New Daniel Radcliffe Play Makes History With All-Woman Design Team
“I mean, it’s crazy. Theatre has been going on for millennia. It’s 2018 and this is Broadway’s first all-female design team?”
Award-winning sound designer Palmer Hefferan, 33, was psyched to land a job on upcoming Broadway show The Lifespan of a Fact, starring former Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe. Little did she realise just how momentous the gig was.
When the show – also featuring Will & Grace’s Bobby Cannavale and Transparent’s Cherry Jones – opens at Studio 54 on New York’s famous theatre strip this September, it will feature Broadway’s first all-woman design team.
“I would never have imagined that I would be a part of history,” an excited Hefferan told ten daily on a bleary-eyed 1am Skype call.
“I mean, it’s crazy,” she added. “Theatre has been going on for millennia. It’s 2018 and this is Broadway’s first all-female design team?”
Hefferan joins Tony award-winners Mimi Lien (set design) and Linda Cho (costumes), alongside projection designer Lucy Mackinnon and Jen Schriever on lighting.
Director Leigh Silverman, also a Tony-winner, helms the show based on a barmy book relaying the real-life tussle between truth-bending essay writer John D'Agata (Cannavale), and his exasperated fact checker Jim Fingal (Radcliffe), with Jones as Fingal’s editor.
Only 18% of sound designers in the US are female, so Hefferan jokes she can’t rely on the “trickle down effect” of a hand up from other women.
“There would have to be significantly more female designers on top in order for that to happen,” she laughed. “But Leigh has decided to take this moment and focus on something that she thinks is important, and at the same time hire people that she thinks are all of exceptional ability.”
With President Trump in the White House sparking a wave of protest marches led by women, and with the clarion call of the #metoo movement, Hefferan says more and more women frustrated with the slow pace of change are making things happen.
“You would hope that your political leaders and heads of business would lead on that,” she said with an eye roll.
“Artists are able to challenge their audiences, allowing everyone to accept edgier ideas. I mean, women working, it’s so edgy.”
We also appear to be living in post-truth, “fake news” days, which ties in nicely with the theme of The Lifespan of a Fact.
It follows the seven-year back-and-forth after D’Gata’s essay ‘What Happens There’ – a lyrical musing on life and loss in Las Vegas following the suicide of teenager Levi Presley in 2002 – landed on Fingal’s desk.
Passed over by Harper’s Magazine because of factual inaccuracies, Fingal --then an intern at The Believer -- was stunned when holes opened wide as he began to pick at the details.
“We learn very early on that the writer is so determined to add poetic rhythm and beauty to the essay, to completely enrapture people in a way like a novel would, that he makes a lot of little changes, and sometimes they aren’t so little,” Hefferan revealed.
Studio 54 is a cavernous space, and that creates a few challenges when producing a dialogue-driven, one-act, three-hander story like The Lifespan of a Fact.
“It’s one of the great Broadway houses,” she said. “It’s beautiful, and even though it seats just under a thousand people, there is something intimate about that space.”
Not that the sound design is going to be simple, she acknowledged. “It’s really tricky. The rhythm shifts throughout, so I kept looking at the text and the movement of the scenes, and how time becomes more expansive as we go on.”
She’s relying heavily on percussion to mark that rhythm, as well as drawing on the beeps and whooshes of the technology we use every day, from SMS to email.
Technology has changed dramatically on Broadway, opening up a world of opportunity for bright minds like Hefferan’s, who pays tribute to the female sound designers who have walked this path before her.
A six-month job all-up, as is the way with Broadway and the busy schedules of its stars, the actors won’t take to the stage for rehearsals until late August, but Hefferan will eventually get up close and personal with Radcliffe and co.
“We see them very clearly in bright lights on stage and I’m in pitch black, making magic with this mass of computer screens during tech rehearsal,” she said. “But we are doing body mics, so with that you get to know someone’s personality, so it does create a little bit more of a relationship with the actor.”
With their names now up in lights outside the theatre, Hefferan is pumped.
“The marquee is up, so there’s some tangible evidence that it’s happening. It’s really exciting.”
Feature image: Lifespan Of A Fact