Byer Begins Anew: Actress-Turned-Producer Comments on New Role

Phillipian: Starting at the beginning, why did you want to become a producer? Were there any particularly inspiring moments? Jenny Byer: When I took leave last spring, I worked with a teacher at home to create an elective course to introduce middle school students to theater. This was my first time working backstage, and I saw things from a whole new perspective. Working with the students and watching my ideas turn into real changes was so rewarding. Producing provides the same opportunity to work with students and to better the Department. Phillipian: I know that you have a lot of acting experience. Do you have any experience with directing or tech work? JB: I had to get a general sense of the technical aspect of theater in order to organize a crew and act as stage manager in my class production. I must admit, though, I still have a lot to learn. I have never directed my own show, but I’ve worked with directors of varying levels that take different approaches, broadening my understanding of direction. Phillipian: Over the past few years, what have you thought of the role of producers in the Department? JB: The effects of the producers have been noticeably different from year to year. Whether it is the director’s 100th show or his first, the participation of the producer is essential. The dedication of the producer means a lot to the show; if a producer is less involved than is needed, then it puts much more stress on the director. Alison, Lydia, and I will recognize that and commit ourselves to becoming as involved as each director wants us to be. In addition, the producers have done an excellent job with Grasshopper Night and Rabbot Cabaret in my years here. We will uphold that reputation and ideally bring something new to the shows. Alison, in particular, has great ideas already as to how to improve the shows. Phillipian: Why is the producer so important to the Department? JB: Being a producer is about maintaining the high standard of theater at Phillips Academy. In a constant state of motion and observation, the producers must take their leadership role seriously and do everything that they can to cite existing policies that work and recommend new ideas to enhance the Department. On a single-show basis, being a producer means coordinating all areas of the shows so that they collaborate to achieve the show’s full potential. The producer must simultaneously award opportunities to capable directors to try new things and give new directors the chance and support that they need to begin their career. The producers also need to provide the connection between the faculty and the students. The important departmental decisions reached by both teachers and producers assure representation of the students in collaboration with the faculty’s authority. On a show-to-show basis, the help and input of the producer to the director as a peer is important to keeping the show on the right path and observing the show from as many angles as possible. The producer must help the actors, the technicians, and the director cooperate to achieve the creation of a highly regarded production. Teachers and students sometimes cannot reach this relationship of equality and mutual understanding. Phillipian: What do you think about the recent proposal that the Theater Department work with each show on a more individual level? JB: The proposal that will enter into effect next year will help to deliver the proper allocations to each individual student-directed production. All show applications will be judged on the same level, and depending on the experience of the director, the script, the circumstances of the Department, and other shows being put on that term, a show will receive a designated budget, venue, and number of performances. I agree strongly with the idea of taking each show as a different situation and approaching its production accordingly. I believe that in order to make the new proposal not only function, but also benefit the Department, the leaders involved need to be enthusiastic about its execution and open-minded about the possibilities. I am very passionate about this idea and look forward to working with others to carry out the task at hand. Phillipian: What are your goals as an actress for this upcoming year in theater? JB: I want to take advantage of my last year to work with the amazing faculty and gifted students at Andover. Although the job of producer will be demanding, especially with the new proposal, I want to take part in as many shows as I can before I leave. Phillipian: And as a producer? JB: My main goal as a producer is to see that the proposal works. I am committed, as I imagine Alison and Lydia are as well, to dedicating as much time as necessary to fine-tuning the new aspects of the Department and seeing that the right shows are put on and provided for as logically as possible. I also hope to bring more students into the program and seek a wider range of ability and experience. We hope to show the advantages of working behind the scenes and encourage new students to join the program in this way. Finally, I plan to live up to my promises to commit to each show I am given to produce. Phillipian: What are you most looking forward to as a producer? JB: I am looking forward to reflecting upon the experience next June. I can’t wait to see where the Department goes and what footprints Alison, Lydia, and I leave behind. If all goes according to plan, we will walk away with positive memories and leave behind a better Department.