We had the pleasure of spending some time with team member Jennifer Heard and learning about her journey from law student to concert promoter to proposal manager at a theatre consulting firm. We also got to discuss the strong matriarchs that influenced her life, the breathtaking Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, her love for history and Nashville hot chicken, and her two cats that quite possibly have the best names ever given to feline companions. So, let’s crack on with our team member spotlight Jennifer Heard! (jazz hands, jazz hands)
What do you do at TheatreDNA?
I’m the proposal manager. So that means I accept and process and send out all our proposals for all new projects and job prospects. And, in general, just keep the office running.
Absolutely. I think without you we would just be a bunch of distracted hamsters.
(Laughing) I definitely know you, Michael and Ryan would be running around a lot.
You have to keep us on our wheels.
Easier said than done. (Laughing)
Speaking of getting off track…(Laughing)…Okay. Back on it. Have you always wanted to be in theatre consulting?
No, actually. I originally went to school to be a lawyer, but then I realized that I didn’t actually want to be a lawyer. Turns out I like studying law more than practicing it.
Which part of the profession didn’t you like? And what kind of law did you study?
It was the overall culture. The firms I worked at were relentlessly competitive. I’m more of a team player, so being in that environment really clashed with my ideologies—professionally and personally. In law school, I specialized in constitutional law. So, focusing on personal rights and things like that. But yeah, it turned out not to be for me as a profession, but I use what I learned every day here in our contracting process.
So, no regrets? You don’t ever read a John Grisham novel with a glass of wine and start thinking about what might have been?
Uhh, no. It very much felt like a weight coming off my shoulders when I finally made the decision to try something else.
Great segway, thank you. What were the breadcrumbs that took you from aspiring lawyer to TheatreDNA?
Oh, it was a long and winding road.
Should we cue up the Beatles track?
Copy that. (Laughing)
I went through a couple of other jobs before I fell into managing some local bands here in Los Angeles. And then there was one gig, a charity event for homeless cats, where I was asked to help the stage managers and PA’s. That’s where I met Tanya and Michael soon thereafter.
This is turning into the best origin story. And because readers—by readers, I mean me—are dying to know, what was the name of the band you repped?
Oh, gosh…I believe it was called ‘Crown Jewels’.
Of course, it was.
Well, okay then. (Laughing) Switching gears. Was there an artistic experience that left an indelible impression from childhood? A moment that still resonates with you.
I was exposed to theatre pretty early. My parents were musical theatre geeks. So, growing up in Sacramento, we’d go to Music Circus, a local theatre company, and see three to four musicals every summer. But the production that made the biggest impression on me during my childhood was seeing the Broadway tour of Phantom of the Opera in San Francisco when I was eleven.
What an iconic show to have seen at that age. How did you, an eleven-year-old, react to the chandelier drop?
I was fascinated! I spent most of the intermission standing in the aisle and looking for the rigging and trying to figure out how they did it. I’ve always been like that, actually. I’d spend way too much time looking into the wings trying to catch an errant stagehand or something out of place.
Who are the people that have had the biggest impact on your perspective and approach to this work? The people that have helped shaped you into who and what you are today?
There were a lot of strong women in my family that were independent and career-focused. My great-grandmother would be the first in that list, immigrating from Japan alone and raising her family in America. I would say another influential figure in my life was Professor Chambers from my undergrad years at UCLA. Professor Chambers taught ancient Greek history, and he was just so enthusiastic. I remember he was one of the few professors who never let a TA do his lecture classes. He was always up on the dais flailing his arms or energetically pacing the floor, talking about grabbing handfuls of dirt from the ancient sites he explored on archeological digs in Greece. Experiencing his class taught me that you channel your passion for the smallest of subjects and make it into your life’s work.
There’s always that one over-the-top professor, isn’t there? I remember one who taught World History, but all we talked about was Otto von Bismarck because the professor that Bismarck was the greatest political leader that ever lived.
What do you think is the most important trait or skill for what we do?
I think keeping your mind open to learning new things is key. Don’t get set into a certain way of doing things. You need to be flexible to work with many different types of clients and different types of personalities.
What’s one of the most important lessons you’ve learned over your career?
For me personally, it’s been never hesitating to ask for assistance or help. If you are struggling with something, just reach out. It’s not an ego thing. We’re all on a team together; we’re all trying to accomplish the same thing. So be willing to accept help and to also give it.
Okay, it’s time to bring it back to the important topics. (Laughing) What’s your go-to comfort food?
Well, that depends. If I’m feeling sick and need something to make me feel better, it’s miso soup. But if I’m feeling indulgent, I love to get some Nashville hot chicken.
Do you really? Like…how hot are we talking about?
I usually go medium, because my heat tolerance has diminished over the years. I used to like it super hot. You know the type with reapers, scorpion peppers, and ghost chilis? Where it’s so hot that you take one bite and it 100% shocks your system. It’s hard to find a good hot chicken place in Los Angeles. They just don’t compare to Prince’s or Hattie B’s in Nashville.
What’s one artist or architect, living or gone, that you would want to talk to over coffee or hot chicken, in your case?
(Laughing) Well…I’m still hot on the heels of visiting Barcelona, so I’d love to have coffee with Antoni Gaudi who designed the Sagrada Familia. I’ve never had a building just take my breath away until that moment. I just stood there for two to three minutes with my mouth hanging open, wandering around and taking in the interplay between the sunlight and stained glass. It’s baffling that someone could conceive and harness the properties of the sun to light up the cathedral through the entirety of the day. It was truly awe-inspiring.
And the building is still being worked on to this day, yeah?
Yes! The first cornerstone was laid in 1883, but the “final” design still isn’t complete. And as new generations come to work on it, the design has changed slightly, creating complimentary variations. So you have this ever-evolving body of work that is built upon multiple layers of architectural history.
What is the project that you have enjoyed working on the most?
Well, I really loved the Bob Baker Marionette Theatre project that we did just because of the rich history that institution has in L.A., and you know I love history. They have an incredible library of records, puppet designs, sound cues, and all this interesting stuff in their archives. I’m glad that we had the opportunity to work with them and try to help them find a new home that the community seems to love. The art and services they do are a gift to Angelinos, and it’s awesome to have played a part in that.
What’s a project that you wish you could have been a part of?
I mean, if I’m focusing on L.A., I would have to say the Walt Disney Concert Hall. It’s such an iconic structure that it has become synonymous with the downtown skyline and lineup of quintessential L.A. architecture. And that’s just focusing on the exterior design, right? The acoustics in the hall designed by Nagata are second-to-none.
What piece of advice would you give a young professional looking to go into this career field?
Number one, stay curious. It goes back to, you know, always be willing to learn new things. You have to constantly find things to keep your mind engaged so you don’t fall into a sedentary state. Second, don’t be afraid of change, because—guess what—change is inevitable. Don’t be afraid to change yourself or your opinions, either. There’s no shame in changing who you are…evolving who are.
How do you think our industry, in its own little way, can make the world a better place?
I think right now, in this moment in time, it’s really important to have in-person interactions. A lot of people realized over the last few years of lockdown and the pandemic that in-person and communal events are very important and very integral to helping us connect and understand each other. And I think by creating venues and events to happen in those venues, we are providing that space for people to connect and engage. I think that’s one of the most important acts we need to do right now. We need to remember that we’re all people, and we should all be working together.
What makes you happy lately? How do you spend your free time?
A lot makes me happy. Travel—when I can afford it, of course. There’s cooking, hiking, and my cats. They have been keeping me sane.
Yass…cat talk. So, what are their names?
“The Dude” and Bagel.
This is quickly rising in the ranks as the best interview ever. How did you come by those names?
Well, “The Dude” was an obvious homage to “The Big Lebowski”. For the other one, we adopted him right after a trip to New York City. And while we were there, I could not for the life of me find the fabled NYC bagel that you always hear about. Every bakery we went to they were either sold out of bagels or had the crappiest day-old ones left—like Costco bad. I couldn’t figure out why finding a decent bagel in NYC was so elusive. So when we adopted our second cat, I looked at him and was like, “Oh. Ahhh. There’s my bagel I’ve been looking for.”
Okay. It’s official. Best interview. Ever.
(Laughing) Well…I give credit to the cats.