Rebecca (Becca) Kessin moved to Los Angeles for graduate school and never left! She designs all over southern California, often for her beloved Celebration Theater, but also for the Gary Marshall Theatre, Company of Angels, Echo Theater, Red Compass Productions and The Blank. She has been an associate for John Gromada, Dan Kluger and Jill BC DuBoff. Rebecca has been awarded two Stage Scene LA Awards, a Ventura County Four Star Award, and nominated for two Garland Awards, LA Drama Critics Circle and Broadway World Los Angeles awards. She teaches at California State University, Fullerton. Discover below her creative world as a member of these adventurous Los Angeles companies, her advice for fellow vegetarians, and her honesty regarding the role of her cat!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m about to tech Born to Win, which is a comedy that explores the sordid inner workings of the child beauty pageant coaching circuit. It’s with Celebration Theatre, and the production team is made up of some of my very favorite collaborators – many of us have been playing together for 10+ years. I call CT my artistic home, it’s where I get to push the farthest and take some of the best risks.
I’m also teaching my first graduate class this term! It’s been exciting and terrifying to develop the course and define how it progresses the overall sound curriculum at CSUF.
What is the most exciting thing happening this season that you are not working on?
I’m dying to see what Rouge Artist Ensemble is getting up to next. The last site-specific piece they did was magical realism meets the history of Los Angeles, and it blew me away.
Where were you born? Where do you live now?
I was born in New York, where I lived until moving to Los Angeles for grad school. It was hot and dry and occasionally on fire, and I promptly announced that I was coming home the second I finished my degree. However, I started working professionally long before I graduated, and that network was what initially kept me here. Fifteen years later (what?!) I find myself very happy to be an Angeleno. Turns out, winter is appalling and I do not need it in my life. I fly bagels and pickles back from New York when I visit and have become quite discerning indeed regarding tacos.
Describe one of your most successful collaborations in the theater. How or why was it successful?
In 2013 I designed Peter Pan; The Boy Who Hated Mothers for CT/The Blank – It was one of the most generative processes I have ever been a part of. Every rehearsal, every night of tech, there was more discovery. The idea was that this tiny fifty seat theatre held magic if you could just access it correctly. Floorboards would be pried up, and there was an underground world there. A dresser drawer would open, and a river would flow out. Flying was a matter of theatre movement, not rigging, and it was mesmerizing.
Our director (Michael Matthews, a long time collaborator) kept pushing us in the best way. There was a huge trust factor. We took the biggest swings and sometimes missed spectacularly. The time frame meant that a lot of the new ideas we brought in were developed on the spot, not worked out at home and brought in the next day. It forced my typical self-censure to take a backseat, and let me play with the cast and creative team in the truest sense. It was one of the hardest and best shows I’ve ever done.
Your production Die Mommie, Die was honored at CTG Block Party. Can you describe that experience? What was the most successful part of it? The most surprising?
CTG’s Block Party is a brilliant idea – they take three local 99 seat shows from the past year and remount them for a broader audience with all the production resources of the Kirk Douglas Theatre. It was an absolute delight. Because we had gone from this tiny, company run space to a fully staffed theatre, the onus of production was lifted off of the creative team. We got to focus on how best to tell the story, and of course get the best laughs. Fyi, the KDT staff are the best people.
The most fun expansion of the sound design came in act two, when a character has been secretly dosed with LSD and hallucinates people and memories that get both wilder and funnier. At CT, I was limited by budget, space, and lack of an engineer – the whole show had to be turn key for the SM to run. At the KDT, we made it BIG. We were able to quick change the cast into mic at the transition into the scene, and their voices were able to join in the sonic cacophony that ensued. It told the story at a whole new level, plus it was tremendous fun.
How would you describe the LA sound design scene?
Bigger then people think it is! There is so much theatre happening all over LA. I think that the proliferation of small theatre here (due in part to the now changed 99 seat plan) lets young and new designers get their foot in the door creatively. There’s also a whole world of production here, not just film and TV, but also theme parks and other large scale corporate projects. As a result, lots of sound people here have widely varied backgrounds.
Who or what makes up your support structure?
I am lucky to have some wonderful friends that are in essence my LA family. My parents have always been my biggest supporters – I told them I wanted to be in the arts when I was eight, and they believed me and championed me, and they never told me to “get a real job.” They have seen that production work trains you for multitudes – case in point is my stage managing our thirty person seder each spring. Also, is it weird to say my cat? He is essential to my well being.
This is a really good question – I think it can be all too easy to overlook what you need to do to take care of yourself in taking care of a show. I’m slowly getting better about this, and I’m talking to my students about self-care quite a bit.
What is your favorite piece of music at the moment?
Ohh. Good question. I’ve had Lourde’s Green Light on repeat for a few months now.
Name a pet production peeve.
Get your crap off of my tech table. Thanks.
What is your favorite meal during or before tech?
Tasty and nourishing, but not so heavy as to put one into a food coma. I’m a big fan of Native Foods, and when I work at the Geffen I tend to spend all of my dinner breaks there. (Get the Soul Bowl, extra BBQ sauce. You’re welcome.) I’ve been a vegetarian for 20+ years, and vegan for the last ten or so – LA is a wonderful place for plant-based eating. Snacks are crucial! I will always have little containers full of nuts or trail mix, and an apple or a banana in my bag. Also, tea. I am that jerk who always tries to bring my tea into previews.
Do you play an instrument?
I am a lapsed French horn player. I want to start again but I’m worried about getting thrown out of my building. I am also learning to play the piano.
How old were you when you knew you wanted to be involved in theatrical sound?
I was eighteen – I got into it as a second choice! In an early Intro to Theatre class at New Paltz, we were split into groups and had to produce a scene from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, fulfilling a production aspect that we had never done before. I wanted to be the lighting designer and listed sound as a second choice. I learned how to use Sound Forge, and a friend from the group directed a black box show next term. She asked me if I wanted to design, and that was it – I fell in love with the psychological element immediately. Fun fact – this is also when TSDCA member Kristyn Smith and I were also college roommates!
Does your family understand what you do?
Yes, 90% of the time. I was lucky enough to be raised by a theatre-loving family, so they understand the final product fairly well. I saw The Encounter with my parents, and afterward, I looked at them and said “That is what I aspire to create” and I think that helped it click. A lot of the technology would be lost on my family, but they absolutely understand the possibly transcendent nature of the theatre.
Where do you find inspiration?
In the least likely places. Recently, the thwap-thwap-THWAP-a of my windshield wipers became the basis for a drumbeat sequence I’m building for an upcoming show. It’s always when I can’t write things down, in traffic, washing my hair, out running. Voice memos are a wonderful thing. I also love jumping down the rabbit hole of strange music research.
Was there a show or experience that drew you to sound design or composition?
Honestly, no. My leap to sound design was motivated by opportunity and circumstance. However, I know exactly when my love of design began. After seeing the cast perform at the Tony awards, I asked my parents to go see City of Angels. Half of the set was in color, the other half was black and white, and it BLEW MY MIND. I was eight, and the show was not age appropriate. I am so, so glad they took me.
What programs are we likely to find open on your computer?
iCal, which holds my entire life. I have so many calendar backups it’s ridiculous. ProTools, Logic, QLab. I tend to close creation and editing software as soon as I am done working, it’s like the ritual of ending the day.
Was there a piece or type of gear or program that revolutionized how you work?
This isn’t a very original answer, but QLab changed everything. I have always designed in layers, and the software facilitates that so well. Even building and naming groups are now a part of the creative process, it helps me organize my design ideas long before tech begins.
If you couldn’t have a career in a field related to this one, what would you want to do?
I call this my midlife crisis plan. I would open a bakery.
What do you hope TSDCA can accomplish?
I hope we can help establish and further the vernacular of sound as a creative element, rather than simply a technical one. It’s a tall order, I know.