Rebecca Bishop understands how an empty stage transforms from a rough pencil sketch by the designer into a magical tableau. She has realized this magic many times herself as a scenic designer, and in some ways has crafted her own career in a similar manner, brush stroke by brush stroke.
Rebecca and her family have lived in Carlisle since she was 4, and she freely admits that she doesn’t remember a thing about those early years. Throughout elementary school in Carlisle, she loved art class. “I loved the hands-on projects—mask making, pottery, it was a very multimedia training in the arts. I’ve always been interested in creative arts and was convinced that I was going to be a writer when I grew up.”
While at CCHS, Rebecca “fell in love with sociology, probably because I’m such a story teller. I was fascinated looking at life and people through a sociological lens. It’s interesting to see how the larger forces we’ve created affect the society that we live in.”
While Rebecca contemplated the idea of pursuing sociology in college, she also knew that graduate school or years of post-college training was not for her. She wanted to dive right into her career after graduation. Theater was the perfect venue. “The things that you study in theater school are exactly the same things you do on the job after graduation. That was the best trajectory that I could envision.”
Training to follow her dream
Rebecca majored in theater design and technology at the University of New Hampshire. “I had dreams of becoming a Tony-winning scenic designer,” she recalled. During the summers she did internships in paint shops and for television shows. “It’s a very tough industry, and I realized quickly that I was going to have to slog through apprenticeships and start at the bottom before I could make any headway and do the types of things that I cared about doing.”
“Especially working in television, where I might be painting faux wood grain for 12 hours per day, all week, it was exhausting.” Rebecca understood that the work was important, but she began to realize that she didn’t want to be just a behind-the-scenes figure.
Her first job after college was for the Wooden Kiwi Paint Shop in Waltham, where she painted sets all day. She enjoyed the work and it was what she had trained to do in school, but it wasn’t completely fulfilling.
The following summer Rebecca was a design intern at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival in upstate New York. “I never thought I would be the kind of person to love opera. But everything is so grand. They have a budget like I had never experienced working in community theater, and everything that they make is so magical and huge that it’s impossible not to fall in love with it.”
One of the productions she worked on that summer was Cunning Little Vixen by Leos Janacek. Rebecca described the set as “a deconstructed tree that looked like a skate boarding half dome, with treated wood that curved 30 feet in the air and tendrils and hiding spots everywhere. It was completely incredible, and I was living the dream all summer.”
As an intern, Rebecca worked with professional set designers and got some stark personal insight into the industry. “They all had to do grunt work for 5 to 10 years before starting to do work that was important to them, and it just seemed too much,” she recalled. “I decided I wasn’t willing to wait that long to do what really interested me.” After that summer, she decided to move to Boston.
Looking for laughs in Boston
“When I moved to Boston, I was definitely looking for more opportunities that would allow me to shine.” She took a giant step in this direction by she trying her hand a stand-up comedy. “That was terrifying,” she chuckled. Rebecca experimented at open mic nights at the 720 Tavern and Thunderbar while taking some stand-up classes at ImprovBoston. “You grow and learn so much more when you are surrounded by people who want the same things as you but have different perspectives and experiences,” she said.
“Comedy speaks to me so much because it really is just a pursuit of understanding the human condition. It’s expressing things that we all relate to.” According to Rebecca, writing material for a comedy audience is much different than writing poetry or short stories. Comedian John Mulaney “is a great example,” she mentioned. “He seems very effortless, but his process is rigorous. The amount of rehearsing he does must be extreme. The extent to which you have to know exactly where the laughs are going to come requires a lot of writing and editing skills.”
Rebecca’s own writing has been influenced by comic Mike Birbiglia. “I didn’t realize comedy could be like that. He tells stories about his life and tells them in such a way that they are hilarious. He just understands how to talk and that, to me, was like a superpower.”
She did have to take some odd jobs to make ends meet after moving to Boston, one of them as a commission artist. “I’ve never had to do my art to feed myself before,” Rebecca remembered, stunned. “It was incredibly stressful. My art turned into something that I had to do to survive and it kind of sucked all the joy right out of it.” She also worked at the BU Bookstore “for a minute” before finding her current job at CIC.
Finding her niche at CIC
Rebecca is a currently a member of the operations team at Cambridge Innovation Center, now known as CIC since they have expanded with new locations across the globe. “It’s hard for me to explain what the company is,” she said. “The closest way to describe it is as a start-up incubator, but for more established companies. Flexible short term leases allow growing companies to have access to exciting materials and people all in the same building.”
Describing her position at CIC, Rebecca said, “I help our clients get what they need. Not only am I doing more hands-on things like painting walls and mounting TVs and fixing the coffee machine occasionally, but [our clients] also need events planned. They need promotional materials. I also help set up lots of networking events. Our goal is to set up spaces and services to encourage dynamic collaboration for our clients.” Rebecca smiled broadly. “The job is built for jack-of-all-trades people like me. I rarely do the same things two days in a row. I love it!”
According to Rebecca, CIC has been a perfect fit for her. It is job she loves that pays her enough to live in Boston, but is not a full time position so she can pursue all of her other passions and interests.
“Everyone who works there is so creative and does other things outside of work. CIC wants to foster you in all directions, to grow within the company and be that interesting person who connects with the clients.” She said that everyone who works there is treated as a talented individual, and when a creative opportunity comes up, CIC calls on Rebecca to make it happen.
CIC recently began a beautification initiative in their Boston building and asked Rebecca to create a custom tape mural on a wall on the 18th floor. Rebecca had done a small mural of a turtle on the wall outside of her office, just for fun, using Japanese washi tape. Washi is a colorful crafting tape similar to masking tape, but more delicate and removable from wall surfaces. Originally she planned to to create a mural of some sea creatures.
“But the more I thought about it, and the more I thought about what is happening in the world right now, I knew who it had to be—Toni Morrison.” The 18th floor of the building is dedicated to writers, and the operations team agreed that Toni Morrison should be prominently featured near one of the main conference rooms. Rebecca said that in high school she was profoundly moved by the character of Pilate in Morrison’s Song of Solomon. Pilate pierced one of her ears to carry a locket containing a note from her father. Rebecca has just one of her own ears pierced in honor of Pilate.
Her CIC team was thrilled with the finished mural of Morrison, and now Rebecca she has more mural and paint projects planned in the near future. “It’s really easy to make dynamic paint moments with painters’ tape, and there are lots of spots where we want the office to feel full of life. With fewer clients in the space these days [due to the pandemic], we need to provide that energy in other ways.”
When COVID forced the State to lockdown back in March, Rebecca was able to transition in her role to work she that could do from home. Since she has returned to work, the job has changed slightly as some clients have had to leave the building or downsized their offices to smaller spaces at CIC. Currently her team is prepping some offices for sales tours and are eagerly welcoming clients who are returning to work in the building. CIC is also ramping up onsite testing so more clients will feel safe to return soon.
Rebecca has a reduced work schedule and taken a pay cut as a result of COVID, but she anticipates that her job will return to normal as restrictions continue to lift. Spending a few months in Boston without a “real job” was difficult for Rebecca, so finding a job that seems tailor-made for her has inspired her to see where she can go within the company.
“Originally CIC was going to open up a location overseas that I really wanted to help launch, but that has been delayed for a while. It’s been a dream of mine to live in Europe for a really long time, so I it would be ideal if I could keep the dream job and move to Europe.”
While Rebecca has been spending more time at home in Carlisle with her family during COVID, the pandemic has not really slowed her down. Normally, she would spend her free time doing a variety of things at ImprovBoston like working the front of house, taking classes, performing with a resident cast, and working on lots of small projects like podcasts and sketch shows created by her colleagues.
“The community of people that had I met in Boston were not going to stop doing things just because of COVID; we were going to find ways to adapt,” Rebecca explained. “Currently every Sunday I do an improvised doodle show on Zoom. We wanted to find a better medium to watching improv online since it’s just not very interesting. There’s an energy in the room that you just can’t replicate over technology.
“A friend asked if I would like to be a live doodlist while others do Spokane, a specific type of improv format that works well for storytelling. If I draw something, the characters have to talk about it because now it exists. If they say something, I have to draw that.” Rebecca can completely divert a story by drawing whatever she wants so the characters need to adapt. “It can make for some really funny moments,” she quipped.
Rebecca noted that it, if there is a silver lining to the pandemic, it has been to spend more time home and be really close to her family again. While there is so much unknown and she realizes that things can change at any moment, Rebecca is confident that she can do whatever is necessary to make her dream happen all over again.
Rebecca appears on Once Upon a Doodle every Sunday at 6pm on twitch.tv/onceuponadoodle). This post was published in the Carlisle Mosquito on August 14, 2020.