It’s a rare occurrence nowadays for a theatrical production to be mounted that doesn’t in some way involve multimedia elements, and young people studying Theatre Arts had best be prepared to function in a high-tech environment. So when SUNY New Paltz needed to hire a new faculty member for its Department of Theatre Arts in 2014, it set out to find someone who could teach not only traditional stagecraft, but also such specialized skills as sound design and audio engineering.
The candidate the college ultimately chose, Sun Hee (known as Sunny) Kil, had spent a number of years in her native South Korea working for the country’s leading sound designer, Do Kyung Kwon, before her love of Broadway musicals brought her to America in 2006. She kept in touch with her mentor in the ensuing years, occasionally visiting her homeland when he offered her a gig.
Now the mountain resort of PyeongChang in South Korea is getting ready to host the 2018 Winter Olympic Games, and who should be in charge of sound direction for the opening and closing ceremonies but Do Kyung Kwon himself? So when Sunny Kil got the call last summer to come help set up the sound systems for the massive international event, “I couldn’t say no,” she said. “This may be the one and only chance in my life to work on the Olympics in my home country.”
Professor Kil has been over there on and off since August, when cables and equipment for the sound setup began to be unloaded, and continuously since December 10. Fortunately, her department chair and dean at SUNY were supportive of her taking this highly prestigious, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and she was able to engage a New York City Broadway sound designer friend to step in and cover some of her classes.
Sound systems are Kil’s technical specialty, and she has been responsible for supervising the assembly and testing of the system at the new Olympic stadium. “They promoted me to associate sound designer last Monday,” she proudly told us in a phone interview at 2 a.m. PyeongChang time, following the grueling 16-hour rehearsal that has been her daily routine for the past six weeks.
Knowing that the eyes and ears of the whole world will be on the opening and closing extravaganzas next month, Kil and her co-workers at the Olympics have to get every detail right. There’s no margin of error for missed cues, so a large part of her job is ensuring that multiple levels of backup are in place, in terms of communication with all the internal players as well as the various media outlets who will be broadcasting the proceedings to the rest of the world.
“I design sound systems for theaters, mostly,” Kil said. “But this is a big outdoor stadium. It’s my first time doing something like that.” Sounds intimidating, but she has been putting in all the hours necessary to make it happen. “I learned so much by working here. It looks like it’s working great.” Perfecting the backup systems was the most challenging aspect, she said. “That part was difficult. It took about two months to figure out…. I couldn’t really sleep since August.”
So what audiovisual treats do the opening ceremony on February 9 and the closing ceremony on February 25 hold in store for viewers? Kil is bound by a nondisclosure agreement not to share any specifics, but she was able to say that “Some very famous Korean composers are composing the music.” The sound-and-light show will include video projections and fireworks: part of the reason for the incredibly long workdays, since dark skies are needed for testing many of those light effects, she noted.
“One thing I can tell you is that North Korea and South Korea will walk together in the athletes’ parade,” Kil said excitedly, just a day after the diplomatic initiative was announced to the foreign press. “There are a lot of folk songs we’ll sing together. It’s such a small country; we are all brothers and sisters, separated by big countries. I hope this is the beginning of being unified.”
Sounds like a living example of the spirit of international cooperation that the Olympic Games are supposed to represent. And plenty of Kil’s students, colleagues and other folks back in New Paltz are going to be paying careful attention — along with the rest of the world.