Kaitlyn MacKinnon

Kaitlyn MacKinnon

By Manus Hopkins

 Growing up in Ontario’s cottage country, Kaitlyn MacKinnon spent most of her childhood and youth outside and in the water. But in high school, the now-assistant head of audio at Shaw Festival took an extra year to do a co-op placement at Huntsville, ON’s Algonquin Theatre.

“I started in lighting,” MacKinnon tells us. “That’s one of the open things that wasn't a full-time gig. The technical director that still works there managed all the front of house audio stuff. So, I would occasionally get to mix monitors and things like that when bands came in.”

It was in college that MacKinnon became fully immersed in audio. A lot of people who came through the theatre she worked at split duties as tour managers and FOH engineers, so MacKinnon thought that might be the path for her as well. With some knowledge and experience in lighting behind her, she decided to specialize in production management and audio.

“It wasn't until my third year of college where you finally get to mix a musical that I  did that, and it was a lot of control,” MacKinnon says. “The stage manager and I were really the only people that were their own thing. Everybody else sort of gets things called for them. I felt a lot of control and a lot of responsibility. And it's just something that you have to be very present in. So, I took that and ran with it.”

While studying at Sheridan College in Oakville, ON, MacKinnon wanted to get more into the technical aspects of audio and sought out a co-op program that would teach her and give her experience in tasks like hanging line arrays. She spent seven weeks at Soundbox Productions in Stoney Creek, ON, and was mentored by the sound technician there. She continued working for Soundbox after graduating, until receiving an email from Sheridan’s head of audio with a new opportunity.

“It was a show called Sousatzka, which was Garth Drabinsky’s big comeback at the time,” MacKinnon says. “And the associate sound designer on that show was looking for people.”

MacKinnon is speaking of John Lott, who is also the sound designer for Shaw Festival. The two worked well together, and Lott invited MacKinnon to be his assistant at Shaw that season.

“He just sort of became my mentor from that and I got voluntold to do a lot of sound design things over the years,” MacKinnon says.

The next few years for MacKinnon involved lots of different work, which included spending some time in New York with a company called Sound Associates, which supplies sound gear for Broadway shows, as well as many of the Ed Mirvish Theatre productions in Toronto.

“I ended up going there to do a couple of internships and see the shop,” says MacKinnon. “And then I’d been doing the odd sound design thing here and there for companies in Toronto, like The Musical Stage Company. There’s this company called Tweed & Company that I've done some stuff for, as well as freelancing kind of all over and going back to Sheridan and designing and teaching there.”

MacKinnon had been working for over five years as the assistant sound designer with Lott at Shaw Festival when an opening came up for the head of audio position, which she applied for, but the company ended up splitting into multiple jobs.

“I'm the assistant head of audio, but I mix the main musicals that go on in the festival theatre,” MacKinnon explains. “So, I get that thrill every day of getting to mix a musical and it's really fun.”

These days, MacKinnon works concurrently on two shows. One is a musical, which has four or five shows a week, this week, and the other is what’s called the lunchtime show.

“I had to show this morning, which is just an hour long,” she says. “That will usually happen three to four times a week. So today, I have a show in the morning, I have a big break, and then I have a show in the evening.”

MacKinnon says working at the Shaw Festival is a dream job for her, and the opening nights never stop being exciting. Like many others in the industry, MacKinnon says it’s the people that really make the job great.

“I think the theatre community is really accepting of a lot of different types of people,” she says. “The conversations that I get to have with actors, when they know what you're doing and you can have that connection, I feel like I'm performing a show as well. And so, when I'm having that connection with them on stage, and mixing the show, it’s great. It’s a great feeling when they feel supported, and you feel like you've done your job.”

While one of the challenges MacKinnon faces in her professional life is just having time outside of work, she lives in St. Catharines, ON, where she bought a house last year that she is busy renovating. Aside from spending time with her cats, Emma and Griffin, she can be found hiking, gardening, and trying to find time to hang out with friends. Luckily, as far as work goes, MacKinnon is in a stable position these days, but is always working to step up her skills.

“I'm very hard on myself, so there's always room for improvement,” she explains. “There are some things that we're doing at Shaw soon, that'll hopefully come together, like putting in a new surround system and those sorts of things. And we're going into our Christmas show at the end of the year, so that's exciting.”

 Manus Hopkins is a free lance writer, based in Toronto.

He can be reached at manus.hopkins@torontomu.ca