KU Theatre student Kayleigh Shaffer wins national award for sound design work

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Kayleigh Shaffer
Kayleigh Shaffer. Photo courtesy of KU Department of Theatre & Dance

Johnson County native Kayleigh Shaffer, a University of Kansas junior studying theatre design, has received a First Place National award for Sound Design at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.

Shaffer received the top recognition for her work on “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” a large-scale and complex production that was part of KU’s University Theatre 2018-19 season. The festival took place April 15-20 in Washington, D.C.

“I love that I was able to shed light on making theatre more inclusive for everyone as a whole,” she said of her experience at the festival.

Shaffer’s roots are in Johnson County: Her mother, Melissa Ford, is from Shawnee and father, Jeremy Shaffer, is from Overland Park.

She shared the recognition with Matthew O’Brien, a KU theatre student who created the original music for the production. The pair spent five months working on the project, conducting research on locations within the show and also researching how to make an inclusive theatre space. They drew inspiration from Philip Glass, Erik Satie and Johann Johannsson.

Creating an inclusive theatre space

KU Theatre
Shaffer’s award-winning work was featured in ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,’ a main stage production at the University of Kansas. Photo courtesy of KU Department of Theatre & Dance

They also attended rehearsals to get a sense of timing, movement and tone of sound cues and music.

“We wanted to establish Christopher’s world and wanted audiences to feel that they were there with the characters,” she said of their work on the production. “I knew from the first read-through of the show that I wanted to create the world as Christopher hears it, and upon the first meeting with the director we found out that we shared the same feeling on how the show should be heard.

“When Christopher was feeling anxiety or conflict, I wanted the audience to feel this way as well. To do this, we snuck in low-frequency noise that humans cannot hear but can feel and low-sounding heartbeats that were more audible but created that same effect.”

Shaffer credited KU Theatre staff Kelly Vogel and Ann Sitzman for her successes and growth as a designer and technician.

She will receive a monetary award and a paid trip this summer to the Prague Quadrennial, a premier festival often considered the Olympics of theatre design, in Prague.

This is the second year in a row Shaffer has represented the Department of Theatre & Dance at KCACTF Nationals in sound design. This year she bested eight competitors in her category to earn the international trip. Shaffer will be the sound designer for “Chasing Gods,” the summer theatre production at KU, and for “The Christians,” which opens the University Theatre’s season in September.

About the author

Leah Wankum
Leah Wankum

Hi there! I’m Leah Wankum, and I’m the Post’s Deputy Editor. I’m thrilled to call Johnson County home, and I’m deeply committed to the Post’s philosophy that an informed community is a strong community.

I’m a native of mid-Missouri, and attended high school in Jefferson City before going on to the University of Central Missouri, where I earned a master’s degree in mass communication.

Prior to joining the Post as a reporter in 2018, I was the editor of the Richmond News in Ray County, Missouri. I’ve also written for several publications, including the Sedalia Democrat and KC Magazine.