Have you ever been sitting at your desk trying to study, and can’t help but overhear your neighbors arguing over the level of the heat? Have you ever been gossiping with your friends when a neighbor asks you to be quiet and you guiltily wonder how much of your conversation they heard?
Scenarios like these are where the idea for “Overheard: A Sensory Experience” originated. Directed by Jess Cummings ’17 and stage managed by Natalie May ’18, “Overheard” is performed in complete darkness, allowing the audience only auditory access to short vignettes.
“The idea came about with the realization of how thin the walls in which we live truly are and how easy it is to hear every occurrence of your neighbors,” Cummings said.
The show is told in a series of sketches depicting, as Cummings describes, “the sounds of our lives as college students and how we perceive the world.” While the audience sits in chairs with a curtain surrounding them, submerged in darkness, actors create soundscapes from the outside of the curtain. The piece explores various manipulations of sound and how it can be distorted and affected.
“It’s impossible to describe how ‘Overheard’ will affect audiences as the experience varies between seats, but I feel that it really speaks to all,” May said.
Kerry Nix ’16 tried out as she wanted to audition for more unconventional shows this semester.
“I read the description for ‘Overheard’ and was intrigued by its vagueness,” Nix said. “[Cummings is] super genuine, creative, and has a beautiful singing voice.”
According to Cummings, the process of writing and practicing a soundscape differs greatly from that of a typical play with visual aspects. She began by conducting a series of creative sound exercises with the cast.
One such exercise consisted of cast members forming sound circles, in which they laid on the floor with their heads together and produced a collection of sounds based on a certain idea they had been given, such as “ocean” or “travel.” Other activities Cummings used to generate ideas included having her team bring in objects that made various sounds and conducting journaling sessions.
The informal setting in which all these exercises took place allowed for maximum creativity.
“Mainly it was about fostering a creative environment in which everyone could play and then taking the ideas that came about due to that environment and placing them into a structure,” Cummings said.
As for the process of formalizing these ideas, Cummings proceeded to meet with each cast member individually to talk about ideas they had for specific vignettes. According to Cummings, the collaborative aspect of the piece was crucial to the performance.
“This piece is truly made up of each of the people involved and everyone has put something of themselves into the work,” she said.
“Overheard” is May’s first experience in stage managing, and the collaborative aspect of the show stood out to her as particularly rewarding. Since the show lacks visual stage sets, she has been able to communicate with the actors more than she would in a show, where she would be working primarily with set designers.
“I’ve really had a chance to get to know the cast better by listening to their thoughts, feelings, and histories during rehearsals,” May said.
Zacko Brint ’16 also cited the communication between cast members as a highlight of performing in “Overheard.”
“If we are doing an improv [scene], and someone picks up with a creative noise, it is amazing how quickly the whole group picks up on it,” Brint said.
Everyone involved in the production has formed very close connections with each other, and these bonds will help them during the show. Since voices sound different to their owners than to people hearing them, the actors have no way of knowing how their performance is being received by audience members. Therefore, they rely on a system of trust—on Cummings, each other, and themselves—to ensure that their performance comes together.
“Overheard” will be performed for the last time tonight at 8 p.m. in the ’92 Theater. In the words of its cast members, “Come listen!”