If you were a director and were staging Shakespeare's The Tepest, how would you create the sounds of a thunder storm and a ship being torn apart? What things could you find around your house and use to make the sounds of thunder and lightning? waves? braking wood?
One of the best things about movies and video games is the sound effects. The sounds and noises tell you lots of things about what is happening and what might happen next. We all know that scary music that comes just before a jump scare, or the sound of thunder and lightening that makes us feel as if we are in the storm, too. Sound effects help us to more fully enter into the stories that we are watching.
Plays performed during Shakespeare’s time used sound effects in the same ways. They were, perhaps, even more important then than they are today. The Tudor era did not have the digital resources that we have today to make shows and plays seem more real.
Sound effects in Shakespeare’s time were expensive and not used all of the time, but were important in bringing a magical quality to the stage. Thunder could be made with drums or a rolling cannonball or by waving a piece of sheet metal. Lightening effects used firecrackers. Cannons were deployed and smoke was used as fog. Some of the effects could be quite dangerous and many smelled badly as well.
Trumpets, chimes and bells and whistles were used. Live animals may have been used and certainly actors skilled in imitations were put to the task of creating the sounds of baying hounds, crowing roosters and wailing ghosts. The key to a good sound effect being believable was that it be off-stage and out of site of the audience. Sound effect apparatus could be hidden below or above the stage or behind the scenery and in the wings.
A Fragment of Theatrical Sound Effects:
Photo credit: bbc.com
An exciting find at the Curtain Theatre (a 16th century playhouse where some of Shakespeare’s plays were staged) in 2012 is a fragment of a ceramic bird whistle that was normally a children’s toy. This may have been used for birdsong during the performance of one of Shakespeare's plays. Birdsong is referred to in Romeo and Juliet, for example.
Create your own sounds:
Here are some creative ways to make your own sound effects. Challenge yourself or your friends and family to create some of these same effects with other household materials. Try these out at home and then use them in your own performances!
Clap two blocks of wood together to make the sound of knocking on a door.
Knock an upside-down plastic cup on a table to make the sound of horses’ hooves.
Dip a cork in vinegar and rub it on a bottle to simulate the squeak of mice or a monkey squeal.
Fill a can with rice and shake for the sound of a rattlesnake.
Fill a can with gravel and turn it slowly to make the sound of rain.
Quickly pull a spatula along the back of a pan to simulate pulling a sword from its sheath.
Let your elbows and then your arms fall against a desk to sound like a body falling.
What other effects can you come up with? Share your ideas with us in the comment section below! We’d love to “hear” them!!