Designing Disaster Part l: John Kiselica

By Kelsey Meshell, Arts Administration Apprentice


John Kiselica

John Kiselica

The Bluest Water, a drama that follows two survivors of Hurricane Camille fifty years later as they try to try to reconcile with their loss, is being performed at the Thoreson Theatre at Randolph College from June 21-June 30. Originally produced by Endstation over a decade ago, the show returned for Hurricane Camille’s 50th anniversary with a new perspective and an all new production. Several of the origninal cast and crew returned to work on the show, but one of the fresh faces to the production was John Kiselica, the resident sound and lighting designer for Endstation. In remounting this Endstation classic, he brought not only his incredible talent but a fresh sensibility helping to create a new aural illusion of being in Hurricane Camille. 

According to Kiselica, the biggest challenge he faced was creating a sound reinforcement system that would allow each audience member to have a different perspective on the show. There are a total of 14 speakers in the theatre with each one being controlled separately by a computer program called QLab, allowing Kiselica to pinpoint exactly where he wanted each sound to originate. As a result, depending on where an audience member chooses to sit, they each would experience a different aural landscape. He explains this also adds to returning patron’s experiences, allowing them to share in the story in a fresh and different way each time. Luckily, he had a great group of apprentices and junior staff members (shout out Simon, Steven and Charlotte) who helped complete this arduous process of setting up and configuring this layout.

A trend that Kiselica has been seeing lately is the use of sound to begin storytelling before the curtain even rises helping to prepare the audience for the story they are about to experience. Instead of standard pre-show music, The Bluest Water plays recorded audio of the Amateur Radio Operators (aka Hams) who helped to provide critical communications after the storm hit when no telephone lines were working. Listening to these recordings is a striking reminder for Kiselica and audiences of how much of a toll the storm took on its victims. To enhance this experience, Kiselica then spliced those radio recordings with songs from the famous Woodstock music festival of 1969, the same year of the landfall of hurricane Camille. To Kiselica, this was a way of showing how in two different parts of the country, two drastically different events were happening within days of each other.

Kiselica’s advice to aspiring sound designers is to listen to anything and everything. His Spotify “recently played” lists tracks from diverse set of genres including everything from 90’s country to classical, and bluegrass to video game soundtracks! As a sound designer he recommends to read the script and dig into the text that each character speaks. He points out that there isn’t always a director’s note or a footnote in the script telling the designer what sound might need to be included to add to the moment, that a designer’s job is often to come up with those creative choices on their own. He also emphasizes that each design should be personal, a reflection of the designers artistic lens. Designers should feel free to experiment and try new things they may have not tried before.

Unlike Krista Franco (Co-founder and Scenic Designer), & Dan Gallagher (Lighting Designer), this was Kiselica’s first time working on this particular show. He thought it was great to work on a piece that was so closely tied to the community in Central VA. Shows like The Bluest Water are one of the biggest reasons Kiselica enjoys coming back to Endstation year after year. He loves to help provide the Lynchburg community with an outlet for not only great professional theatre, but theatre that speaks to the community in which it is performed. 

Jared and Liz Boyle as portrayed by John Gunnoe and Cynthia Phillips

Jared and Liz Boyle as portrayed by John Gunnoe and Cynthia Phillips

Chris Bailey