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The Glass Menagerie

Design Concept

The Glass Menagerie was one of my favorite projects, as well as my first main stage assignment as Sound Designer. The core concept that we followed with this play separated it into three distinct worlds:

1: the present, in which Tom, as a timeless figure, narrates the story of his family.

2: Tom's memories, represents Tom's faded recollection of his life, these are the parts of the play in which his character is present.

3: Scenes that are played out by Tom's imagination of events.

1. The Present

The present is the world of the theatre. Tom is a timeless, ghost-like figure who enters an empty space and fills it with his story. These are the scenes in which Tom narrates his story directly to the audience. There is no ambience or underscoring; there is only Tom, the theatre, and the audience. This emptiness is amplified through the pre-show, which boosted the ambient noise floor, which fades out as Tom enters, emphasizing the silence and handing the room over to him.

2. Tom's Memories

Tom's memories are the scenes that he is immediately present for. They are a hazy realism, faded by the passing of time and romanticized or amplified by his own perspective. The sounds are diegetic. The music which underscores the scenes comes from either the gramophone that Laura plays or the Paradise Dance hall across the street.

Music from the gramophone both underscores the mood of the scene and drives home the period. The records played would have been wax, with a single song per side, reflecting the technology at the time when Tom's father would have acquired them. I used recordings of original records, so the noise and imperfections in the playback are entirely authentic.

The Paradise Dance hall is the source of most underscoring for scenes on the Fire Escape. It is clean and jazzy, sometimes romanticized by Tom's memory. The fire escape is the only space that is truly his, and the only place where he has a healthy interaction with his mother. (Top Right: Alley ambience and Frankie Carle's Sunrise Serenade)

The one exception to the sound being strictly motivated is Tom's night at the movies, his night of drunken revelry is underscored by "Moanin'", by Charles Mingus (Top Left).


Ambiences are a subtle and faded recollection of St Louis in the 1930's. Cars passing and the noise of the city reflect the technology of the day.

3. Tom's Imagination

The imagined scenes are those that Tom is not present for. They play out as he creates them. The action of these scenes wavers from simple to fantastic and dream-like. They are all underscored by a faint movie-reel sound effect and Tom watches them from the audience.

Amanda's Phone call is the one time we see Amanda as Tom imagines her, happy and free of burdens. She is momentarily released from the burdens of her life and the moment of her freedom is carried by 'Saturday Night Waltz' by Aaron Copland.

The scene in which Tom brings Jim home to call on his sister is the romantic climax of the play, in which all of the hopes carried by Tom and Amanda are brought to within reach and then shattered. The scene occurs as the power goes out due to a storm. The only sound is the rain, gentle and soothing, motivating the intimacy of the scene between Jim and Laura. This eventually fades into silence and the scene is lit only by candle light as the two draw close. Music floats into the scene from the dance hall and the two begin to dance, this moment is the peak and the characters break the space, as they fall into the moment of the dance, the music fills the space and they expand out to the floor in front of the stage until their moment of purity is shattered when they bump into the menagerie and break Laura's Favorite figurine and the hope that the menagerie represents.

Qlab Screenshots

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