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SCU Graduate Debuts with TheatreWorks

It wasn’t a typical TheatreWorks stage debut for Santa Clara University theater arts graduate Cameron Wells. Rather than on stage, Wells debuted below stage—in the orchestra pit as the foley artist for “Around the World in 80 Days,” a comedy based on the novel by Jules Verne and directed by Robert Kelley, playing through Dec. 31.

Wells creates the sound and visual effects to enhance the madcap race around the world of five actors playing 40 roles.

“He’s the personality in the pit,” said Kelley. “The one activating all the special effects. He’s an audience favorite and gets a big hand at the end because he’s so active.”

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Kelley and Wells put their heads together to figure out which special effects would support the mood of each scene of the two-act play, and Wells makes it all happen.

He creates thunder and lightning, fire and haze, the chiming of Big Ben in London and gunshots in the wilds of America. Feathers and polka dots and snow fly at the flip of his wrist. He makes turkey vultures and even a cobra appear. He is the whistle and steam of a train departing and changes the station signs at each exotic stop around the world. He hands the actors props from the pit.

Wells does it all with a variety of gadgets and instruments, such as a chain, doorbell, train whistle, slide whistle, starter pistol, fire extinguisher, smoke machine and fan for wind effect. His favorite?

“The gong is my favorite,” said Wells. “There’s a wide range of instruments that pop up in the show to make it more playful, including a few surprise sound effects. It’s almost like I’m an instrumentalist.”

“It’s our first show with a foley artist—a live person doing all these things. It’s a much more specialized set of talents. Just keeping track of what he’s got to do is challenging,” said Kelley.

Wells sits most of the time and follows a script with the sound effects indicated for each scene. He listens for cue lines and watches for the flash of a cue light. Occasionally he has a page where he can pause and prepare for the next effect.

“It’s been a challenge but so much fun,” said Wells.“I really enjoy it.”

“It’s ever so much more fun having a live person creating all these sounds,” said Kelley. “It’s fairly common with this show, but is not a requirement of the show. It adds a period feel to it, like an old-fashioned production.”

Before his debut as a foley, Wells spent two years as an intern with TheatreWorks. He was involved in various ways, such as researching the background of plays as a dramaturge and supporting the outreach efforts of the development department.

Wells, originally from Santa Barbara, earned a B.A. in Theater Arts this December. He credits the theater program at Santa Clara University and his mentors Aldo Billingslea and Kimberly Mohne Hill with inspiring him to switch his major from the classics to theater. His SCU experience includes directing and acting.

“I want to stay involved in the theater and make a living at it. Acting is my first goal,” said Wells. “I want to create theater that’s meaningful and engaging for people, that enriches people.”

“Cameron is a delightful person. Also a talented artist and actor. He has the joy of theater that I recognize in a young person because that’s who I was when I was a young person in the theater,” said Kelley.

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