Sound for the Season

Category: stage 123

Meet Aaron Collier. He’s the sound designer behind Theatre New Brunswick’s upcoming production of A Christmas Carol

Matt Carter
Aaron Collier

Aaron Collier has a proven ability to create mood and energy on stage. From his days spent on the road traveling and performing as a member of the Jimmy Swift Band and Scientists of Sound, the Halifax-based musician has logged hundreds and hundreds of live performances, from the largest festival stages to the tiniest bars and clubs in the country. That was his gig from 1999 until 2011.

“I stopped touring in 2012. That was after 12 years of continuous indie touring and it was starting to take its toll,” said Collier.

Near the end of his touring days, Collier slowly began exploring sound’s role in a theatre setting. Beginning with the 2008 production of Fewer Emergencies by the Halifax company Angels and Heroes, Collier has redirected much of his live-on-stage energy into his work as a sound designer.  And over the past nine years he has gone on to work with a number of theatre companies across Canada and the UK.

“When I started [doing sound design] it was very much an every-now-and-then or once or twice a year thing up until I stopped touring,” said Collier. “Then other people started to ask if I would do design work for their shows. From there I just started getting more and more interested in theatre. I love the world of theatre and how many people get to work on a show. It’s very different than being in a band.

“To be able to collaborate musically is really something I love and trying to figure out how to collaborate with people who design costumes, or sets, or lights, or people who are actors and storytellers is really exciting. Trying to fit in with that is really fun,” he said.

Despite the differences that exist between theatre performances and those in a bar or on a festival stage, Collier’s creative approach follows a similar path.

“In my role, I’m still writing music and I’m basing it on a lot of the same instincts a lot of the time,” he said. “Where it differs is that you’re creating within a bigger picture, whereas when you play with a band, that’s it.  That’s the picture.  While they could, bands seldom think about, ‘how does this look right now?’ and ‘how should this moment look and feel?’. In theatre, things get that specific. You have to think about the lights, what’s on stage, where actors are on stage and what the audience should be feeling.”

Photo: Jamie Vedres Photography

Earlier this year, Collier and his husband Richie Wilcox announced the launch of their own theatre company, Heist, dedicated to creating “innovative, genre-bending and queerly playful performances” with the aim to explore new performance possibilities through music, theatre and multimedia.

“I ended up marrying a theatre maker nine years ago,” said Collier. “We met 14 years ago and I was playing with the Jimmy Swift Band at that time. Since my husband is a director, it just seemed like a natural fit that I would help out and make music for his shows.”

Collier makes his Theatre New Brunswick debut this month working alongside Halifax director Ann-Marie Kerr to share a new and exciting interpretation of Dickens’ holiday classic, A Christmas Carol.

“Ann-Marie is extremely energetic and detailed and she doesn’t stop working until the show opens,” said Collier.

Exploring a new adaptation by TNB’s Thomas Morgan Jones, Collier and Kerr, together with the full ensemble and design team are taking a decidedly different approach to crafting the world of Scrooge and Marley. By embracing design elements from the fictional world of steampunk, and with women playing the roles of Scrooge, Marley and Tiny Tim, the production is a first for many involved.

“In this production we’ve sort of gone in a different route,” said Collier. “We’re keeping it set in 1845-ish but we’re making the design a little bit inspired by steampunk which is really just slightly later than 1845 historically right at the dawn of the industrial revolution. But we’re amping it up and making it a bit more punk. Lots of big coats, pieces of metal and embellishments on big top hats. These kind of things.

“So I’ve decided that the sound design should follow suit. I’m making sound and music out of clanking metal and steam powered things so it has a bit of an industrial feel, but I guess it also still has that warm, Christmas feel at the same time,” he said. “At least I hope it does. We don’t want to frighten people away with a terrifying Christmas Carol.”

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