How do you put the internet on stage? For as long as our emotional lives have existed online, playwrights have answered the call to explore what that means. In Walt McGough’s Non-Player Character, directed by Beth Wolf for Red Theater Chicago, Katja, an early-career game developer, navigates multiplayer video games, the early stages of a virtual-reality design, and the tumultuous waters of social media. The designers and ensemble had the unique task of translating this digital space into theatrics. I sat down with sound designer and composer Stefanie M. Senior to dig into how she funneled the distinct noises our computers make into a cohesive and emotionally resonant design.
BTD: What was your favorite element of Non-Player Character to design?
Senior: My favorite thing about this sound design is the variety of worlds. Spearlight, Katja’s multiplayer game she plays, contrasts starkly with her own VR game she’s designing. The play also combines all of social media into one “place,” which needed its own collection of sounds. Those worlds were so different that it was really fun to explore those extremes.
BTD: What inspired you while designing this show?
Senior: My inspiration came from all over the place. I was heavily inspired by World of Warcraft for Spearlight. In designing Katja’s game, I took a lot of influence from the sound design from The Good Place. That show sounds clean, precise, and very identifiable. I also have a friend who runs an independent game studio, so picking his brain was really helpful.
BTD: What was the biggest challenge during this process?
Senior: Though ultimately rewarding, the script for this show is very emotionally demanding. Particularly when the social media world becomes antagonistic, there are a few cues that I had to take frequent breaks from. That and the sheer volume of cues required were both big challenges in putting it all together.
BTD: What was the weirdest note you gave yourself while working?
Senior: There’s a fight in the Spearlight world that has an agricultural theme, so having to source sound effects and music for an evil zucchini battle is definitely up there.
BTD: Where do you think the relationship between theatre and technology is going?
Senior: I think they’re destined to support each other. Theatre has always adapted to the world around it, so shifts in technology will only help make more exciting work. As more young theatre artists join the field, I think we’re going to see creative integrations of technology as storytelling devices.
BTD: What’s your next project?
Senior: I’m headed to Colorado this summer to work at Lake Dillon Theatre Company as their sound supervisor. After that, I will officially be making the move to Chicago in the fall!
Non-Player Character by Walt McGough, directed by Beth Wolf. Red Theater Chicago at The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave, (773) 935-6875, redtheater.org, $17-$22. Through May 19th.