The Study Guide Process at BYU, à la Phantom

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

Here at BYU we produce playbills for each of the shows. When you arrive, one of the ushers hands you a playbill so you may learn a little bit about the actors and the world of the play. Here are some examples of previous performances’ study guide covers.


As dramaturgs we are responsable for the study guide found in each of the playbills for our shows.There’s a lot of work that goes into each of these study guides. As an example, I would love to illustrate our process for Phantom of the Opera.

Each year advertisers buy ad space to help pay for the costs of producing each show’s playbills. The playbill is the program we pass out at the beginning of each show. Inside we have a director’s note, a dramaturg’s note, the cast for that particular show, a list of our donors, and advertisements. The BYU dramaturgs are mainly concerned with the pages found in the middle fold-out of the playbill.

The process for the Phantom study guide began a few weeks ago when co-dramaturg Dr. Tanner and I met to discuss content. After speaking with the director, Tim Threlfall, we were able to decide on a few articles that would help our audiences with some interesting facts and sometimes confusing information about the musical. For example, how did the Paris Opera house come to be? (Which is one of the articles I am writing for our study guide.)

After we wrote our articles, we sat down in our dramaturgy class to, well, dramaturg our articles. We spoke about the positive aspects of our articles and some opportunities that could help them be more accessible. Our ultimate goal is to help the audience have a more meaningful experience with our production. Through that discussion we were able to garner some helpful tools to rework our writing.

Here’s an example of Bianca Morrison Dillard’s study guide for our current production of Holiday.

For Phantom, Dr. Tanner and I are currently in the process of reworking our articles and working with our graphic designer to set up how they will ultimately look. However, one of the difficulties for putting together a study guide is finding pictures. There are millions of pictures found on the internet. Easy to collect pictures then? Wrong! Boy, have I found out that finding the right quality of picture can be difficult sometimes. Our restrictions for pictures are that they should be at least a few megabytes in size, as well as .TIF format.  In other words, there’s a specific format for us to follow for us to bring high quality to pictures to go with our articles.

(Photo courtesy of Richy 19 at

I hope this has been a neat glimpse into part of the job of our dramaturgs here at BYU. The next time you attend one of our productions, feel free to peruse through the middle section of the playbill to see the work of your local dramaturg.

Phantastic Phantom Progress

by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

The other week we sat down in production meeting to discuss our visual projections for the show. Pretty much the entire meeting was devoted to hashing out the process of filming certain scenes in order to project them later in stills and in videos during the show. Since Phantom of the Opera is set in the 1880’s, the director desired to have more of a flicker book feel to the videos, since the “motion picture” was still a new invention at the turn of the 19th century. I am super excited to see this collaboration between the media arts and the theater department. Having both of these departments working together just adds another level of creativity and awe to this production.

Also, Dr. Tanner, the co-director is a professor at Eastern Michigan University, and myself, are working on our study guide for the playbill as well as the lobby display. With some collaboration between the two of us, and the visual arts department, we have a working display for our production. One of the problems with the HFAC is that the majority of space seen inside the main area of the building is used for the visual arts department. Students showcase their work and ideas in really neat ways.

photo by Hilarie Ashton

However, when it comes to theater students using that space we need the visual arts department’s approval. Jason, with Gallery 303, was super kind and offered some walls and space so that we could put something on display for all of you who will be attending this production, and which also respects the space needed for the visual arts department. I’m really excited as we continue with neat ideas of what to put in this “lobby display.” If you have any ideas to offer that would be really neat. Just add your comments at the end of the entry. We will take all comments into consideration as we near our deadline to have something put together.

He’s Here….at BYU!


by Nicholas Sheets, dramaturg

I just want to say hello to everyone who is taking their time to visit the 4th WALL and to hear about news concerning our upcoming production of The Phantom of the Opera. Expect to see many sneak-peaks into our production at this website. Each week you’ll get a neat insight into the creation of the University Premiere of The Phantom of the Opera in the U.S.A. I hope you’re as excited as I am for this production!

To start out with, I’m going to give you all a preview of our working scenic design for our stage. This design is from the hard work of Benjamin Sanders, the Director of Dance Productions at BYU. This is a working design, so it may change to a certain degree between now and production. Enjoy!

Courtesy of Set Designer Benjamin Sanders