The resident sound designer at the American Repertory Theater since 2009, the Arlington resident and native Briton got his first Tony Award nomination this week — one of 11 nods to the musical “Once.” A stage adaptation of John Carney’s Irish movie of the same name, “Once” was workshopped at the ART last season before opening in New York. Like the movie, the Broadway show has music and lyrics by the film’s stars, Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová.
Q. So what exactly does a sound designer do?
A. It’s a pretty broad range of things. It’s everything from designing and arranging sound effects, how they’ll be used, the microphones, the instruments, the sound systems, how they should be installed. It’s different for musicals and plays, but my job encompasses the creative side and the technical side of sound.
Q. Tell me about your experience working with “Once.”
A. It was developed here [at the ART] early on. The first workshop for the show was at Oberon, our small theater . . . and that’s how I got involved. I did the sound there, and we just really jelled with the team, the designers, the producers, and they wanted me to stay. So I did. We went to the New York Theatre Workshop and eventually went to Broadway. The team pretty much stayed the same through all of that.
Q. Did you see a difference between working at a small nonprofit and working on Broadway?
A. Yes, in the scale of things. Because Broadway makes a profit, and because of their physical size, there are more jobs, a bigger budget, and they’re just expecting more. The major difference is the facilities and the resources.
Q. Is “Once” different than other productions you’ve worked on?
A. It’s different than a traditional musical in that the entire cast plays instruments. Traditional musicals have a separate orchestra with a pit, and the instruments are sort of hidden. Working with Martin Lowe, the music director, was a key part of all of this. We worked to develop how things would sound, and whether we’d make changes electronically or acoustically. The whole cast is mobile; they’re moving around onstage a lot. Everything has to be wireless. The challenge there was making things sound natural and creating an environment for the cast so that they can always hear themselves. But the whole cast was so professional; they’re acting, singing, dancing, playing instruments. They made my job so much easier.
Q. Is the music in the play pretty true to the original?
A. I think that it definitely has the spirit of the music in the movie. There’s no huge change to the arrangements. I saw the movie in 2007 or 2008 and really loved it. But I love what they’ve done with the music; it comes across beautifully.
Q. Did you work at all with Hansard and Irglová?
A. They came to several performances in Cambridge and on Broadway. They worked more with the cast and with Martin because they’re more directly involved with the music. I was working more with how the audience would hear it. They were much more focused on the music. That was their baby; they developed it. I found it really moving even after working on it and seeing it so many times.
‘I owe a lot of [the Tony Award nomination] to the designers, the director, and the fabulous cast. They’ve all made “Once” what it is.’
Q. Let’s talk a little bit about your Tony nomination. Congratulations. Can you describe the feeling when you found out?
A. I found out just yesterday. I’m kind of a little overwhelmed. I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. It’s really, really an honor to be included with so many people that I admire. It’s such a special feeling, and being a part of the whole performance. There are just so many wonderful people involved in this. I owe a lot of it to the designers, the director, and the fabulous cast. They’ve all made “Once” what it is.
Q. Sound engineering and designing is such a narrow field. What is it about this, specifically, that you love so much?
A. I do sound because I love getting the sound to be involving and an experience for the audience. I think that hearing is a neglected sense in many ways. People take it for granted. People tend to notice sound only if it isn’t how they expect it to be. I really get satisfaction out of giving people an experience that complements the performance but doesn’t intrude. Creating an experience as seamless and natural as possible, I get a great satisfaction out of that.