For CTC, Schmitz takes the board as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ sound designer

Chautauqua Theater Company Conservatory Actor Karen Killeen, as Mary Bennet, Guest Actor Ray Anthony Thomas, as Mr. Bennet, and Conservatory Actors Anna Roman, as Elizabeth Bennet, Veda Baldota, as Lydia Bennet, Colby Muhammad as Jane Bennet, and Guest Actor Tina Benko as Mrs. Bennet, perform during a preview of Pride and Prejudice Saturday in Bratton Theater. Jess Kszos/Staff Photographer

Julia Weber
Staff writer

Chautauquans who were present for Carol Burnett’s Amphitheater appearance at the Institution in 2015 may remember Chautauqua Theater Company’s Pride and Prejudice sound designer and composer Justin Schmitz.

Schmitz, who first came to the Institution as a sound design fellow in 2013, was helping to run sound at the Amp the night of the performance when he was tasked with helping Burnett onstage and ended up in a charismatic back-and-forth with her.


Initially tasked with bringing a chair to Burnett during the performance, Schmitz leaned into the legendary comedian’s improvisation onstage and the two engaged in playful banter that Schmitz likened to his job as a sound designer.

“It was so, so incredible. It ultimately reminded me as a designer to lean into the ‘Yes, and.’ … You keep it fun, you keep it moving, you keep it light, you keep it exciting. That’s the whole point of design,” he said.

Now, Schmitz continues to combine his love for Chautauqua and playfulness as the sound designer and composer for CTC’s latest mainstage production.

CTC’s run of Kate Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice continues at 4 p.m. today in Bratton Theater.  Hamill’s adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel, which approaches the classic novel with humor and a modern feminist lens, runs through July 30.

In addition to his work with CTC’s production of Pride and Prejudice, Schmitz works on CHQ Assembly, the platform that allows for lectures to be viewed virtually. He and the CHQ Assembly team began their work on the platform at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schmitz is excited for play-goers to enjoy the fun, lighthearted version of the play that the cast and company have created.

Sound design and music composition is very experimental and requires extensive trial-and-error. Often, Schmitz and the other members of the production team go through many versions of a sound before they find the most fitting one.

“There’s the phrase,  ‘You’ve got to kill your darlings’ and that is so true in sound design because sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and it’s just about play,” he said.

He emphasized the collaborative nature of sound design, citing both the other members of the sound team and behind-the-scenes individuals like Katie Rose McLaughlin, choreographer for the production, and Jade King Carroll, the play’s director and CTC’s producing artistic director.

“You have to lean on your collaborators as a team,” Schmitz said. “That’s really, truly where it all blends together and becomes the final product.”

While Schmitz said sound design is like another character on the stage, it’s simultaneously one of the most behind-the-scenes aspects of theater productions. Often, seemingly simple sounds, whether diegetic —  heard by the characters within the story — or non-diegetic, take extensive planning and workshopping.

Schmitz said sound design, if done well, often goes unnoticed by theater-goers. He relies on sounds to feel natural and cohesive for listeners, immersing audiences in the performance.

Schmitz is also passionate about ensuring that he creates accessible sound designs for everyone in the audience. He relies on an array of tools, including things like assisted-listening devices and subwoofers, to make sure everyone has an immersive experience.

“I want that experience for that person who is wearing an assisted-listening device to be just as fun and just as charismatic as everyone else who is in the audience is experiencing that experience,” he said.

Schmitz is excited for viewers to take in the production in all its aspects. 

“It’s going to look really stunning and it’s going to feel really elegant and it’s just going to be beautiful,” he said. “For a moment, the world gets to melt away, and I get to help the world melt away.”


The author Julia Weber

Julia Weber is a rising junior in Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College where she is majoring in journalism and minoring in art history. Originally from Athens, Ohio, this is her first summer in Chautauqua and she is thrilled to cover the theater and dance performances. She serves as the features editor for Ohio University’s All-Campus Radio Network, a student-run radio station and media hub, and she is a former intern for Pittsburgh Magazine. Outside of her professional life, Julia has a newly adopted cat, Griffin, and she is an avid fan of live music and a dedicated ceramicist.