Taylor Williams (‘Ain’t No Mo’ sound designer) on the ‘terrible and wonderful burden’ of encapsulating Black culture in a burst of audio [Exclusive Video Interview]

“It is such a show about Blackness, and it’s so special for me to have been able to bring part of myself to the work in this way,” explains “Ain’t No Mo” sound designer Taylor Williams. The personal touch he brought to the play earned him his first Tony Award nomination. He’s nominated alongside fellow sound designer Jonathan Deans (a four-time Tony nominee), and appreciates the “freedom” that they were given when building the sonic landscape of this story. Watch the exclusive video interview above.

Deans was brought onto the project first, but as he went through the script it became clear that he would need a collaborator. He wanted to ensure that he would not miss anything within the story that was important to the Black community. “And so he called me up and I honestly thought he was looking for names,” admits Williams. “He and I have worked together many times over the years, but I thought he was asking me for names of other people. And so I gave him three other names and he said, no, no, what about you?”

WATCH Crystal Lucas-Perry interview: ‘Ain’t No Mo’ and ‘1776’

Williams is appreciative of the ways in which he was treated as a peer during the creative process. And for the ways in which he could bring his own relevant perspective to the script. “He just pulled up a seat at the table and he said, let’s be partners. Let’s collaborate,” says Taylor of Deans’ approach. “You catch the things that you catch, not just work-wise, but in reading the script, I’ll catch the things that I catch and we’ll come together and serve the piece.”

His specific point of view is perhaps most obviously displayed towards the end of the play when Peaches (Jordan E. Cooper) attempts to drag “Miss Bag” onto the plane headed for Africa. Every Black citizen of the United States is already on the plane and Miss Bag is the holder of every contribution to society and culture that Black Americans have made over the course of history. Peaches tugs with all her might, but Miss Bag refuses to budge, instead unleashing a cascade of important music, speeches, and poetry from throughout Black history.

WATCH Jordan E. Cooper interview: ‘Ain’t No Mo’ 

“That was maybe the most terrifying thing looking at the script,” admits Williams of this climactic moment. The script didn’t specify the precise assortment of figures that needed to be included in this crescendo of audio, and figuring out the right combination was intimidating. “It felt like a terrible and wonderful burden because you don’t want to miss something, and you don’t want to discount somebody else’s experience with Black culture, and you don’t want only one corner of this very massive sky,” explains Williams. Ultimately, the designer rose to the occasion, his audio working in concert with Cooper’s performance to create an unforgettable moment. “It was a challenge, but it really paid off,” says Williams. “I’m so proud of that moment.”

PREDICT the 2023 Tony Award nominees through May 2

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