• Interviews

The Sound Inside: Heather Gilbert

March 1, 2021

By: Heather Gilbert

In the before times, we used Zoom to design “The Sound Inside”. Scattered around the world, we came together on a morning in March 2018 for the first time, some in person and some virtual, for our first meeting for the show. This is always my favorite moment–to hear David Cromer’s words, to listen deeply and hear what is important, what we want to explore and where the weight is.

These are the notes I took that morning. 

So sad 

So cold

Time of year when it is dark too early

Bleak but woodsy 

Is color still a thing 

And you are 

Fast simple spare

Things appear

She stands right of center a little US and on a diagonal 

Things only appear when we need them

Trees in the common appear

Christopher invades the show

Us carving our way through the dark

My old friend, the brilliant director, is also quite the poet.

Production Still from “Our Town” with David Cromer (center).

Carving our way through the dark, things appearing when we need them.

And that is the job of the lighting designer—to combine poetry with physics and make the play shine.

Production Still from “The Sound Inside”.

The puzzle in the job is figuring out where to put each light, figure out the angle and the direction that will catch the edge of the desk just so, but not hit the huge black serge walls behind the office, that scenery so perfectly designed to hide itself until we wanted another element revealed.  What are the exact lights to shift Bella and Christopher in a mere breath to a new afternoon—and is that a fade of 6 seconds or a blink of 0?

Mary-Louise Parker and Will Hochman in “The Sound Inside”.

Does the shape of the window change as we move from afternoon to evening? Is a 15th light with shutter cuts just to the upper body of Mary-Louise Parker sitting at her desk to make her float slightly differently in the third scene in the office really necessary? (The answer is yes, it totally was) 

Mary-Louise Parker and Will Hochman in “The Sound Inside”.

Creating worlds like Bella’s kitchen and transforming it into the hotel room in Christopher’s novel was a huge part of designing the show, but I really loved the part of the design where Mary-Louise Parker would tell her story to the audience, standing in the empty void—just her and Adam’s words and my light. For me, that felt like a dance, starting from the super slow fade up at the top of the show, with Mary-Louise standing right of center, a little US and on a diagonal. Just like David said the first meeting.


Heather Gilbert
 is an award-winning lighting designer based in Chicago. Recently Heather designed Ms Blakk For President with Tina Landau and Dance Nation with Lee Sunday Evans at Steppenwolf Theatre. She was nominated for a 2020 Tony Award for her work on The Sound Inside directed by David Cromer, for which she also won the Drama Desk Award and was an honoree for the Outer Critics Circle. Other productions with David Cromer include Our Town in London, Chicago, New York, LA, Boston, and Kansas City, and BUG at Steppenwolf Theatre for which she won a Jeff Award for Best Lighting Design.