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Now hear this: Ajay Davis, honored for his work as a Fresno City College sound designer, offers his talents in the new ‘No Easy Road to Freedom’

In Fresno City College’s recent radio-play production of “The Christmas Carol,” the sound design obviously played an important role. The man behind what you heard was student Ajay Davis, who obviously has a knack for this kind of thing. At the recent Region 8 festival for the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival – which comprises Arizona, Central and Southern California, Hawaii, Southern Nevada, Utah, and Guam – Davis was a sound-design finalist and student’s choice award winner for the region.

Pictured above: Ajay Davis, in the sound booth for Fresno City College’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ won sound-design honors.  Photo: Jim Davis

Now his technical expertise is being showcased in another Fresno City production: “No Easy Road to Freedom: Lessons in American Diversity,” directed by Karina Balfour, now in its opening weekend. (It plays Friday, March 4, through March 12, at the college studio theater. There are two additional community performances at 2 p.m. March 19 and 20 at the Betty Rodriguez Regional Library.) Admission is free, although reserved tickets are required.

We don’t often think about the important role that sound plays in theater. I talked to Davis about what it’s like to design for “the ears.”

Q: You received your KCACTF honors for the radio-play version of “A Christmas Carol.” That seems like a tough show to do because expectations are high for the sound design. What approach did you take in terms of figuring out how to provide the effects?

A: It definitely had its challenges. There were many components, from concept and design to recording of actors and effects, to the editing process, all of which I had to manage. Some provided sounds and guides that came with the license for the show helped but I had to do a lot of my own research and testing to find the right options as well. After marking up the script with notes and making a spreadsheet, I immediately dove into finding SFX props and trying out a variety of different options for each sound. I often used a portable recorder with some headphones to hear things through a microphone and get a better idea of what they’d sound like to the audience in the end.

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Q: What was the “weirdest” way you figured out how to make a sound for the show?

A: I think that would have to go to the old strap-on roller skate that sounded almost exactly like a window opening when rolled across a piece of wood.

Q: Were there any other local KCACTF awards I should know about?

A: The show itself was one of the six invited productions at the festival, and the only one from the Central Valley, which is what originally inspired me to pursue submitting my design. Because of the virtual nature of the festival this meant that people from all over the region were able to hear my work right from the festival website, which by itself was already a huge honor. Also from FCC were actors that competed for the Irene Ryan scholarship and were finalists, specifically Adam Khouzam and his scene partner Anou Her, both of whom were nominated due to their work on “A Christmas Carol.” Krishnan Joshi from Fresno State was also a finalist for the Irene Ryan scholarship.

Q: You were also sound designer for Shine! Theatre’s “The Vibrator Play.” What was that experience like? What was the biggest challenge?

A: I loved working with tony sanders (who doesn’t capitalize his name) on that show! From the moment I laid eyes on the script I could tell it would be such a fun comedy to work on with several poignant scenes too. It was my first time designing for a show outside of the college setting, but tony and our stage manager, Jennifer Myers, were a huge help in making the transition easier.

Q: How did you get interested in sound design? Would you want to do it professionally?

A: It’s hard to put a finger on exactly when I picked it up, but sometime before high school I downloaded an open source audio editor called Audacity. Though I had no idea how most of its tools worked at the time, I remember messing around with changing the pitch of voices and chopping up sound effects used in Vine and YouTube videos to play for jokes and entertainment at school. However, it wasn’t until my first semester at Fresno City College, where I worked on “She Kills Monsters” as a sound technician, that I got a firsthand look at sound design with Jeff Barrett working his mastery at the machine. He was open to teaching me how sound worked in the world of theater, for which I owe him many thanks.

I plan to continue doing sound design as long as my ears work, and I do hope to continue in professional settings. Though I’ll always love designing for theater and film, I can also see myself branching out into podcasts and audiobooks in the future.

Q: Shifting to Fresno City College’s new show: You’re also doing sound design for “No Easy Road to Freedom.” What can you tell us about it?

A: The show is focused on telling History and teaching us lessons about the state of freedom (and the frequent lack thereof) in the U.S. The show is very literal, and our audience should keep in mind that this won’t be a typical theater experience.

Q: Who are some of the historical characters we’ll meet?

A: Though we get many that could be expected like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Susan B. Anthony, there are many other stories told like that of Mathew Shepard, Langston Hughes, and Rosie the riveter.


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Q: What is something you learned from “A Christmas Carol” that you were able to carry forward to the sound design of this new show?

A: Though it might sound unrelated, “A Christmas Carol” forced me to get a lot better at note taking and marking up scripts due to its scale. Because of it, I’ve figured out many tools, both mental and technological, that greatly improved my ability to design with efficiency and attention to detail. Though “No Easy Road” doesn’t have the same level of complexity for sound, these skills eased my process and will continue to be vital for every project to come.

Q: What is your biggest challenge in “No Easy Road to Freedom”?

A: The show often switches from closed scenes to fourth-wall-breaking monologues and back again, and supporting the mosaic of stories on display in this fashion challenged me to keep in mind the full mise en scène so that the immersion is only broken with intention. It should also be noted that since the show is meant to tour to local high schools I also have a myriad of spaces to work in that I’ll likely not get to hear beforehand.

Q: Anything else we should know about this new show?

A: A huge thank you to Janine Christl, Johnny Cano, Chris Brady, and Christina McCollam-Martinez for their feedback and support, and I hope to work with many more Fresno artists in the near future.

 

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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