Theatre Sound Student Story: Ben Smith | The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

Student Story: Ben Smith

Image of Ben Smith, undergraduate Theatre Sound student at Central

Undergraduate Theatre Sound student Ben Smith explains why he wanted to study the course and all about his experience so far at Central.

What got you into theatre sound?

I’ve always been interested in sound and it’s partly due to technology – I’ve always been into technology. I’d always been into different types of music and films but I watched a lot of theatre when I was growing up. A lot of commercial theatre admittedly, because not much else comes down our way (Dorset). It’s from seeing countless dance shows, loads of dance festivals for my sister that just drove me insane and that’s why I’m here. It’s always been theatre.

Why does sound makes you tick?

I guess that there’s so many sides to sound. Theatre can be very complex, it helps tell a story and you get live reactions from that which you don’t get from film, you don’t get from TV. There are people who go over across all those different strands but at the moment its theatre for me.

Potentially in the future I might want to go into film but I feel like if you can do theatre you can do anything else. What I like about it is that it is a live performance and so anything can happen, for example a sound desk blowing up half an hour before a show (not that it’s happened to me!).

What made you choose Central?

It clicked when I came to an open day; you need to come to open days to find out what the course is. I remember we were sat in one of the rehearsal rooms at Central and one of the sound lecturers at the time just explained theatre sound in the exact same way I thought about it. It was from that point where it clicked; just literally going to the open day I was like ‘this is where I need to come’.

What made Central the best place for me, was that I saw the other sound courses and I saw that they weren’t as specific. Also the notable alumni that came here I think it kind of makes sense to come to Central. It was one of the first theatre sound courses, certainly in this country, I guess one of the first in the world.

Tell us about your experience at Central

The first public production I did was From Morning to Midnight, which was in the Webber Douglas Studio, it was a very crazy show and it was very exciting.

We’re very lucky at Central with Acting CDT (Collaborative and Devised Theatre) where you’re in the room with all the designers, all of the actors and the director – usually the director will have their own opinions about the show but they’ll let everybody chip in and create something. What’s really great about that, being a sound designer, is that you can just go in and play random sounds related to the story. It’s quite a big team effort but you end up creating a piece of theatre that you feel very content with, like it’s your baby.

Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty, which was a collaboration with Complicite and CDT was again heavily devised – we took a book and turned it into a show. It’s probably my favourite project at Central so far, just because the Director, Catherine Alexander, was so good at making everyone feel part of it. For the director, the story was always the key thing which is great, but she was also willing to experiment with lots of cool ideas. We performed that at The Pleasance (London, Islington), which was really exciting because you can’t just go into that venue at any time, so you have to do a lot of pre-planning.

At the end of the summer we took Tomorrow I’ll be Twenty on a tour of West Yorkshire schools. It was such a good experience to take it on tour and having to teach a stage manager how to put it together but it was lovely to see that show have another life.

What was is like being on placement?

I went on placement with award-winning sound designer (and Central graduate) Pete Malkin, so we did a couple of shows together. We did The Seagull at the Lyric Hammersmith so I assisted him on that which was a very different show from what I had done previously.

Then we did another show together in the same term which was for Hull City of Culture, so I went to Hull for two weeks and assisted him on The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca at The Guildhall which was a site-specific piece promenade piece. It was very challenging working with lots of speakers, lots of content to create whilst people were walking round – plus there was a whole section on headphones and we were working with The Unthanks who are a great folk band. It really was completely different from everything else because I was working in a massive venue where I literally walked in and didn’t know what to expect. I saw photos but I didn’t quite realise the size of it.

You’re not going to go to university and find anything else like it; it's such a diverse course, with people from all different backgrounds and levels of experience which makes it a rich atmosphere in which to learn your craft.

Find out more

Think the Theatre Sound course sounds interesting? Find out more on the course webpage and watch the course video.

You’re not going to go to university and find anything else like it; it's such a diverse course, with people from all different backgrounds and levels of experience which makes it a rich atmosphere in which to learn your craft.