Informing Bethany Lutheran College's Spring 2013 Production. Shows at: April 19, 20, 26, 27 at 7:30pm and April 21 at 2pm
This is not the first time Benji Inniger has designed Hamlet.
“It’s the first major repeat, including one I was writing music for. I didn’t want to cut and paste anything. I wanted to stay fresh,” Benji said.
Benji is the sound designer for our production of Hamlet and he actually first designed for Hamlet five years ago at MSU. This time around he is looking for something different.
A Budding Sound Designer
Benji has always been a music guy. He came into theatre at Bethany after discovering an outlet composing for plays. In his time at Bethany as a student, he had the opportunity to design many shows, in part because he was the only one interested.
After doing so many shows and excelling at the sound design competition at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), doors opened for Benji and he had the chance to intern at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Center. This internship gave him experience working with different people in different environments, which Benji credits with expanding his process. After that experience, going to graduate school at MSU-Mankato filled in the technical foundation.
Since graduating from MSU-Mankato, Benji has spent time on the East Coast designing for professional theaters. He returned to Bethany to teach last spring and since then has had a huge impact on the Bethany Theatre Department through his directing and teaching work.
As a designer, Benji is best known for his original compositions and his ear for space.
“I like layers. My designs are quite thick. For instance, I cranked out the ambience for the ghost, there’s probably going to be fourteen to sixteen layers of ambience going at the same time. Instead of just exporting it as one file, I’m going to export them all separately and play them from different places. It makes a more fat sound.”
To start any design process, Benji reads the script several times. “First time through is purely storytelling. Then I try not to make any decisions until I’ve had that first conversation with the director.”
In Benji’s experience you can get into some trouble if you design before talking concept with the director. He related a story from the first time he designed Hamlet at MSU. Benji had to sort of earn the mainstage design and came to the first production meeting a little over-enthusiastic.
“I came in with scratch tracks and sheet music, as it turned out, that was a mistake to have all that stuff done before hearing the director’s concept. The irony is that the sketches I came up with weren’t too far off from what I ended up with. I learned a good lesson about not getting too far ahead of the process.”
This time around Benji is certainly a more mature designer. Part of the process for this production has involved going through ideas and sounds and with Pete, discarding the ones that don’t quite fit and letting the sound grow and evolve as the whole production grows.
“My initial ideas were doing a lot of plucked strings, plucked cellos, but that didn’t really pan out. That didn’t sound like I thought it would and it didn’t match what was going on here [gestures to the set.]”
The sound he is creating now has a great deal of inspiration in the turmoil Hamlet has to deal with and draws from sources like Sigur Ros for that modern feel. Benji is excited about how the design is evolving towards a rock-and-roll type of noise.
“I’ve never gottent to do sort of a rock, heavy-electric guitars sort of thing. It’s not a head bang sort of rock. We went in talking about Sigur Ros and Sigur Ros is a rock band. That sound helps communicate the angst and some of the hate and confusion that Hamlet has. It’s a useful instrumentation for that.”
When asked about the best advice he was ever given about working in theatre, he promptly responded:
“Work hard and don’t burn bridges. You don’t even have to be great at something, you just have to work hard.”
Lydia Grabau, Dramaturg