“Slave Play’s” Tony Nominee Lindsay Jones Talks Scoring & Sound Design

Forgive “Un-Block The Music” for holding this story for so long! Go see Slave Play before it closes on January 23rd!  (https://slaveplaybroadway.com/) Wait…why am I writing about a play and not a musical? Well…this is a play with music, and the phenomenal Lindsay Jones was nominated for two Tonys, one for the original score and the other for sound design. How cool is that?

It’s been a long holiday season!!! Book negotiations were great, family with CO-VID, not so great! But, we are healthy now and rushing to see this show before it closes. Despite great reviews, when the pandemic hit, it looked like Slave Play would close due to its original limited run. But, it came back in November at its new theater, August Wilson on 52nd St.

So where was Lindsay when he heard that he captured two Tony nods? Home! Nominations came out in the middle of the pandemic. “My family and I were watching the broadcast on YouTube. It was special to share that moment with them.” Watching at home was just one standout moment of the event. Lindsay said, it was the first time all of the shows nominated for best score were plays rather than musicals. That’s not to say Lindsay is not working on musicals….more on that later. First, let’s look at his path to get here.

Lindsay grew up in North Carolina in a family of music enthusiasts, but he never had any formal music lessons. “My mom played piano and sang in the church choir and she got me interested in music. My dad was a collector of jazz music. We had hundreds of records in our house. I used to pull records out of his collections and listen and read liner notes for hours and hours. Listening to music was really what guided me. I was obsessed,” Lindsay said.

When he was a teenager, Lindsay started playing in rock bands and had a dual interest in becoming an actor and becoming a musician. Ultimately, he went to the North Carolina School of the Arts for an acting degree (He still teaches there). “But I kept my interest in music and continued to play in a band throughout my college years.” He later moved to Chicago and worked as an actor and musician. “While I was there, a friend came up to me and said, ‘we are doing a play and we need a lot of loud rock music for it. Would you be willing to put that together for us?’  I said ‘sure!’ Then he asked if I could do the sound design. I knew I could figure it out. So, I did it.”

That show was a success and ran for nine months in Chicago. “People started calling me for jobs. I thought I would do sound design until the jobs dried up and then go back to acting. That was over 25 years ago,” Lindsay laughed.

“Un-Block The Music” has been talking to theater sound designers for the last few years, and I couldn’t remember ever talking to one who was also the composer. “There are a few of us, but it’s not usual,” he said. “I like doing both together. Because I am not formally trained in music, everything seems musical to me. Sounds have an inherently musical quality to them. The idea of being able to integrate sounds with music is really exciting. One of the things I also like to do is make music out of things that are not musical…like household objects. Doing both the music and the design gives me the ability to make the sound complete and feel organic and seamless.”

The Slave Play opportunity came in like the wind. It was originally done Off- Broadway at the NY Theater Workshop. They were getting ready to do the show and they hired a different person for sound. “At the last moment that designer had to leave the production. I had just finished opening a show in Cincinnati and flew back to LA. I literally was putting the key in my door when Robert O’Hara, who is the director of Slave Play, called and asked ‘where are you? Can you be in NYC in the morning?’ I said…’yes’…and went back to the airport and took the red eye to New York.”

They arranged a special run-through for Lindsay. “It blew me away! As soon as it was done, they said ‘tech starts tomorrow!’ I literally made the music up on the spot! It was really stressful, but I enjoyed it and have been really honored to work on it.” As they say, it was meant to be!

What about writing his own musical? He has! Botanic Garden has a book by Todd Logan who also co-wrote the lyrics with Lindsay. The music is all Lindsay! The musical is an adaptation of a play Todd wrote. It’s about a couple that you first meet as he is trying to prepare his wife to go out on a date with another man. What you figure out is that the man is actually dead; he trying to get his wife to move on and live her life. The piece had its first public showing in Chicago this past summer.

“It has been a challenge for me. Most of the music I have written has been for plays.” Writing for a musical is a different skill, he explained. “When you write for a play, the music exists alongside the characters. In a musical, the songs tell the story.”

Lindsay told “Un-Block The Music,” that he has made it a point to develop different skill sets over time. He has composed numerous original scores for film, television, video games and commercials. In fact, he composed the score for A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin which won an Oscar for Best Documentary.

Writing for different mediums is different but also similar. “Film scoring is similar to writing songs. And, then there are the podcasts I got involved with during the pandemic. I had to find another way to make a living.”

Lindsay works on a lot of audio dramas. “The big thing I discovered doing audio dramas is they are more similar to a theater experience than you would think. In a theater, you walk in, sit in your seat and look at a set. You are using your imagination. When you listen to an audio drama, you do the same thing. You use your imagination because you know it is not real. I love it, because you really have to tell the story so people can imagine.”

At any rate, what has changed in the theater with this slow reopening? “The biggest difference now is that we are really aware of how special it is to be together in one room. It gives a new resonance over theater. We have taken it for granted,” Lindsay said.

And what about rock and roll career? Lindsay’s band, the Nubile Thangs, are still together. “We were going to play a show in Chicago but the pandemic happened. Soon, we are hoping to put together a series of shows across the country to celebrate 30 years as a band! Stay tuned http://nubilethangs.com/.

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