Live theater immerses audiences in stunning displays of showmanship that can impact all the senses. Visuals are packed with elaborate sets, dances and light shows. But amid all those eye-catching details, CeCe Smith is hoping her shows are also ear-catching.
As a sound designer for live theater, Smith’s job is to tell stories through sound. Music, dialogue and sound effects can only do so much on their own. It’s the way that she creatively weaves them all together and plays them back to the audience where the real magic happens.
Smith graduated in 2017 from the Community College of Aurora with an associate of arts degree. During her freshman year at CU Boulder, she didn’t feel like she belonged. So she made her transition to CCA and found comfort in a program that would lead her down a path of creativity and an award winning career.
Even her general education classes prepared her for understanding nuances of humans that helped her better thrive in the theater.
“They all translate back to the human condition and how we better understand each other in theater,” Smith said. “They helped me convey that in my field of sound design.”
But it is the hands-on teaching approach at CCA that gave her an edge when she entered her field as a professional. Smith was given an opportunity to use QLab, a sound mixing program that is the industry standard in the theater world.
“I was lucky to get that. I had never used QLab before. I had even done a show at CU Boulder prior to being at CCA and never even learned about QLab,” she said.
The program allows designers the ability to pre-program shows, sound effects, music and other sound elements can be played out at specific times, and in various places around the theater. This keeps the shows running smoothly every night.
With these puzzle pieces in place, Smith finally had a clear vision of how she could pursue a creative career.
“I’m a very linear thinker. I never thought there was a place for me in creativity, because I’m not someone who can jump around in different thought processes,” she said. “So when I discovered a linear thing like sound is an integral part of storytelling, that solidified it. And then I fell in love with it.”
Sound design also gave Smith a chance to use both the creative and analytical sides of her brain. She says her craft is part art and part science.
“There’s a lot that goes into it. Not only am I building the aural story, I am also designing the sound system itself. We’re not just using two speakers and an iPhone,” she said. “There’s a lot of math that goes into it, believe it or not.” She says those are the parts that keep the job interesting, and gives her the freedom to fully express her creativity.
Best of all, she says freelancing gives her the freedom to create her own schedule, allowing her flexibility to juggle multiple projects at once.
“I have ADHD, and this is an opportunity where I get to let my neurodivergence be my super hero power rather than my kryptonite. I get to make my own schedule and work in the flow that my brain wants to work.”
Smith works out of her home recording studio, producing sounds and music over the course of four to six months, for various projects. On top of that she will open a new show every couple of weeks. With a rigorous pre production workload and show openings, she says she keeps her schedule full.
Her hard work has paid off with recognition from her peers. Smith and her team recently won regional Henry Awards from the Colorado Theater Guild for their work on “The Royale,” a story based on Jack Johnson, the first black heavyweight boxing champion.
“That story was so beautiful. The cast was phenomenal. All of my counterpart designers were just so amazing to work with.”
For now, she’s not entirely sure where her creative journey will finally take her. She will soon work on designing her first production outside of Colorado, and she has another lined up in Oregon soon after that. She says she loves working in Denver, and some day when she is no longer a freelancer, she’s excited to pass on her craft, teaching others about sound design.
“I just love to tell stories, and I am down for any cool project,” she said.
She says she knows without CCA, her journey could have been different. She credits the school with helping her find her creative niche. Getting her hands on not only the programs she’d use every day, but also giving her a well rounded theater education, offering opportunities to participate in all aspects of a production.
“Without that opportunity I don’t know where I’d be right now. So I am really grateful for the opportunities I had at CCA, and all the connections I made at CCA.”
Photos courtesy of CeCe Smith