Rick Thomas

Rick Thomas

Your earliest memories of the Institute...as in how far back do you go?

1979. I'm guessing it was either Van Phillips or Lee Watson that arranged for me to be on a panel with Harold Burris-Meyer. I was very young (in graduate school), and, at the time there were only two books out (at least that I knew of). One was David Collison's, the other was Harold Burris-Meyer's. Harold Burris-Meyer was just at the end of his career, and it's one of my fondest memories that I was able to meet him and get to know him a little bit before he passed. Such a major contributor to our field. I didn't meet David Collison, another incredibly influential person in our field, until decades later.

Does anything stand out as your favorite USITT memory?

Bloodbath of the LIving Dead in 3D at the Milwaukee conference in MIlwaukee Rep's Stiemke Theatre. Back in those days we were blazing trails, introducing new things about theatre sound to the world, and USITT was the place to do it--AES didn't really understand theatre, and most of the other organizations really didn't exist or weren't really players. We made USITT our playground, and BB of the LD in 3D, as we affectionately called it was perhaps the best example. We did--to the best of my knowledge, the first demo of digital audio us in theatre--Sound Tools (that would be the forerunner to Pro Tools), Performer (the forerunner to Digital Performer), the legendary EIII (Emu's Digital Sampler), Command Cue (Charlie Richmond's visionary theatre sound control software, decades before SFX and QLab) all in one giant "sound console" spread across the stage. But the show itself was what I loved. Based on John Pielmeyer's short play, Splatterflick, the play shows us an audience watching a 3D slasher/horror movie.

Short list of your career highlights

  • 2009 Elected to the National Theatre  
  • 2008 Inducted into the “Book of Great  
  • 2008 Inducted as a Fellow into the  
  • 2008 Received the Joel E. Rubin 
  • Founder’s Award from the United States Institute of Theatre Technology
  • 2007 Awarded the George P. Murphy  
  • 2007 Awarded the College of Liberal Arts 
  • Award for Outstanding Teacher at Purdue University
  • 2006 Second Appointment to the Purdue 
  • 2006 Awarded the Purue University 
  • Department of Visual and Performing Arts Award for Outstanding Teacher
  • 2002 Winner, Herbert D. Greggs Award  
  • 2000 First Appointment to the Purdue Center for Artistic Endeavors
  • 1992 Indiana Master Artist Fellowship
  • 1990 Indiana Master Artist Fellowship
  • 1988 Presented the first public lecture on  sounds systems for educational theatres for the Audio Engineering Society in Nashville TN
  • 1987 Worked with the Jeff Awards Committee to institute theatre awards for sound design in Chicago Theatre
  • 1985 Presented the first lecture to the  Acoustical Society of America on the emerging field of theatre sound design
  • 1981 Early article for Theatre Crafts on  approaching sound design for period plays 

Short list of your various involvement in the institute

  • 2008 Authored first monograph in USITT’s  biography series on sound designer, The Designs of Abe Jacob
  • 2005 Curated first exhibition of theatre   sound design at World Stage Design in Toronto Canada
  • 2003 Co-created the first Scenofest at the Prague Quadrennial including ten international artists lecturing on theatre sound design  and the first international exhibition  of theatre sound design at the Prague Quadrennial, Czech Republic
  • 2003 Curated first exhibition of theatre  sound design in the USITT National Exhibit at the Prague Quadrennial, Czech Republic
  • 2003 Published article in Theatre Design and Technology Journal with Rob Milburn on Sound Programs in Higher Education
  • 2000 Presented first international lecture on theatre sound design for OISTAT at the Bregenz Festspiele and Kongresshause, Austria
  • 2000 Initiated the OISTAT Sound Working Group and became its first Head
  • 1999 First international exhibition of a theatre composer/sound designer’s work for OISTAT at the Zoa House in Tel Aviv, Israel
  • 1997 Authored a two part article on the current state of theatre sound technology for TD&T
  • 1997 Inaugurated International Sound Artist series of guest lectures for USITT in Pittsburgh PA
  • 1996 Published article describing Tom Mardike’s innovative loudspeaker playback system using MS microphone techniques
  • 1995 Co-Authored with Ken Bell a journal article regarding the aesthetics of auditory space
  • 1993 Organized and hosted the first Syn Aud Con Workshop in Theatre Sound at Purdue University. Presented four lectures:
  • Theatre Sound Cue Sheets 
  • Using Computers to Create Sound
  • Multi Channel Sound in Theatres
  • The Rehearsal Process (w/Abe Jacob) USITT subsequently devoted a whole issue of TD&J to publishing the papers I presented at this workshop
  • 1990 First public demonstration of the use of digital audio in theatre sound score design, including live sequencing (MOTU Performer), sampling (EMU EIII), hard disk recording (Digidesign Sound Tools) and Control (Richmond Sound Designs Command Cue) at the USITT National Conference in Minneapolis MN
  • 1988 Published first journal article  detailing the problems associated with using copyrighted audio in theatre sound scores in TD&T
  • 1987 Published first journal article detailing the need for union representation for theatre sound designers in TD&T Journal, 23.3, p. 58-65.
  • 1987 Presented first public lecture on the use of digital samplers in live theatre at the USITT National Conference in Minneapolis MN
  • 1985 Presented the first lecture to the  Acoustical Society of America on the emerging field of theatre sound design
  • 1985 Co-produced and engineered the first  compact disc recorded in the state of Indiana
  • 1984 Presented the first public exhibition of a theatre sound score at the USITT National Conference in Orlando FL
  • 1981 Presented the first public lecture and   demonstration of the use of synthesizers in theatre at the 1981 USITT National Conference
  • 1980 Conducted the first public workshop on using sound effects in theatre at the 1980 USITT National Conference
  • 1979 Panel member on first public discussion of the emerging field of theatre sound design at the USITT National Conference in Seattle WA

If you were to make a short list of the memorable USITT characters that have made a difference to you, who would they be?

Van Phillips and Lee Watson, who introduced me to USITT, and mentored me through it, Harold Burris-Meyer, who started it, and I was just lucky to get to know, Dick Devin who made the sound and lighting commissions a reality, Charlie Richmond, who did so much for the sound commission, and then empowered me to do more, Dick Durst, who empowered the introduction of sound into OISTAT--oh, dear, I better stop there, otherwise I'm going to upset a whole bunch of really important friends and colleagues that I left out.

Anything you want to say about being a Fellow?

It's pretty humbling considering the company we keep.

Anything you'd like to add about what the USITT means to you personally?

Everything. It made my career.

List of your publications

See above.

List of books that you recommend about the field

Modern Recording Techniques, David Miles Huber and Robert Runstein
Musical Experience of Composer, Performer, Listener , Roger Sessions
Music, Sound, and Sensation,  Fritz Winckel
Psychology of Music,  Carl E. Seashore
Sound and Music for the Theatre, Kaye, Deena & LeBrecht, James
Sound and Symbol,  Victor Zuckerkandl
Tune, Holst, Imogen
JBL Audio Engineering for Sound Reinforcement, John Eargle and Chris Foreman
The Soundscape, R Murray Schafer
This Is Your Brain on Music, Daniel Levitin
Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks
Sound: A Reader, Ross Brown
Composing Music for Film ,  Jack Smalley
Audio System Design and Installation, Phillip Giddings
Microphone Handbook,  John Eargle
Sound System Engineering, Don Davis and Eugene Patronis Jr.
Sound Systems: Design and Optimization (2nd Edition), Bob McCarthy