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Sound designer Nicola Chang: ‘I want to create theatrical experiences for people who wouldn’t usually experience them’

Nicola Chang

As well as performing in the West End with Stomp!, Nicola Chang has been nominated for two Off-West End Theatre awards for sound design and next year debuts her compositions at London’s Southbank Centre. She tells Giverny Masso about her career journey…

How did you get into theatre?
I wanted to write music for film – I still do. In 2015 I joined Stomp! as a freelance performer and I thought: ‘Why not do sound design for theatre?’ I grew up learning piano and percussion and my passion for film has fed into my approach to theatre. However, in film you’ve got the final cut, but in theatre things change – people miss lines or sometimes they don’t turn up. I’m still learning a lot about the role of sound in theatre.

What is that role?
It’s to say what the text can’t. Good sound design is like good film scoring; it sets the scene. I’ve done sound design where sound is a substitute for aspects of characters. We have to be able to programme, come up with pre-show and post-show playlists and take care of an audience’s ears from start to finish. Sound design requires a wide
breadth of experience and a real understanding of how people listen.

What are the highlights in your theatre career so far?
Lord of the Flies at Greenwich Theatre in London: I underscored the entire show. Finishing the Picture at the Finborough Theatre taught me how sound can take the place of a character. And I’ve just been up in Edinburgh with four shows: Lost in Thought, Dangerous Giant Animals, Free and Proud, and Nine Foot Nine. I feel like I need to sleep for two weeks.

What is your advice for emerging sound designers?
Just do music. If you are a guitar player, go and play guitar for a while and then be a sound designer. Be excellent towards other people and own what you do. It took me four years to own the title ‘composer’ – especially as a female composer.

What are your plans for the future?
My next large-scale project will be for the classical season at the Southbank Centre in January 2019, where I’ll be the musical director for a concert featuring a chamber trio and ping-pong. I’m curating a collection of short pieces by various UK composers and will also be debuting some of my original compositions at the event. In September/October this year I’m touring China as a cast member of Stomp!. I’m aiming to eventually work more with youth theatres as a music mentor and creative. I’d also love to work with companies that feature under-represented people and communities on stage and off. My goal is to create musical and theatrical experiences for people who might not usually be able to experience them.

For more details, see Nicola Chang’s website [1]

CV: Nicola Chang

Training: MA in classical composition, King’s College London (2015-17)
First professional role: Stomp, Ambassadors Theatre (2016)