a show what is the first thing you consider?
Another tough question! There are always several things to take into consideration when starting a new design. Who will I be working with? What are the characteristics of the room and the capabilities of the sound system? What does the script call for? I guess the most important thing though – and the one I look forward to the most with any production – is the first conversation with the director. Does the director have anything in mind yet? Will I be composing or finding music? Those are the questions that really get me excited about a production.
If someone said to you “I have a sound designer for this show already but I can use you somewhere else in the production” which department would you choose?
That’s not something I’ve ever really thought about. I guess my first question would be, “Is the sound designer also composing the music?” I’ve worked on many productions where I’ve been the sound designer and somebody else has composed, and even more where I’ve done both, but never just the composer. Other than that, I don’t know. I wouldn’t pretend to know the first thing about designing scenery, costume or lights. Maybe I could be a dramaturge or assistant director.
After Double Indemnity what are your next few projects?
Right after Double Indemnity I’m designing The History of Invulnerability at Theatre J and later in the summer I’m working on Big Love with The Hub. In the meantime I have several projects I’m working on with my production company, Sound Lab Studios. We just finished work on launching a new cable channel called Epix Drive-In that shows B-movies and cult classics. We created close to 100 ten-fifteen second long station ID, “coming up next,” and “tonight” spots, each one modeled after different B-movie genres. We’re currently finishing up the score and design for an indie film called From Hell to Here about a Vietnam War veteran dealing with PTSD. I’m also designing the Folger Theatre’s audio-book rendition of their production of Othello that I worked on at the beginning of this season.