In 2011, Cricket Myers was nominated for a Tony Award for Sound Design in Broadway’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. This may have been a highlight, but it’s hardly the only time the vivacious designer has been honored for her work. She’s based in Los Angeles, which is the West Coast’s good fortune, and she has a slew of active and upcoming productions in LA and Orange County. I grabbed the opportunity to talk to her in conjunction with her work on the current play at Anaheim’s Chance Theater, The Other Place, and I can’t wait to see the Sweeney Todd she’s doing for South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa in January.
We may not have made time to dive into Cricket’s other passions (running, skiing, animals), but the glimpse she gave me into her career definitely stoked my fire for knowing more women behind the scenes in the entertainment industry.
Leona Laurie: So you’re a Tony-nominated sound designer.
Cricket Myers: I am.
LL: How does one become that?
CM: Well, there are lots of routes, but I started as a Physics major and switched to Theatre– general kind of Tech Theatre. Then I got out in the real world and narrowed down specifically what I wanted to do once I was working, so I went back to grad school at Cal Arts and got a Master’s in Sound. I decided I really loved L.A., and I was going to stay here, and I’ve pretty much been working ever since. I’m completely freelance, so I work all over the country, although most of my work is in Los Angeles. The space we’re in at the Chance is like 55 seats or so, and I’ve worked at places like the Ahmanson or the Richard Rodgers on Broadway, which are considerably larger.
LL: Physics to Theatre… what was the bridge between those two disciplines?
CM: I had done a lot of theatre in high school, and when I went to college I had a work/study in the theatre. I realized my second year that I liked Physics, but I loved Theatre. I needed to do what I loved, so I switched. My parents weren’t thrilled.
LL: Hopefully by now they’ve come around. You were nominated for a Tony.
CM: Oh, very much. My mom came to the Tony Awards.
LL: I mean, you have to be pretty high up in Physics before there’s an awards ceremony that has that level of prestige.
CM: Right? Totally.
LL: The discipline that you’ve chosen in theatre is probably one of the more scientific choices available to somebody who has that kind of mind.
CM: Yeah, absolutely. My understanding of acoustics and how sound travels in a room and how it interacts in a room… and also I’m comfortable with computers. We do a lot of networking computers so that we can work at the tech table, and network into the board and network into the show computer. All of that stuff comes very naturally to me. It comes in handy. I can use those skills, but there’s a creative element to sound, and it works my right brain, too, which I really enjoy.
LL: I appreciate your mentioning acoustics and understanding the physical dynamics of a room. As an audience member, I think the only times I really notice the sound distinctly are when it’s overwhelming or when it’s perfect. Honestly, the sound in smaller venues sometimes feels like it was designed for a much bigger room. When you are going back and forth between something as big as a Broadway theatre and something as intimate as the Chance, what does that look like for you? How does that actually manifest in terms of you doing something different that I experience in the audience?
CM: Every single room I walk into is different, and every play I work on is different. Not all theatres allow me the ability to fully customize my sound system, but it’s really nice. The number and kind of speakers you use is very dependent on the space and also the style of show. If it’s a loud rock and roll show, the sound system I set up is going to be very different than a Sondheim musical, which texturally feels very different. The sound is a very different style. Or, a big band or a straight play, like the show at the Chance. The sound systems will all be different for those different things, not only based on the space, but based on the show.
At the Chance Theater, with this specific production, it’s less about microphones and reinforcing, because it’s such a small space. It’s about being able to locate sound to very specific places in the room. There’s a scene where someone is yelling from another room in the house, so we want their voice to source from where that room “is,” so they feel like they’re coming another room. Or a cell phone rings, and you want to make it sound like the cell phone itself is actually ringing, as opposed to the speakers up in the air making a ringing sound. It feels very different, and especially in an intimate space like that it’s noticed when the device itself isn’t working or the image is wrong.
LL: I see on your website that you’ve worked at South Coast Repertory Theatre. What shows did you do at South Coast Rep?
CM: I’ve done at least a dozen shows there, and I’m actually in production for Kings, which opens very soon now. Then I will be doing Sweeney Todd with them in January, and then I’ll be doing Photograph 51 with them in March.
LL: It sounds like there’s a lot of variety in where you work and what you do. How do you get hired?
CM: I don’t go after shows; people call me. Theatres reach out to me and ask if I’m interested and available. It depends on the show and the theatre and my availability any time they reach out. In the case of The Other Place at the Chance, I’ve known Matt McCray, the director, forever. He and I go way back. I love working with him.
LL: Seeing you as Sound Designer for The Other Place jumped right out at me because you’re a woman. Am I wrong in thinking that you’re in the minority in your profession?
CM: Absolutely not wrong. Female sound designers make up about 11.6% of the population and we have about 10.5% of the jobs.
CM: Yeah. HowlRound did a great survey of all the designers. The survey was done by Portia McGovern.
When I designed my show on Broadway, I was the third woman to have ever designed on Broadway. This season, there will be the sixth woman. My show was back in 2011. So in eight years, there have only been three other women to do that. On Broadway, we’re a much, much smaller percentage.
LL: Why is that? Do you have any ideas?
CM: I think it’s a really complex, and I think there are a lot of reasons and I think we’re just beginning to understand what those are. I think we’re just beginning to talk about how much of a problem this is, and therefore, how do we fix it? If you look at the students in grad schools coming out, they’re extremely diverse. There’s men and women in all the fields at a relatively equal level. You get about five years later, and most of the women and minorities are gone.
So what’s happening? I spend most of my time focusing on what’s happening in those first couple of years, and how do we stop whatever it is that’s pulling them out.
Freelancing is hard. It’s a hard job to do. If you don’t have a strong base of support behind you, it’s easy to get discouraged. I was very, very lucky that I had some really incredible mentors in those first couple of years. Mentors I could call up and say: “I have not made enough money this month. I do not know how I’m going to pay my rent.”
And they would say: “Come over to my studio. Work. Put in some hours and just tell me how much money you need.”
So I didn’t have to go take a full time job. I didn’t have to go find something more stable. I could really rely on those people– and my family, too. My family was very supportive, and not going to let me starve.
It’s easy to get discouraged, and I think the kind of hours you put in, if you also want to have a family, both for men and women, it’s hard to do when you’re a freelancer. I think a lot people make the conscious choice to put fewer hours into the career and more hours into family. If you’re not doing it full time, the bigger theatres don’t notice you. They hire people they know, and they hire names they recognize. So if aren’t working full time, and if they don’t know you, and they don’t have a way to get to know you, the chances of them calling you are slimmer and slimmer.
It’s funny you mention South Coast Rep. I sent my resume to them probably four years in a row, and I knew the engineer there. He said they would sit in meetings and bemoan the fact that there were no Sound Designers in Los Angeles and they always had to fly in their Sound Designers. He would hand them my resume and say, “This is a Sound Designer who’s working in Los Angeles.” But they didn’t know me.
And then I had a director get a job there and say, “I want to work with Cricket.” And they’re like, “Well, we don’t know her, but if you trust her, we’ll bring her in.” By the time I finished that show, they’d offered me three more, because they knew me now. And I think that’s hard for young designers. There’s no set, fast way of sending out your resume or finding work.
LL: Very interesting. I talked to Helenna Santos, the founder of Ms. In the Biz, about the root causes of gender disparity behind the scenes in the entertainment industry and what some solutions for it might be. Her ideas focused on the importance of allies and advocacy, mentorship, and the people in power consciously being inclusive when nurturing the next generation. It sounds like that holds true in your field as well– that your mentors helped you make it through the difficult early years, and that allies helped open doors.
CM: Yeah. And the way the Mark Taper Forum and Center Theatre Group got to know me is that the guy who used to be their resident Sound Designer hired me to be his assistant. Every show he was in there, I was also in there, so they got to know me. When he eventually left that position, they turned to me and said, “Do you want to come design?” Because now they knew me. Now that I’m in kind of the same position he was, I’m always looking at the colleges and the recent graduates for that next person to come assist me so I can introduce them to the theatres.
LL: That’s awesome.
Turning back to The Other Place, a job you were drawn into because of a connection with the director, beyond that personal connection, what appealed to you about this gig?
CM: I read the script when they sent it to me. Definitely knowing the theatre and the director was the huge pulling point, but I love the script. I think it’s beautiful. It’s about watching a brilliant mind kind of disintegrate, so there’s a lot of opportunity for sound to support not only the location, because the script switches locations very rapidly back and forth, but also the progression she’s making in her mind and the way that things are falling apart for her and becoming less cohesive. How do we support that journey as much as we do the locations in the script? That’s the part that really interests me: how do I help tell this woman’s story?
LL: And how do you? If see the show, are there any moments that you would tell me to especially listen for?
CM: Sure! As things progress, we have kind of a tonal underscoring that will begin to creep in when she goes into moments where she is talking about someone who is not there… seeing something that is not there. As she begins to talk about this person, at first it seems completely normal, and then the more she talks, there’s a tone that creeps in that kind of changes the way the room feels little bit. Also, when she’s giving a lecture on a handheld microphone as she devolves, as she breaks down, the sound begins to break down. We stop using the crystal clear, handheld mic, and we switch to a hidden mic that adds a reverb and a texture on her voice so that her voice begins to distort and change as she’s talking about this person who isn’t there.
It’s like as she devolves, her voice and the sounds in the room become something other.
LL: The Other Place is playing now at The Chance. What’s next for you? If somebody sees this and they’re like: “I love that reverb effect. I’ve gotta hear the next thing Cricket does…”
CM: I’m currently sitting in the parking lot of the MainStreet Theatre in Rancho Cucamonga, where I’m doing a production of School House Rock Live. I go straight from this to Kings at South Coast Rep.
The Other Place is at the Chance Theater in Anaheim, CA, until October 21. Visit https://chancetheater.com for tickets. Get Tickets to Kings, which opens October 20, Sweeney Todd or Photograph 51 at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, CA, at https://www.scr.org. The MainStreet Theatre Company’s School House Rock Live plays at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga, CA, until October 27. Get tickets at https://www.lewisfamilyplayhouse.com/mainstreet/. Learn more about Cricket at http://www.cricketsmyers.com.
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