Ask Jenifer Harmon about her favorite story from a life in theater, and she gives an interesting answer:
“Gosh, almost every time I do a show it becomes my new favorite story.”
It’s a telling statement for the Lawrence Arts Center’s Staff Production Stage Manager. Harmon is rarely onstage herself. Her job calls for her to make other people look good, garner applause for performers and directors. So all those favorite stories are about other people succeeding.
“The relationships with the performers are my favorite part of a production,” she says. Harmon came to her position in roundabout fashion. The daughter of a Kansas City DJ and a former development director for Kansas Public Radio, the arts are in her blood. In high school, she was a visual artist – drawing, painting, and sculpting. At Kansas University, she studied dance and fell in love with modern style.
But it didn’t come easily to her, and, as many young people do in college, she found something new by chance. As a dance major, she was required to take either a class on costuming or one on lighting. Harmon chose the latter and discovered a destiny for herself. Her interest in the performing arts and her skill in visual arts came together perfectly.
“It felt right making the environment of a show work,” she says. “I really enjoyed that.”
As a stage manager, she gets to do that and more.
“I make sure things go smoothly,” she says of managing a show. “I keep track of all the details of a production and make sure everything comes together the way it should. I love being that element that keeps it all together.”
But she’s not interested in making a new favorite story just for herself. Every time it’s about someone else.
“We’re all part of creating theater,” she says. “It’s extremely gratifying to me when the performers get that applause.”
Harmon loves working at the Arts Center not just for the opportunity to be that element that helps bring sets and lights and performers and directors together but also for the opportunity to inspire others. She’s teaching a class in theater tech in the spring, and her enthusiasm bubbles over.
“I’m excited about creating opportunities for kids to get involved in technical theater,” she says. “I love it when kids who act get involved on the tech side. They learn there is more to putting on a great show than just a fine performance.
“I also love when shy kids decide to work backstage on a production and get involved with extroverts like actors. It’s nice when everyone gets to try out the other person’s styles.”
Harmon is a facilitator. She brings different kinds of people together to realize a broad artistic vision.
“There are so many pieces to making a show work,” she says. “There’s the director’s vision for the whole thing, the actor’s view of their roles, the set designer’s vision of what it looks like, and the lighting designer’s ideas for how it’s seen.”
Helping make it all happen is a good story every time. And each one is better than the one before for Harmon. After all, each one is a new favorite story.
A life in theater doesn’t get much better than that.