At the Ballpark Interview: Event Producer for San Francisco Opera

Jenny Harber is the Event Producer for San Francisco Opera

She was born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee but has lived all over. She went to college at Indiana University Bloomington and moved to Chicago after graduation. She now lives in San Francisco with her husband and two kids. Jenny has been project managing and producing live events her entire career and spent the majority of her time working for large opera and theatre companies. Her hobbies include strolling through antique fairs looking for treasure, baking, hiking, and spending time with her family!

In this exclusive interview, she shares her insights on upcoming SFO productions

Cultural Currents: Baseball is a team game, and you manage a team as well. Can you describe your management style?

Jenny Harber: Yes, absolutely! This is a great question because management style has such a huge impact on the success of a project—both a team member’s individual success and the overall project goals. I focus on servant leadership and am a fierce advocate for my team. I have a very hands on approach when it comes to communication, collaboration, and planning, and strive to provide leadership by giving people space to tackle projects applying their individual style. I know I’m not alone in feeling the  challenges of shifting to work in a virtual environment. It has made the art of bringing people together and recognizing valuable contributions difficult so it’s more important than ever to celebrate the hard-won successes of the group.

 CC: What impact has the pandemic had on your operations?

Harber: We’ve had to majorly adjust and pivot our working style in many areas. Some obvious examples are: singers rehearsing in masks, creating socially distant stage action, and navigating the never-ending situational questions of how to move forward in a world of COVID protocols. These challenges however opened the door for innovation and for creating wonderful new partnerships within the Bay Area community. In collaboration with very talented doctors at UCSF, we developed a special kind of mask which allows singers to take big breaths of air while containing exhaled aerosols. Because of this, rehearsals for our fall season line-up have continued uninterrupted! Early on in the pandemic we embraced the complications of creating COVID-compliant virtual programming—content we wanted to offer our community as a soothing balm as everyone dealt with the difficulties of shelter-in-place.

CC: Our readers are ferry riders. Are there any similarities to your work and that of keeping a waterborne journey safe and secure?

Harber: Theatre and boats have more in common than most people might realize. Many of the first modern theatrical stagehands were sailors and they brought their nautical training into the world of the stage.  To this day the stage is referred to as the “deck” in the same manner of a ship’s deck. It’s easy to expand on the analogy—keeping a production process moving forward smoothly is indeed much like keeping a ship afloat. Live expression demands a lot of performers, both physically and emotionally.  As managers, our focus is on ensuring artists remain safe as a process progresses … keeping them “onboard” if you will.

CC: All of your projects are complex, but this one seems to present special challenges. How may new audiences best prepare for this unique experience and the fresh chapter in SFO ‘s live production legacy?

Harber: This is an exciting moment in San Francisco Opera’s history—a moment where we’re looking forward, thankful to continue the work of telling meaningful and relevant stories through our craft. We want people to return to live performance experiences with joy, focused on celebrating togetherness after long pandemic months spent siloed. As we reconnect the sacred bond between art and audience, we also want to convey our gratefulness to our community for their unending support!