Although born in Glendale, California, Vanessa grew up primarily on the central coast of California, with some of her childhood spent in San Diego. Her musical talent was “discovered” when she began taking tap lessons at the San Diego Parks and Recreation Department. The teacher needed someone to sing, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” for the annual big show of the year, and she and her best friend were the only students who knew the lyrics. Her voice was a belt voice at that time, and she appeared in numerous musical theatre shows around the San Diego area, mostly under the direction of Don Ward.
The summer after she graduated from high school, she was asked to sing in a show starring Shirley Jones, as an additional member of the group, Randy Sparks and the Backporch Majority. The show toured to Indianapolis, Pittsburg, and Kansas City. Although Vanessa returned to California to attend college, her experience with the show had taught her how professionals rehearse and perform, which lit the proverbial fire under her to pursue excellence in her singing, dancing, and acting. After graduating with a degree in theatre, Vanessa spent two years as an artist-in-the-schools and developed her skills as a teacher. She continued to perform in theatre and cabaret shows in Los Angeles and “on the road.”
Fate intervened when she was offered an opportunity to be a Foley artist for television and film. Her career in film turned out to be a major focus for many years, as she also became a sound editor and voice actor. Vanessa appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” demonstrating Foley and gave workshops on Foley at various venues such as the Denver International Film Festival, Cleveland’s Sonic Disturbance, and San Francisco’s Exploratorium. Always interested in the spiritual aspect of life, Vanessa obtained a Master’s degree in Divinity from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, all the while continuing her Foley and music career.
After returning to Los Angeles, Vanessa developed a cabaret act for local venues and included her original songs in the repertoire. Her song, “He Wants Me Back” received radio play for two years and “Every Other Night” was featured in the film Foreign Correspondents with Vanessa as the singer. Her first CD, Working Without a Net, includes eight of her original songs, as well as several covers of jazz and standards.
Vanessa moved to Chicago to teach film at DePaul University. While in Chicago, Vanessa sang with Vox Caelestis and the DuPage College Jazz Band. At this point, Vanessa decided to return to California to write a book about Foley, which would require interviewing sound professionals in Los Angeles. That book, The Foley Grail, was published in 2009, and is now in its 3rd edition. In 2014, Vanessa received her Ph.D. from Georgia State University and has subsequently written books and chapters about music and sound in film.
Vanessa became the Endowed Chair in Telecommunications at Ball State University, which is, ironically, David Letterman’s alma mater, and she worked in the David Letterman Building. Vanessa’s professional work in theatre, film, and higher education have continued to overlap with her skills as a vocalist and composer throughout her career. In 2018, she developed (along with colleague Dr. Richard Edwards) the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), Mad About Musicals, for Ball State University and Turner Classic Movies, and hosted the first two nights of musical films on TCM with Ben Mankiewicz. Additionally, she introduced the film, Silk Stockings, at the Turner Classics Film Festival. While at Ball State, she received a fellowship to develop a short film with selected students about women in American film sound entitled Amplified.
Her expertise in film, music, and acting led to a consulting position for UC Riverside, as a media and pedagogical expert during the first year of the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. While in this position, she wrote and directed the short film series, Hey, Scotty Bear! and composed the music for the underscore. Her Canvas.net course, The Art and Craft of Remote Teaching, was developed at that time, to assist higher education instructors to modify their courses to accommodate students learning remotely during the pandemic.
Vanessa continues to write musical theatre and jazz, sings in groups and solo, and is a member of the acting unions SAG/AFTRA, and Actors Equity.