It’s a ‘Wonderful Life’ for Kyle Jensen as he pursues his dream as a sound designer

People remember the corn flakes.

Kyle W. Jensen created a fun sound effect in the 2016 production of “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at the 2nd Space Theatre. He wanted to paint an aural picture of George Bailey and Clarence the Wing-Free Angel walking over the crunching snow. The execution was simple: He poured out a handful of corn flakes on a tray and crushed them with the palm of his hand.

Pictured above: Fresno State graduate Kyle W. Jensen, left, liked the radio-play version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ so much when GCP did it that he produced his own version in grad school.

The audience loved it. In fact, people he knows from Fresno still ask about his intriguing use of cereal. If Jensen hadn’t already been bitten by the sound-design bug, the Good Company Players show helped him solidify his career choice.

“That was one of the best experiences I ever had,” he says.

Fast forward a few years. Jensen is involved in another production of the “Wonderful Life” radio play, except this time he’s producing it (and doing the sound design, of course) as a graduate student at Minnesota State University, Mankato. You can watch the streaming production any time for free through Saturday, Dec. 19. To get a ticket, fill out this Google form for a link.


Jensen, who is halfway through his MFA program in sound design, hopes that theater people from Fresno will be able to “tune in” from Fresno. (One advantage of everything streaming these days is the chance to reach across the country and sneak in a performance.)

“This is my passion project,” he says. “Ever since the GCP production, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. With COVID-19, this is a way to give back to the community.”

Jensen is known for his sound-design work at Fresno State (“Blue Willow” and “Tar Beach) and StageWorks Fresno (“Casa Valentina,” “The Full Monty,” “Fun Home,” “Urinetown,” “Mamma Mia” and “La Cage Aux Folles”). After graduating from Fresno State with a theater degree, he worked doing sound design for a cruise line and then later at Roosevelt School of the Arts.

Jensen is becoming ever more adept behind a sound mixing board.

Jensen is quick to thank people in the Fresno-area theater scene who inspired and mentored him, including GCP’s Dan Pessano and StageWorks’ J. Daniel Herring and Joel Abels. “Especially Joel,” he says. “I would not be a sound designer if he hadn’t trusted me at StageWorks. When I win a Tony, he is going to be in my dedication speech.”

One impressive achievement in grad school so far is winning the Stagecraft Institute of Las Vegas Award for his design of StageWorks Fresno’s production of “Mamma Mia.”

At Minnesota State University, he most recently did the sound design for the musical “Hair.” The socially distanced production required actors to wear masks and stand at least 6 feet apart. Jensen experimented with various masks until he found one that worked best. (It was a common surgical-type, disposable mask.)

He teamed up with some of his grad school friends to film “Wonderful Life,” which is directed by David T. Loudermilk. The cast is a mix of undergraduates, alumni and community members. The production was filmed in a living room.

“I have never directed a radio play before for the stage or the camera,” Loudermilk says. “This was quite the learning experience not only directing for a new medium but also during a pandemic. I thoroughly enjoyed it and have learned so much.”

The Munro Review has no paywall but is financially supported by readers who believe in its non-profit mission of bringing professional arts journalism to the central San Joaquin Valley. You can help by signing up for a monthly recurring paid membership or make a one-time donation of as little as $3. All memberships and donations are tax-deductible.

Loudermilk directed “Hair” as his graduate thesis, and he and Jensen spent some good times this past summer grilling out on Jensen’s porch and discussing concepts and design ideas for the show. Asked to describe Jensen in three words, Loudermilk decided on “creative, dedicated and driven.”

For “Wonderful Life,” Jensen came up with some new sound-design techniques, including wind effects (using wood and fabric) and a hand-cranked siren for the police. One of the best things about a staged radio play is getting to watch the sound effects come to life. Jensen, dressed in period costume, is on stage the entire time with his table of devices. The sound designer in this show becomes another important character.

And to answer the burning question: Yes, the corn flakes make a return performance. Loudermilk says the effect even became a hot topic of discussion in a sound design class at the university. (And this at a place where it snows. A lot!)

“If we had to do it over again,” Loudermilk says, “I would have put a second camera attached overhead of his area to get some of those shots from above.”

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Leave a Reply