Mackenzie Ellis 2013 BFA in Scenic Design
When running sound for the tour of Dear Evan Hansen, someone commented to Mackenzie that they’d never seen a woman behind the board before. She explains, “Sound is a relatively young field in theatre, so we have an advantage in that most of us have been doing sound since there was more gender equality. Even so, women are still underrepresented.”
VCU was the only in-state school that Mackenzie applied to, “thanks to a wonderful in-person tour with Glynn Brannon, retired Head of Graphic Design and Publicity, it bumped VCU higher than the out of state schools.” Halfway thru VCU, she got interested in sound, “Thanks to one class and one teacher: Thomas Vecchione, head of Sound Design. He would tailor studies based on our needs and experience, so I took the same class three times, each time focusing on a different area like design, physics and mixing. I got a comparative education to some of my peers, who went to specialized programs. Their degree might say it, but I learned just as much.”
Bonnie McCoy, Administrative Director of the department, recommended Mackenzie as a promising sound student to noted sound designer Kai Harada. “He gave me my first professional gig as assistant sound designer for the national tour of Million Dollar Quartet. We’ve remained in touch even thought we haven’t done another show together…yet.”
In Fall 2013, Mackenzie became house mix engineer at DC’s Shakespeare Theatre, “It was a dream: salary, benefits and doing what I love right out of college.” One show Mackenzie mixed was The Tempest with guest designer Nevin Steinberg, “a couple months later he offered me a job as head of the sound department on the first national tour of Cinderella.” Mackenzie ended up doing two tours.
VCU contacts once again came to play when Vecchione put Mackenzie in touch with Lucas Indelicato (BFA in Technical Theatre 1997, click here to read his profile). “Lucas recommended me for show where I got my union card which was The First Wives’ Club in the Chicago tryout. Mackenzie also worked on the tours of Something Rotten and Dear Even Hansen, until COVID shut them down.
When asked about younger actors who haven’t been properly trained to project their voice, she says, “On one hand it’s important to know how to use a mic, but if you have that electronic support early, you may never develop the ability to project without one. It’s always better to have a louder performer.”
She’s also thrilled that VCU will offer a sound minor this year. “Having sound as minor legitimizes the field of study. It’s a great step in the right direction. Now, I’d like to see a sound major,” she smiled.
Mackenzie plans to resume the tour of Evan Hansen later this year.
Compiled by Liz Hopper, professor emeritus, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the August 2021 Theatre Alumni Newsletter.