Stories

New Victory Arts Break – Theater Sounds and Props Week

Welcome to Week 9 of New Victory Arts Break! Guided by New Victory Teaching Artists, Arts Break is a curriculum designed for the millions of families stuck at home to incorporate the performing arts into their learning. Show or no show, our nonprofit is committed to bringing the performing arts to the widest possible audience, and inspiring you to make art, and make memories, together!

Last week you explored the basic elements needed to tell an engaging story for the stage, but there’s more to the theatrical experience than characters, setting and plot. This week, it’s time to expand and enrich the world of your theatrical creations by designing props and soundscapes!

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Monday

DIY Nature

20 – 25 minutes, Ages 5 – 12

Inspiration for the world of your play can come from anywhere, but today our muse is Mother Nature. Let’s start with props! A prop is any portable object, other than furniture or costumes, used in a play or movie. Actors use and manipulate props in the course of telling the story. Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Therese Schorn as she teaches us how to populate a prop flower garden.

In springtime especially, the sounds of nature are just as varied as the sights! Let’s explore creating those sounds ourselves using a technique called foley. Foley, prevalent in movies but also common in theater, is the magical art of creating sound effects for movements and environments using different objects, materials, and even our own bodies and voices. Here’s a quick demonstration from veteran foley artist Peter Burgis.

Now it’s your turn! Take a look at the different settings depicted in the photos below—an old forest, a rain-soaked sidewalk, and flowery meadow—and think about what sounds you might want to make to bring them to life. What sounds do you think you would hear if you were in those places? What items might you have at home to help you imitate those sounds?

A foggy forest, a rainy street and a sunny field
Rainy Day Photo: Nathaniel Landau

Share your soundscapes with us on Instagram! Just tag us @newvictorytheater and we’ll feature your foley wizardry in our story. First-year usher Melanie Macias was inspired by the rainy day photo to create a rainstick! Take a look.

Eager to make your own? Check out this video from What’s Up Moms with crafting instructions for a cardboard tube rainstick. It calls for a hammer and nails, but stick around for a nail-free alternative toward the end of the video.

Modification for younger kids: Adding sound effects to a complex environment can be tricky. A great place to start is by identifying the sounds that some of our favorite animals make! Check out this compilation of unique zoo animal sounds from Kids Learning Videos. Can you imitate the animals with your voice? Do they remind you of the sounds of any household objects?

Let’s end the day with some truly wild foley inspiration. Watch and listen as Lithuania’s Dagilelis Boys’ Choir creates a sweeping jungle soundscape to accompany a familiar song.

Tuesday

Underwater Scenes and Sounds

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 5 – 12

Under the sea there are endless colors, sounds and stories waiting to be told! Let’s start the day off with some underwater inspiration from TheaterWorksUSA’s The Pout-Pout-Fish (New Victory 2019).

In this activity inspired by The Pout-Pout Fish, make your own fish and explore how they might move through the sea. And afterwards, we’ll explore some fishy sound effects.

Materials: Fish template, scissors, coloring utensils, a glue stick or tape

Step One: Print out the fish template, or draw your own based on the template. Cut out the two hand straps and set them aside for later.

Step Two: Color your fish with markers or colored pencils to give it some personality.

Step Three: To make sure it’s flexible, fold your fish along the three dotted lines and then open it back up. Now, cut out your fish.

Step Four: It’s time to construct your fish. Fold it in half at the center so the colored side is on the inside. Then fold back the top and bottom flaps so you can see your fish’s face.

Step Five: Hold your fish by pinching it at the center fold. To secure your fingers, glue or tape the hand straps to the top and bottom of that fold.

Step Six: Imagine how your fish might move. Think:

  • How fast do they swim? Are they slow or speedy? Lazy or excited?
  • Do they swim moving up and down? Left to right?
  • Do they sing while they swim? Dance, laugh, eat?
  • Can they do any special tricks? Flip, twirl, bounce, float?
  • Where are they swimming to? Are they visiting someone? Going on an adventure?
  • Do they swim alone? With friends?
  • What do they see along the way while they’re swimming?

Fishy Foley

Now that you’ve got your fishy character, it’s time to enrich their movements using foley. The best way to make underwater sounds is by using actual water! Here are some example sounds we created using a shallow tray of water.

As you can see, even a light touch can make a perfectly splish-splashy sound. Ready to try?

Step One: Fill your bathroom sink halfway with water, leaving enough room to splash a little. Before bringing your fish into it, explore all the different sorts of sounds you can make!

  • Pull a rag or paper towel through the water.
  • Make some splashes with the palms of your hands.
  • Lightly flick the water.
  • Lightly poke the water.
  • Whisk the water with your fingers.
  • Are other sounds around the sink that also make fun underwater noises? Try tapping the faucet with a wet finger or wringing out a wet rag over the sink.

Step Two: Now it’s time to add these sounds to the movements of your fish! Grab a family member and decide who will puppeteer the fish and who will act as the foley artist. The foley artist should stay at the sink, but the puppeteer can “swim” wherever they want.

Step Three: The foley artist should think about what sounds the fish makes as it moves. Does it splursh when it turns? Squeesh when it dives? Blub for no good reason? Keep exploring the sounds of every movement!

Mirror, Mirror Under the Sea

Want to keep building your underwater world? Create a seascape on any mirrored or see-through surface! If you’re into the soundscape you created in your bathroom sink, you can use your bathroom mirror. If not, try a window or glass door as the background and use a bucket of water “off stage” for your foley work.

Materials: A mirror or window, dry-erase markers, a vessel of water for foley

Step One: Find the area where you’ll perform your underwater scene.

Step Two: Color an underwater scene on the glass or mirrored background using dry erase markers. Think back to The Pout-Pout Fish for inspiration!

Step Three: Swim your fish all around your background while another member of your family adds the foley sound effects. What story is your fish friend telling?

Fishy Mirror Photo

We can’t wait to see and hear your underwater worlds! Tag @newvictorytheater when posting a photo or video of your creations to Instagram, and we’ll share them on our story.

Wednesday

Scary Scenes

25 – 30 minutes, Ages 7 – 12

Some of the most famous scary movies use sounds that actually aren’t all that scary. Is that really a swarm of vampire bats, or could it just be a very flappy umbrella? Follow along with Education Programs Manager Siobhan Pellot and her husband, Jesus, as they demonstrate some fun ways to make scary sounds using things you have at home!

Can you create a scary scene using spooky foley sounds off-stage? Share it with us on Instagram by tagging @newvictorytheater—we can’t wait to be terrified. Here’s an example from New Victory Senior Associate House Manager Caitlin Alaimo, using some baby toys and a fairy tale with a twist.

Sound Effects Lab

We know foley today from its use in movies, television and theater, but it actually dates back to the early days of radio! The Intergalactic Nemesis (New Victory 2013) from The Robot Planet was staged like a radio play, with actors at microphones, a keyboardist creating live music and a giant foley table centerstage.

From sinister hypnosis to an alien sludge monster attack, The Intergalactic Nemesis featured foley for some seriously spine-tingling scenarios! Using household objects, see how many spooky sounds you and your family can create.

Step One: Gather a bunch of stuff you have in the house that might create an interesting sound—plastic bags, tin foil, a change purse, shoes, a glass of water, etc. Get creative!

Step Two: Experiment with the objects to create as many different sounds as possible.

Step Three: Have someone in your family close their eyes while someone else manipulates one of these objects. Ask the person with their eyes closed what the sound reminds them of, or what they imagine it could be!

Step Four: Now that you’ve experimented with the objects, try your hand at some spooky foley. Using only objects and your voices, create spooky sounds for each of the images below:

Props to You, Boo!

Armed with an aural arsenal of frightening foley, all you need now to fill out the world of your terrifying tale are some spoopy props! Halloween decorations are a great source of inspiration—check out the four crafting videos below for some ideas.

Spooky Crafts

With your world assembled and your homemade soundscape at the ready, it’s time to perform your play! The louder the screams, the better you’re doing. Don’t forget to capture a video of your fearsome performance and tag on Instagram @newvictorytheater!

Thursday

Riff, Remix, Reimagine!

20 – 25 minutes, Ages 6 – 12

Sometimes imagining a brand new story to tell can be difficult, but reimagining a familiar tale can unlock all kinds of creativity. In Red Bridge Arts and Traverse Theatre Company’s Black Beauty (New Victory 2018), the McCuddy brothers, Andy and Andy, are a bit down on their luck. Then they begin acting out their mom’s favorite book, Black Beauty, and soon enough their luck takes a turn.

Let’s try using the foley techniques we’ve learned this week to bring a beloved book to life! In this activity, inspired by Black Beauty, create the soundscape of your family’s favorite story.

Materials: Favorite books, items you can find in your home that make noise

Step One: Talk about your favorite family stories. Is there a story that you and your family love to read together? Is there a book that you always want to hear at bedtime? What are your adults’ favorite stories?

Here are some of our favorites for inspiration! Have you seen any of these stories reimagined for stage?

TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, THE GRUFFALO and THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

Step Two: Choose a story you would like to play with and decide who will be the reader. Everyone else will listen and make sound effects.

Step Three: Go around your house and collect things that make different sounds—forks, bottles, boots, anything!

Step Four: Read the story aloud and add in sound effects at appropriate moments. Think of where the story is taking place and the actions that are happening on each page. If someone is walking, how can you make that sound? If it’s raining, how can you make that sound?

Step Five: How can adding sound effects change the story?

If you find yourself needing props to tell your story, look around you! Everything in your house can be turned into something else—all it takes is a little imagination.

What the Trunk?

Through the magic of theater, everyday objects can take on new lives as props and set pieces. In Around the World in 80 Days (New Victory 2019) from New Vic Theatre Staffordshire, Kenny Wax Family Entertainment and Simon Friend in association with Royal Exchange Theatre, trunks and suitcases and other everyday objects became staircases, elephants, train cars, steamboats and more! Take a look.

Now it’s your turn to create a theatrical adventure, inspired by the imaginative props and set pieces from Around the World in 80 Days.

Materials: A large trunk or box, massive imaginations

Step One: Find a large trunk or box in your home and gather everybody around it to play this game.

Step Two: The tallest person in your group starts as the adventurer! It is their job to use physical movements and some sounds (no words!) to transform the trunk or box into anything that is NOT a trunk or box. They can choose whatever they want, the wilder the better! Here are some possibilities if you’re stuck:

  • an airplane
  • an oven
  • a record player
  • a bag of cats
  • a bicycle
  • an all-you-can-eat buffet

Step Three: Once the first adventurer has established what object they are making the trunk, the next tallest person steps forward to become the second adventurer. They say, “What’s the trunk?” The first adventurer then responds by offering a new suggestion for what the trunk could be. The second adventurer then has to make the trunk into whatever the first adventurer says. Here’s an example:

  1. Adventurer 1 acts like the trunk is an airplane.
  2. Adventurer 2 asks, “What’s the trunk?”
  3. Adventurer 1 says, “A big pot of stew!”
  4. Adventurer 2 must act like the trunk is a big pot of stew.

Step Four: Keep going in order from tallest to shortest playing as many rounds as you like! Try adding variations, like making the objects very specific (e.g. a bicycle made of cotton candy the only drives in circles) or very out of proportion (e.g. a giant stapler).

BONUS: Combine the infinite possibilities of the trunk with your foley skills, and reimagine your favorite story from earlier!

Whether you’re staging a scene or turning your play into a short film, we want to see (and hear!) your creations. Tag us @newvictorytheater when you’re sharing your storytelling skills on Instagram, and we’ll feature you in our story!

Friday

Full-on Foley

30 – 35 minutes, Ages 7 – 13

The most talented foley artists use a limited set of tools to create sounds for just about every movement or action in a scene. The Umbilical Brothers, who visited New Victory with their shows SpeedMouse (New Victory 2006) and Thwak (New Victory 2003), are renowned for their ability to create whole scenarios armed with nothing but microphones! Take a look— er… listen.

Can you match their prowess? All of your foley practice this week is about to pay off—it’s time to put your skills to the test and make some movie magic! Follow along with New Victory Teaching Artist Sam Jay Gold as he creates a library of sounds and then uses them as foley for a silent film.

Sam creates his sound effects using his voice, his body and a few things he finds around the house. Explore all the sound effects that you can make, and get ready to flaunt your foley in a short film of your own!

Step One: Explore how many noises and sound effects you can make with your own body and voice. Give yourself 15 seconds and make as many noises and sounds as you can. Try to make them all different volumes, textures, rhythms and energies.

Step Two: Walk around your home and think about what items might create interesting sounds. Sam used keys, a creaking door, a faucet and a padded chair. What items make interesting sounds in your home? Can you find something that…

  • creaks?
  • jingles?
  • bangs?
  • squeaks?
  • taps?

Step Three: Create a scene with short, simple tasks. Sam chose to enter his apartment, stretch his arms, toss his belongings, sit down and pour and drink a glass of water. Design your own short scene to perform, and record yourself performing it on video.

Step Four: As you watch the video, think about adding sounds to all of your movements, either with your voice or with the objects you explored earlier. Sam recorded those sounds and edited them over his video; but in the theater, foley artists often dub sound live, so feel free to add the effects in real time as you watch the video!

BONUS: Here are some challenges to take your foley skills even further:

  • Ask other members of your family to choose sound effects to perform over your video. Notice how different choices can suggest a different story!
  • Challenge yourself to create all the sound effects using only your voice, like The Umbilical Brothers, or only one object. How many different sounds can you make if you limit your sound-making supply?
  • Into video editing? Follow Sam’s example and dub your videos with 100% foley. Send them to your friends and family for a bit of art-sharing from afar! Try iMovie, Splice or Filmmaker Pro for iOS, or Videoshop or Kinemaster for Android.

And for a final bit of Friday foley fun, here’s Michael Dobson, foley artist from Broadway’s Spongebob Squarepants and percussionist from Parallel Exit’s Time Step (New Victory 2010), performing live at the 2018 Tony Awards.

We hope you enjoyed this ninth week of New Victory Arts Break. Check out past Arts Breaks here, and keep coming back for more arts-based fun in the weeks ahead.

You are a part of the New Victory community. We want to see you, and hear from you! Show us how you’re using New Victory Arts Break at home and share your creative work with us—tag us on Instagram @newvictorytheater.

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