By Tara Bennett
After finishing a successful run directing “Annie,” the sun is still coming out for Jenny Ballard, who has been named as the managing artistic director of Theatre Baton Rouge (TBR).
The announcement was made after a nationwide search was conducted to replace former artistic director Keith Dixon, who announced his resignation earlier this year. The search was narrowed down to three people with Ballard being selected as the final choice.
“I just realized I was home and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
“In our opinion, she was the shining one out of the three,” said TBR Administrative Director Jody Banta. “It didn’t hurt she had glowing references from LSU and people whose opinions we respect. We’re just thrilled to have her.”
Ballard has always possessed a love of theatre acting in high school, and began acting and directing professionally in 2000. Ballard’s prior leadership experience includes education director and interim managing director of The Actors Co-op in Knoxville, Tenn., and the education director and interim artistic director for the Tennessee Stage Company. In 2007, Ballard co-founded the Knoxville Children’s Theatre and served as its artistic director. In 2010, she moved to Baton Rouge to study at LSU, where she earned her master of fine arts degree in theatre in 2013.
Along with her involvement with TBR, Ballard has also acted and directed professionally with Swine Palace, Playmakers, and has taught for LSU and BREC.
“I feel really lucky to experience so many parts of the artistic and theatre scene in Baton Rouge,” said Ballard.
TBR saw great success with its production of “Annie” under Ballard’s direction. The theater’s summer musical, “Annie” sold out its initial 11 by opening night and was extended for five additional performances, which played to sold-out houses. It was during the process of “Annie” that Ballard realized she didn’t want to be anywhere else, and it was a driving factor that had her apply for the position.
“More than anything I wanted to continue working with these people,” said Ballard. “‘Annie’ is really the thing that sealed it for me, I just realized I was home and I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”
Throughout her professional career, Ballard has experienced a great deal working with established companies and also creating and expanding new companies. According to Ballard, the past work she has been gifted with has built towards her becoming artistic director, and she is excited to be able to continue doing the work she loves.
“I get to do both of the things I love doing, which are growing with an existing theatre company while figuring out grow the theatre company in directions it not necessarily gone in before,” said Ballard.
Ballard officially started her position on July 15th. Currently, she is getting ready for the upcoming season, getting to know the theatre’s board members and figuring out how to grow and develop the organization further.
“I get to come in and hit the ground running,” said Ballard. “My favorite thing to do is work.”
And there is indeed plenty of work for Ballard. TBR is currently in the midst of its 69th season, having just finished its production of “Tony and Tina’s Wedding,” and is now in rehearsal for its productions of “The Shape of Things” and “Mary Poppins.”
“I think we’re really lucky to have the space, the staff, the volunteers and the ability to do a 10-show season,” said Ballard. “That is spectacular in my mind.”
One thing Ballard would like to see in the following years is furthering theatre into the Baton Rouge community and expanding TBR’s presence in the city. For example, this past spring TBR did their production of “Judas Iscariot” at the Manship Theatre rather than their home facility on Florida Blvd.
“I’d love to be able to do more things like that to see if we can take theatre into the community,” said Ballard. “Some of the next steps at growth that need to happen are going to rely on furthering our name and reputation in parts of the community we have not entered into yet.”
Another goal for Ballard focuses on the education program for TBR.
“One thing that is very important to me is to expand the education program further from what it is now,” said Ballard. “Already it’s a great resource for the youth of the Greater Baton Rouge area. We already offer classes year round, we offer summer camps every summer that culminate into a production by the youth, so I think that’s very important. I think there are a lot of doors that have yet to be open and I’m excited into looking to see what those doors might be.”
Some of those doors include reaching out to schools into developing touring programs and a school matinee system.
“I think the educational program right now is in a place of all possibilities, which is a fantastic place to be,” said Ballard. “Like I said, it’s already such a great resource, and now it has so much potential to become an even greater resource, which I think is really exciting.”
Ballard’s third goal as artistic director is to expand the theatre’s volunteer base.
“We already have so many wonderful volunteers working here, but of course a big part of theatre growth is constantly growing the people you’re working with,” said Ballard.
And will Ballard continue directing?
“You can expect me regularly directing at least four of the shows a year after this season,” said Ballard, who will direct “Spring Awakening” next year. “I will be very involved artistically, which I’m very excited about.”