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.

Charity for the Rich? (Dramaturg’s Note Continuted)

by Bianca Dillard, dramaturg

Holiday was produced in 1928, just 9 months before the stock market crash. In a play that explores the effect of money on families and individuals, this detail seems particularly important. What could have happened to Edward Seton, big bank capitalist, after the stock market crash of 1929?  (For more info on this question as it relates to the characters of Edward as well as Johnny check out my dramaturg’s note page 11.)

“Any charity work I do from now on is going to be for the rich, they need it more.”
– Linda Seton, Holiday.

“The sick and the poor are cared for by everyone else now. Nobody has offered any refuge for people of this kind, and they need one more even more than other unfortunates.”
– Andrew Freedman

While Linda’s comment may have been in jest, there was a man who was quite serious about charity work for the rich. Andrew Freedman was serious enough in his belief that economic hard times would be harder on the rich than on the poor that he set up a retirement home where those accustomed to the luxuries afforded the rich could retire in style even if they lost their fortunes.

The idea was prompted by a financial scare in 1907 (a run on the bank that caused panic, but less widespread economic damage). As Andrew Freedman was confronted with his potential loss of wealth, he wondered what he would do in his old age if he were out of money, so he set up a trust fund to build a luxurious retirement home for folks who were accustomed to a wealthy lifestyle but happened to be out of wealth. 

Located in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in New York (1125 Grand Concourse in The Bronx),  the Freedman home’s residents would enjoy architecture reminiscent of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, well maintained English gardens, ornate interior design, grand dining, and servants–all at no cost. Open to a few in 1917, officially opened in 1924, and expanded in 1928 (the year our play is set and just in time for the Great Depression), it housed many of the formerly wealthy of retirement age who lost big in the stock market crash. At its height, the Freedman home housed 130 individuals.

All that is to say that if things had gone horribly wrong for Edward, at least he would have the Andrew Freedman House to cushion his fall.

The trust maintaining the house ran out in 1960 when the residents began to pay to live there. Since that time, the structure has gone through a number of transitions. It currently houses a daycare, and event’s center. It recently housed an art show that you can read more about here.

For more detailed reading about Andrew Freedman himself and his house. Here are a couple of places to go:

A Home for Bankrupt Millionaires (The Evening Tribute Nov. 23 1924)

Landmark Preservation Commissions Report–Andrew Freedman Home. (June 2nd, 1992)