2012-2013 Season,  Phantom of the Opera

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 facepunch.com)

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.

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