John A. Leonard
Designer, Author, System Automation Specialist.
Born in October, 1951, John Leonard made his theatrical debut at the tender age of two months in the lead role of "The St. Michael & All Angels Parish Church Nativity Play", followed it up some seven years later in the title role of a production of "Hiawatha" at Sefton Park Junior Mixed School, and then discovered the wonderful world of sound at eight years old when his father bought a Garrard tape-recorder. A number of experiments with a cheap microphone, scissors, and Sellotape produced his first effects tape and resulted in the tape recorder never being quite the same again. Losing interest in acting following his casting as a young woman in the (all male) Bristol Grammar School production of "Mother Bombey" (a part that he failed to play owing to a combination of embarrassment and laziness), he moved to the technical side of theatre where he developed an interest in stage lighting, as someone else got to the Ferrograph Series 3 tape-recorder before him. How he survived the numerous electrical shocks that he received from the various antiquated lighting boards that he had to use remains a mystery, but he feels that he may have been desensitized at an early age when he stuck his finger in a light-socket to see what made the bulb glow. Although now thoroughly committed to technical theatre, he continued to perform in a limited way as the drumming part of a series of pretty terrible rock bands, and is chiefly remembered for his part in a rendition of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's "Eleven Moustachioed Daughters" (check it out on "The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse" album) at the School Poetry Reading Contest, before an ecstatic audience of schoolboys, a bemused Margaret Rawlings (adjudicator and actress, deceased.) and an irate Headmaster.
He passed a number of examinations, much to everyone's surprise, and applied to join The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School Technical Course, where he was accepted "because it's useful to have someone with a bit of local knowledge on the course." He proceeded to monopolise the sound equipment, "inventing" varispeed phasing and Brian Eno-style tape-delay along the way. After finishing the course, he passed the time by becoming an assistant-projectionist/handyman at The Bristol Arts Centre, moving from there to The Bristol Old Vic Theatre as a stagehand, for the grand re-opening of the theatre following its complete refurbishment in late 1971.
After a six month period, he was invited to join the sound department (thanks, Nigel Gibbons) and then, shortly after, he became head of the sound department (thanks again, Nigel), as he was the only person in the building who knew how any of the equipment worked. Four years servicing three theatres in four-weekly rep. and working with up-and-coming directors such as Howard Davies, Bill Alexander and John Caird, taught him a great deal about a lot of things, although how to make lots of money was not one of them. Following a short spell of freelance work, during which he co-designed the award-winning Libra Theatre Mixing Desk with Alastair Goolden and toured briefly with Peter O'Toole, he joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1979, becoming Head Of Sound and an Associate Artist in 1984.
In 1989, wrecked, depressed and fed up with working in The Barbican Theatre, sixty feet below ground with no air-conditioning, he left to pursue a freelance career, finally founding Aura Sound Design Ltd. with John Owens and Fergus O'Hare in 1998.
During his time in theatre sound, he has lost count of the shows that he has provided soundtracks for whilst working for The Almeida Theatre, The Bristol Old Vic, Chichester Festival Theatre, The Donmar Warehouse, The English Shakespeare Company, Robert Fox Ltd, The Gielgud Theatre, Hampstead Theatre, The Intiman Theatre, Joint Stock, Bill Kenwright Ltd., The Longacre Theatre, Method and Madness, The National Theatre, Out Of Joint, Prospect Theatre Company, The Queens Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Company, Sheffield Crucible Theatre, The Tricycle Theatre Company, Upstairs at The Royal Court, The Vaudeville Theatre, Duncan Weldon Productions, Excalibur Productions and The Young Vic, amongst many others.
Some of the hundreds of shows he has worked on are: Jumpers, Murder In The Cathedral, Absolutely!(perhaps?), Breath Of Life, Benefactors, Private Lives, Midnight’s Children, Antony & Cleopatra, Sunday Father, I.D., Lady From The Sea, The Dwarfs, A Reckoning, Plenty, Lulu, Faith Healer, Assassins, Breaking The Silence, Company, Dance of Death, Entertaining Mr. Sloane, Fool For Love, The Ginger Man, Hamlet, Insignificance, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Long Day's Journey Into Night, Medea, Neville's Island, The Odyssey, Passion, The Queue, The Royal Hunt of The Sun, Some Sunny Day, Travellers' Tales, Uncle Vanya, The Visit, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, X Marks The Spot, You Never Can Tell and Zenobia.
He has yet to work for a company whose name begins with Z. Oh, and he's won the odd award, including a Drama Desk for Medea, and he's married to Andrea Hess, 'cellist, houseplant expert, stunning cook and founder member of The Raphael Ensemble. (And for those who have to know, the A in John A. Leonard stands for Anthony, and he uses it because there are a lot of other John Leonards working in the entertainment industry.)
Having contributed the sound effects section to A&C Black's "Effects For Theatre", John was asked to write an introduction to theatre sound, which he has recently completed, to the delight of his long-suffering editor, Tesni Hollands. It took him over three years and he got through three computers in the process.You can read more about this and even buy the book by clicking on this link. "Theatre Sound" by John Leonard, published by A&C Black.