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Indiana Public Radio, a listener-supported service of Ball State University

Foley Artist Works Her Magic for IPR Radio Drama

By Nolan Leahy | Published on in Arts and Culture, Entertainment
Ball State Lecturer of Telecommunications Benjamin Strack plays the role of the younger version of ‘Grandpa,’ and “A Few Houses Down” will be his first performance in a radio drama.

If the films “Die Hard,” “Robocop 2,” and “Predator” have something in common, it’s the professional Foley art (sound effects) from Vanessa Ament, who will be performing sound effects in the live upcoming radio drama “A Few Houses Down.”

Director Matt Reeder, an assistant professor in the Ball State University Department of Theatre and Dance, spoke to the cast at a table read last week about the contrast of sounds from the stage into broadcasting, and how Ament’s previous work with the radio drama “It’s a Wonderful Life” reflects a smooth sound translation.

“The year that I worked on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ I listened to the rebroadcast, and I was amazed at how different it sounds over the radio than it does live,” Reeder said. “There’s certain things that while we’re [performing the radio drama], we can’t really tell – especially from Vanessa and from what she brings to it – the effects that she does on stage to us sound so different than they do when they’re sent through the radio.

He said that the actors may think the effects sound odd on stage, but when heard through the radio, they make perfect sense.

Ament, who is the Edmund F. and Virginia B. Ball Endowed Chair in the Department of Telecommunications, says she’s thorough about choosing her sounds so that the exact setting is translated to the audience.

“At the table reading, I said, ‘We need to find out what era –exact decade- this is taking place in,’ because that’s going to change the way we make the cars sound when playing it on the road,” said Ament. “You know, making the sound of it driving on the road. It’s going to sound a little different than I did for ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ because that was Depression Era, and I made the cars sound different, and it was different road, and it was a different small town. I need to know what era we’re in. These things matter.”

She’s also critical when judging the walking sounds of characters.

“With footsteps, nobody walks the same. The way I wear the shoes –the heaviness of the feet, the way that I walk, the pace that I walk – all of that is going to be dictated by the quality of the character,” Ament said.

Benjamin Strack, a lecturer of Telecommunications who is playing the role of the younger version of “Grandpa” in “A Few Houses Down,” said Ament “does really incredible stuff.”

“She has a 20-plus-year career as a Foley artist in L.A. We do not deserve her, and yet here she is willing to help out and do the live Foley-type sound effects for this radio performance,” said Strack. “Matt’s accolades for her are there because the content she provides through all of those sound effects changes this from reciting a script to being an immersive experience for the listeners.”

“A Few Houses Down” is scheduled to air live on Dec. 14 at 8 p.m. on IPR.

Nolan Leahy is a reporter for a Ball State University arts journalism class.