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Ann Beyersdorfer, of Belleville, has combined her passion for theater and art with a flair for design into a career working on America’s most iconic stages.
Broadway, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera, The Muny, Papermill Playhouse, the Alliance in Atlanta, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Jupiter Theatre in Florida are just a few of the venues where her keen creative eye was an asset in theater productions and opera.
Recent winner of best set design of a play for “Afterglow” at the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards, and in 2018, at 27, named a rising designer by Live Design 30 Under 30, she is also art director for Saturday Night Live’s film unit and an adjunct professor at Fordham University. She and her husband live in New Jersey.
This summer, she is the scenic designer for two Muny shows – “West Side Story,” playing from July 15 through July 21, and “Beauty and the Beast,” which was performed last month. She’s thrilled for the opportunity to work on the U.S.’s largest and oldest outdoor theater, but also because she considers it a special place.
“It is extra special to get to come home and design at the Muny. I grew up seeing shows there with my family and it holds a lot of special memories for me. It feels like a homecoming and very full circle,” she said.
While a student at Althoff Catholic High School, she performed in the Muny youth ensemble for “Godspell” in 2009 and “The Sound of Music” in 2010, so she really knows what it’s like to step out on that 102-foot stage.
“I made a lot of friends, learned a lot, and fell in love with theater even more. I was fearless and loved being in the spotlight as a kid. I loved being on the stage and being a part of telling a story,” she said. “I remember being a little nervous in the wings but once I was on stage, the lights were so bright that I didn’t really see all the people, and you kind of get swept up in the energy of your castmates around you. I’m completely the opposite now and get stage fright in front of large audiences. I just prefer to be behind the scenes.”
Bitten by the theater bug at an early age, she grew up singing, dancing, and acting in school shows at St. Teresa’s School and participated in all the summer drama camps at Althoff. She loved the community created and the discussions that were fostered, and enjoyed art, drawing, painting architecture and historic buildings.
Because she didn’t feel acting was her calling, she followed her interest in building things.
As an architecture student at Syracuse University, she questioned that chosen path instead of working in the theater. She was deflated and sought advice. Faculty advisors suggested she switch to set design in the theater department, and she has not looked back.
“I didn’t even know you could do that,” she said.
She was also inspired by her grandpa, Charlie Beyersdorfer Jr. Her grandparents had taken her to the airport after a winter break. She shared how she felt deflated.
“As a baker, he was an artist too, and he told me, do what you love, and you will never work a day in your life.”
He died in January at age 89, and her grandma, Mary Kay, died in June. His bake shop was a legendary local fixture until 1986. After one year in college, he had taken over the Beyersdorfer Pastry Shop in East St. Louis from his parents, and then moved it to Fairview Heights.
Ann said he believed in working hard and treating people with kindness and respect. Her grandparents were ‘super-supportive” and encouraged her to follow her dreams, as did her parents, Kevin and Valerie.
He died in January at age 89, and his support of his grandchildren was unwavering – he attended all her plays. His bake shop was a legendary local fixture. After one year in college, took over the Beyersdorfer Pastry Shop in East St. Louis from his parents, moved it to Fairview Heights, and then closed it in 1986.
She said he also instilled in her to work hard and treat people with kindness and respect, and encouraged her to follow her dreams, as did her parents.
“I still can’t believe I get to live my dreams sometimes. I think there are many rewarding moments while creating theater, or any art for that matter – seeing my little cousins’ reactions while watching ‘Beauty and the Beast’ this summer was one of them! – that make the crazy long hours, hard work and sacrifices along the way worth it,” she said.
Interpreting scripts and creating new worlds is a privilege, she said.
“Developing a show is highly collaborative. Most shows happen so rapidly, but through that fire, incredible bonds form. Everyone brings their hearts to the table. We challenge each other but at the end of the day, we all must be pretty in sync with one another to create a well-tuned, cohesive shared experience,” she said.
Collaboration has been a key factor in her success, she said. After earning a bachelor’s degree in theater design and technology in 2014, she was fortunate to ‘get a foot in the door,’ and work with some of the best in the business. She cited Alexander Dodge, David Gallo, Donyale Werle and Bunny Christie as mentors she has learned from and looked up to.
She worked with Christie on the “Company” set, and with Gallo on the Tony-nominated set for August Wilson’s “Jitney,” among others.
“They have all been so generous with their insights, time, and talents, and are brilliant, visual storytellers,” she said.
Projects have ranged from regional theaters to national tours, such as “Anastasia” for two go-rounds, as well as some international opportunities. She’ll be part of the team taking “Afterglow” to London after its successful L.A. run.
She’ll be back on the film unit at “Saturday Night Live” once the labor disputes are settled, as both writers and actors’ unions are on strike. She started in Season 47 and continued in Season 48, and notably worked on the heralded “Mario Kart” starring Pedro Pascal seen on the Feb. 4 episode.
Meeting at The Muny
The Muny had always been a goal of hers, so with a few design credits under her belt, she contacted production manager Tracy Utzmyers in 2021.
“I decided to just go for it. What’s the worst that could happen? So, I emailed Tracy, introducing myself and sharing some of my work. I let her know that I grew up in the area, was in a couple shows as a kid, that would absolutely love to design there some day, and that I was going to be in town for Thanksgiving and would love to set up a meeting, if possible,” she said.
After meetings with Tracy, director Matt Kunkel and executive producer/artistic director Mike Isaacson, she was hired.
“I really love and respect that The Muny invests in young artists and supports artists that come from this community,” she said.
She is the first to acknowledge a whole team of professionals come together to create a show’s look – making all the elements -- lights, sound, projections, costumes, set, direction, management work together.
“I also have a lot of help and have at least one assistant or associate helping me on every production. For both Muny shows this summer, I had six assistants back in New York building the models, helping me generate paint elevations, props lists and other deliverables,” she said.
She also counts the audience as part of the community because they come to experience a new world, be entertained, and perhaps challenged by topics that are otherwise difficult to articulate, she said.
“We invite the audience into the story we are telling. If they were engaged by what we shared with them and it inspires them in some way, then it means we did our job well,” she said.
The Tony Awards
After being a seat filler right after she moved to New York City three years ago, Ann said it is a surreal feeling being there again as a member of a design team for a nominated show.
“I grew up watching the Tonys every year and was so inspired by the performances I saw and all of the people who helped create those shows. It’s so cool to think about being on the other side now and who might be watching from home, feeling inspired and dreaming of doing that one day too, I always dreamed about being there, so it has been a real “pinch me” moment, each time,” she said.
Spending time with her family is her top priority when she comes home, usually for a holiday or a short weekend. So, being home longer this summer, courtesy of the Muny, has been “a gift,” she said.
“It doesn’t really matter what we’re doing, I just want to fill up my time spending it with all of them. I come from a large family, my dad is one of six kids and all of his brothers and sisters (my aunts and uncles) have multiple children (my first cousins), who now all have kids of their own,” she said. “We love food – and dessert. I’ve got to have good barbecue and St. Louis style pizza – I don’t care where it’s from as long as it’s thin crust and has provel cheese. Yum! And my dad’s gooey butter cake – no one or place makes it better than him.”