Robert Walsh doesn’t break up fights; he usually starts them. David Remedios reads words but hears sound. Both men bring their talents to the New Repertory Theatre production of “Art,’’ opening next Sunday at Watertown’s Arsenal Center for the Arts.
When an audience sees a bar brawl or a sword duel on stage, the actors have of course been taught how to do it without actually getting bloodied or injured. That’s where Walsh comes in.
“You try to create authentic-looking fights,’’ the Newton resident said.
But Walsh is also an actor. In “Art,’’ a Tony Award-winning comedy by Yasmina Reza, Walsh’s role relies less on physical aggression than on fierce differences of opinion between two friends.
Remedios is the show’s sound designer. When the audience hears the roar of thunder, the flush of a toilet, or a musical interlude is required, that’s when the sound designer’s work is on display.
The process begins quietly, though. Remedios, who lives in Watertown, said he reads a script to see “how loud or soft sound should be in a scene.’’ When the actors first read through their lines together, Remedios listens.
“I like to hear how the actors handle the text,’’ he said. “I start to make concrete decisions when rehearsals begin.’’
“Art’’ explores how people’s taste in art reflects who they are as individuals. When Serge, a novice art collector, asks two friends to view a newly acquired abstract painting, the resulting conflict tests their relationships.
“This is an incredible, fun show,’’ said Walsh. “I saw it several years ago, and when I saw it on the New Rep schedule I let them know I’d be interested in acting in it or directing.’’
Walsh plays Serge, who spends $200,000 for a painting that is entirely white, signifying . . . well, that’s just it. Signifying what?
His friend Marc, played by Robert Pemberton, can’t believe it.
“Marc sees himself as a cultured mentor to Serge,’’ said Walsh.
Serge takes Marc’s disdain for the painting “quite personally, but he may have his own doubts,’’ said Walsh. “The journey is to find out what the level of the friendship is. Do they really care about each other?
“The purchase of the painting has allowed this moment to occur.’’
If Serge has made the wrong choice, Walsh said, then he also wants Marc to know “ ‘Well, here’s all your wrong choices.’ How can they come together when their friendship is about to explode?’’
Another friend, Yvan, played by Doug Lockwood, tries to be the peacemaker and winds up in the middle of the crossfire.
“He’s very sweet, but he takes a lot of heat trying to mollify them,’’ said Walsh.
Walsh was an athlete growing up in New York. “My high school English teacher got athletes to do shows,’’ he said. “It was kind of a hoot. And we got to do them with girls.’’
He studied theater in college but wondered whether he could make a career of it. After graduating from Purdue with a master’s degree in fine arts, he went to New York and found work for 11 years, including roles in the soap operas “The Guiding Light’’ and “One Life to Live.’’ When his wife, Marya Lowry, got a job teaching vocal production at Brandeis University in 1989, the couple moved to Newton.
Walsh soon was directing plays at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell. “I was always interested in expanding,’’ he said.
He also has directed at Huntington Theatre while tracking acting roles, and teaches part time at Brandeis and the American Repertory Theatre. At New Rep, he has directed “True West’’ and “Speed-the-Plow.’’ When an area production needs some direction in combat scenes, Walsh is likely to be called in.
Remedios is well known in Boston arts circles for his work in sound. So he wasn’t surprised when “Art’’ director Antonio Ocampo-Guzman asked whether he would come aboard. It’s their first collaboration.
“The director will say, ‘I have these thoughts, what are you thinking?’ ’’ said Remedios. “One of my jobs is to determine if the theater can provide the sounds we’re asking for. Every space has its challenges. You have to recognize what it has or doesn’t have, and work within that framework.
“This show has quite a delicate balance of sound,’’ he said. “How will the music we choose help the story progress?’’
It helps that Remedios was a classical music major. He grew up in California, graduated from California State University, Fullerton in 1989, and did sound for productions in Los Angeles.
“I worked odd jobs when I was in school, and played in a band on the side,’’ Remedios said. “I played guitar and flute.’’
It was the band gig that got him interested in sound, how it is made, and made him want to learn more. “It was like ‘Oh, so this is a mixer,’ ’’ he said.
Remedios moved to Watertown in 1993, and for 16 years has worked with the American Repertory Theatre.
Stage sound design keeps evolving.
“You’ve got to learn the emerging technologies,’’ said Remedios.
He lives with his partner of 12 years, actress Karen MacDonald. So what does the busy Remedios do when he has some time to himself?
“I listen to a lot of music,’’ he said.
It just may sound a little different to him.