If We Were Birds Interview: Anita Kelling

Through the lens of Greek tragedy, If We Were Birds presents an unflinching commentary on contemporary war and its devastating aftermath, particularly for the women who become its victims.

20% Theatre Company is excited to present this beautiful, shocking and brutal new play by Erin Shields at Nimbus Theater September 13-27, 2014.  Before and during the run of this show, we will be giving you the chance to learn a little bit more about the artists involved in our production. In this interview, meet our sound designer Anita Kelling.

Sound Designer - Anita Kelling
Sound Designer – Anita Kelling

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? How/when/why did you get into theatre?

I knew I wanted to be a part of theatre when I first realized that the stories on television weren’t real.  I wanted so very badly to make that kind of magic my whole life since.  It was a super secret wish for most of my life.  One I didn’t share with friends or family for fear it would never come true.  Fast forward to college!  I took a chance and fell in with the theatre crowd at Augsburg College.  I majored in theatre there but narrowly escaped without a degree.  I tried being a “grown up” for a while but I was miserable in an office setting.  My only joy was performing in a folk rock band. So, I went back to school and shifted my theatre focus from performing to sound.  It seemed like a really good fit for me.  Little did I know at the time just how much.

Have you worked with 20% Theatre Twin Cities in the past? How and in what capacity?

Yes, I have!  Both really wonderful experiences too. My first show with 20% was Where We’re Born and I also worked on Changes in Time.

Tell us what drew you to designing the sound for If We Were Birds?

I love a challenge and this is a challenging show.  There are so many things about this play that are uncomfortable.  My general rule of thumb is, if I am uncomfortable with something, I should do it.  There are some really powerful moments in the script that I think are nice opportunities for sound to make them even more powerful.

The play involves four main characters and a chorus of additional actors? Will sound play a part in differentiating the roles and personalities of these characters?

It is always my intention at the beginning of any design process to differentiate characters, places, moments, by changes in music.  Whether that be the mood, tempo, or even style.  At the beginning I think in very broad terms about changes and as other elements are introduced to me, like actors, sets, costumes, or colors, I refine my ideas.  I try to support the actors and the overall production. Sometimes that means I can really makes some bold choices about sound and sometimes my touch needs to be much more subtle. I never really know for sure which way it will go until we are nearly to tech week. Rarely the music I am drawn to at the beginning of a design project, remains in the design until opening night.

What do you hope the audience will walk away from this production knowing, feeling, thinking after hearing your sound design?

I hope that it doesn’t get in the way of their enjoyment of the production.  I hope they remember the actors performances and perhaps when thinking on those performances they have bits of sound from the show in their memory without realizing that it is there.  I hope they like the music, but aren’t distracted by it.

What else do you do in the world, outside of theatre and/or working on this production?

I’ve been pretty busy with sound design this year which is awesome.  I also help run the entertainment department of the Minnesota Renaissance Festival.  That takes over my summer and has for the last 6 years.  Other than that, I read a lot and write fiction a fair amount of the time.  I also have a folk duo called Briar.  We perform mainly out at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, but also the occasional coffee house around town.

What is your favorite thing about the Twin Cities?

You have to understand that I come from a small town in the east central part of Minnesota. We don’t have a stop light in that teeny town of about 1000 people. Nothing ever happened there and there was almost nothing to do. So my very favorite thing about the Twin Cities is the activity that is always present.  There is always someplace close to go and something to do.  People are all around rather constantly and they are always up to something interesting.

What is your favorite type of bird?

A hard choice.   Since my childhood it has been the red winged blackbird.  Seeing them clinging to cattails in ditches along my rural bus route, red winged blackbirds just remind me so much of home.  Lately, being a city dweller cardinals have become my backyard companions.  Whenever I do a backyard soundscape I often include a cardinal in the mix. Red winged blackbird calls are so distinctive and they really are only near water. I delight in being able to use them and those soundscapes are always special to me.