Spotlight on Jessica Bertine


Chelsey Schallig

Jessica Bertine is a set designer and scenic painter for Diablo Valley College’s Drama Department

Chelsey Schallig, News Editor

Diablo Valley College alum Jessica Bertine’s anxiety is a daily struggle, but as she learned to fight for what she wants, she discovered there is strength in her disorder.

Bertine lives in the East Bay and spends most of her time as a set designer, scenic painter, and professor for DVC’s drama department. She also mentors students in the art of design.

After she transferred from DVC, where she received training from 2003-2005, Bertine completed her Bachelor’s degree in theatre at the University at Buffalo, New York, in 2007.

She later received her Master’s of fine arts in design and technology from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, in 2010.

Bertine represents herself as a freelance and independent designer. She worked on lightening and scenic design for most of DVC’s productions. Her work was featured in “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Comedy of Errors,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “The Little Shop of Horrors.”

Bertine was born in San Francisco and moved to Hercules with her mother after her parents separated.

“The community heavily consisted of Asians and African Americans so I learned to be a minority, but there was a huge sense of community in Hercules. Every weekend I would stay ay my best friend’s house and I became a part of their family,” said Bertine.

Any good memory Bertine remembers consists of friendship because she’s an only child.

“I was in high school and my mom, me and my friend went up to North Tahoe to see snow for the first time. I enjoyed snow tubing and just remember having the best time,” said Bertine.

Her father, James Bertine Jr, comes from a French and English background.  He was born in Baltimore, MD, but grew up in Jacksonville, FL and was a military man for 27 years. Bertine’s mother, Carol Bertine, has both Irish and German heritage. Her mother grew up in New York and later worked in the financial district as a manager in San Francisco.

“My parents separated when I was two years old, so my mother and I left San Francisco to Hercules. My parents divorced when I was four years old and I’m still learning who my dad really is,” said Bertine.

Her favorite memory from childhood was spending the 4th of July with her father in New York. She recalled how the neighborhoods would all be decorated in red, white and blue.

“I love the holidays especially the 4th of July because I got to see my dad in New York. Homes would be decked out in flags, I would get to see fireworks and I learned a lot of patriotic songs for the two years I was able to participate in the parade,” said Bertine.

She first learned about her disorder after graduate school and for the last five years, Jessica has been learning about her anxiety disorder. It has taught her how to deal with communication and listening.

“I’m learning how my anxiety is a huge strength and weakness, but learning from it, it helped me learn about the times where I can get very timid when talking to people about my ideas. I’m learning that my ideas are important and it taught me that it’s ok to not get my way,” said Bertine.

At the age of 17, when she was transitioning from high school to DVC, the dynamic was different for Bertine.

“My mom was an alcoholic at the time and I was figuring out relationships, I wasn’t getting the help on how to become an adult. I considered Ken Hein, who was a professor here at DVC, to be my dad without actually being my dad. I would talk to him about my ideas and he would actually listen, that was huge to have someone to talk to,” she said.

Bertine had fears about having a career as a freelance designer. After she graduated from her master’s program, she started connecting the dots of all the activities that she loved as a child, like drawing, watercolor, dance, and piano.

“This career is exciting and challenging because I get to work and meet with different people. It’s ephemeral, you can never recreate the same amount or experience,” she said.

Bertine became interested in set design when she was inspired by Adolphe Appia, a famous Swiss architect, and theorist of stage lighting and decor.

“Appia modernized or fathered scenic design to what we see today. He rejected painted two-dimensional sets for three-dimensional “living” sets. I loved how simplistic his scenic designs seemed and the lightening would completely transform his sets,” Bertine said.

She transitioned out of college as she completed residency requirements from academic to professional.

“I was actually supposed to travel to London and work with lightening for the program specialist who was the lead on the Beijing Olympics, but I didn’t have the right paperwork. I was detained for 9 hours and got to spend one day in London,” Bertine said.

She takes pride with her work and considers it an accomplishment when people come together and work together to create something beautiful.

“I have master classes for my undergrad program where professionals come to teach and interact with students. I remember we had to work on a theme park design based off of the old story of ‘Journey to the West,’ we got into two huge groups and my group was so collaborative, it surprised me,” Bertine said.

She defines herself as a creative and mentions how important overcoming anxiety is to her. Bertine wants people to know that anxiety isn’t controlling her life or career.

“I want people to know that I am outgoing and silly, even though I’m not comfortable showing that side of me a lot. I’m witty when I’m on my own, but most importantly, I want people to know that I’m caring.”