Victoria Deiorio is a composer and sound designer for theatre and film based in Chicago. Her company Victoria Sound Design works with production companies across the US, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Goodman Theatre and Cleveland Playhouse. She talked to us about the magic of theater, the evolution of sound technology and why silence is inspiring.
My work is both artistic and technical in nature
I am the person on the artistic team of a theater production that determines everything you hear and how it fills the space. My role is to support the emotional impression upon the audience as well as build sound cues, compose music and reinforce how all of it is heard in each space where the work is presented.
I began as a ballet dancer
At 14, I was on scholarship at Joffrey Ballet School in New York then received a BFA in Musical Theatre from Syracuse University. I studied classical acting at RADA and LAMDA in London before moving to Chicago to be a classical actress and director. After nine years of this, I transitioned into the music industry by joining a rock and roll band. I toured with that band for five years and later formed ToyBand, showcasing my original music and producing two CDs.
My first sound design work remains one of my favorites
A theatre company, of which I was a founding member, asked if I would compose and sound design Holy Days by Sally Nemeth. It is a beautiful play set in the dustbowl era during the depression. I wrote acoustic music and paired it with wind for the transitions from scene to scene. I love its sheer simplicity, which is why it is still one of my favorite designs. After that, I never stopped working in theater as my name was handed from one company to the next.
When I first started we used reel-to-reel tape and cassettes
How you play back sound designs in the theater has completely evolved. Equipment kept being invented and we used anything we could get our hands on to create dynamic rich designs. After tapes came early samplers and CDs. Minidisc made a big splash in theatre because it could auto-stop after every cue meaning you didn’t need the choreography of pausing a piece of equipment to change levels and speaker placement.
Technology has transformed my profession
Teaching your design to an engineer used to be like a dance performed in real-time in a near-silent dark booth. Now computer controls allow for continuity and ease of repetition from night to night, automating how the sound is played back during the production and ensuring the design stays intact. Though nothing compares to recording a live musician, composing music on a computer means I can work with smaller budgets and change the music whenever and however I needed.
The last 10 days before opening create the magic of theater
Typically my initial sound design work begins with research for inspirational pieces that suit the production’s artistic style, genre and time period. Once rehearsals with actors begin, I become more involved and if music or sound is needed to rehearse choreography or singing, I’ll create that. But it’s only at the full run-throughs that I get the best picture of what the end product can become.
The best way to create theatre is in person
However, I often work with production companies in different cities and budgetary constraints mean that traveling for every meeting isn’t always possible. So these meetings often happen via phone and video conferencing. Email is the main mode of communication as most notes and ideas are communicated in writing.
I don’t compress sound files
Sound files take up a lot of space but I never want to lose data by compressing to MP3 because you need to hear the fullness of the music as you would in a live environment. I wanted to be able to send really large audio files by email but most servers can’t handle more than 15MB attachments.
Hightail is the sound designer’s choice
I needed a service where I could upload sound files for others to download and began using Hightail because of its easiness. It was a godsend for me. I could finally send multiple sound files with one link to showcase my ideas for feedback. When I would amend the sound files, I would send another link for feedback. It was a brilliant addition to my work and made me look very professional. And now, honestly, I don’t know what I’d do without it.
Every experience brings artistry, efficiency and wisdom
It’s always interesting to track the journey of your career. I began with big, epic, ensemble-driven, gigantic, loud, scary shows. But over the past year I have developed my subtle side in two shows where you don’t hear but ‘feel’ the sound.
There is nothing more perfect than the planet we live on
It is essential to find moments that remind me I am a human being on a gorgeous, living, breathing planet spinning around in space. When I get a break, you’ll usually find me hiking in the mountains, bicycling through the woods, snorkeling in the ocean or experiencing new cultures. Because I live my life in a sound-filled digital world, I truly value the silence and solitude of exploring on my own.
My studio contains only the essentials
My space is light and airy, extremely comfortable, and easy. I have a fast Mac with lots of space, dynamic stereo headphones, great studio monitors, a collection of microphones that I am in love with and the software that makes my work sound better than I ever thought possible. Other than that, I have objects around me that remind of the special people in my life for inspiration.
I still act and direct when my schedule permits
Every now and then I return to the stage to sing, act, or direct and have just completed the sound and music for my fourth short film. When I’m not working for clients, you can find me teaching at DePaul University as the Head of Sound Design for The Theatre School…or on vacation.