The thrilling sound effects in SpongeBob SquarePants add a whole new level of wow factor to the wildly entertaining production. It’s no wonder that Walter Trarbach & Mike Dobson are Tony nominated for their brilliant sound design. We asked the duo to talk about the challenges of translating a beloved cartoon for the theater and how they use Foley to create all the whizz, bangs, zonks, squishes and boings during the show.
It is wonderful that the Tonys are recognizing Sound Design as an integral part of Broadway shows. What was your reaction when you found out you were nominated and that SpongeBob had 12 nominations in total?
WALTER: It was pretty overwhelming. I got a huge outpouring of support from my friends and colleagues, a lot of congratulatory messages. That was kind of the best part for me, the nomination announcement, there was all of this great news for SpongeBob already. It was really fun and exciting and I was so happy for the show and for all of the nominees, and then by the time they got to sound, it was just another layer and so it was – it’s everything you would think. It’s an incredible feeling and everyone has been so sweet and welcoming and the Tony Organization is so wonderful, so it’s been a great experience.
How did each of you get involved with theater and where did you learn your craft?
MIKE: My background is in music in percussion. I grew up playing percussion in school. I went to Music Conservatory for college and I did a little bit of theater as a pit musician in kind of normal situations, and then when I was in grad school I started this random job which was playing drums for a circus and in the circus I started learning the techniques of the drummer. In old‑fashioned shows before recorded sound, the drummer would always do all the sound effects for what was happening on stage. That tradition kind of died because theater moved towards recorded sound – in traditional circus though, they still use that technique and I started learning about it and I became fascinated with it. I was living in New York and meeting all of these people in circus and people who do physical theater shows. All of this became a niche for me, doing live sound effects to physical performers. Through that I met our director, Tina Landau, who brought me into SpongeBob a lot of other theater shows proper and so it’s sort of that progression for me.
WALTER: I come from a more traditional theater background. I started working backstage when I was 14 in community theaters in Wisconsin. I did high school theater and I went to college for sound design at Boston University. When I got out of school, I was lucky enough after a couple of years, I caught on with the sound designer Steve Canyon Kennedy and he kind of taught me