Reflection, Growth, and Fun as a Theater Production Mentor

Interview with Bayla Jaffe, 2024 Rising Star Project Mentor

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This motto, displayed prominently at the top of The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Rising Star Project information page, is exemplified by the teen participants of the career and artistic program. Beyond the clear empowerment of future professionals, these leaders of tomorrow are also strengthening and motivating current theater professionals.

The Rising Star Project emboldens Washington teens aged 14-19 to produce, assemble, and perform theater supported by The 5th’s robust professional team. Since 2011, The Rising Star Project has occurred in many forms, from helping to virtually produce teen-written musicals to replicating The 5th’s professional-staged shows. Last year, The Rising Star Project produced Into The Woods, and this years’ program also replicated a 5th Ave show. Something’s Afoot, a wacky, whodunit musical inspired by Agatha Christie’s mystery tales, was performed professionally at The 5th Avenue Theatre in March 2024. Beginning in February, teenage RSP participants in a myriad of roles began the intensive work of planning and practicing for a full scale production.

Bayla Jaffe worked as a production assistant for The 5th’s production, and, when introduced to the idea of mentoring teens in the stage management role for RSP, she was immediately interested. Originally from Berkeley, California, Jaffe grew up learning and performing aerials, a type of fluid gymnastics often featuring hanging silks and circus-like acrobatics. She also performed in musicals and plays, which fostered her love and dedication to the performing arts. In high school, she became interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of theater and found a particular affinity for stage management. After high school, Jaffe moved to Washington to attend the University of Washington, where she graduated with her Bachelors’ of Arts in Drama and Political Science with a minor in Law, Societies, and Justice in June 2022. Once in Seattle, she began working professionally in theater production in a variety of settings. In a recent interview, Jaffe discussed her background in mentorship and her experience in the Rising Star Project.

TeenTix: How did you learn about The Rising Star Project and get involved as a mentor?

Jaffe: Ryan Gastelum, the production manager at The 5th, contacted me about being a production assistant on Something’s Afoot [and invited me to work on the RSP project afterwards] I was immediately interested. I had heard about the project and I wish that I had that when I was in high school. I think that I would’ve loved that program; there’s nothing really like that down in Northern California, especially for stage management. There are very little opportunities a lot of times in high school theater, to really hone skills and even just have a person there to help you.

TeenTix: How has mentorship played a role in your professional development?

Jaffe: When I was in high school, we had this weird program called ‘WISE’ [...], it was an alternative English [class]. We would do half of the year with the English senior year curriculum, and half of the year you went out into a field and tried to find a mentor of some sorts. […] In that program, I got hooked up with a stage manager in Berkeley, Katie Bassaum, who took me under her wing for the show she was working on at the time, and I just fell in love with stage management. I thought I was interested, but it was totally one of those things where I was like ‘I don’t know, I’ll try this out’. I’m so grateful that I had this experience because I entered college knowing that I liked it and I wanted to learn more about it. […] It was super formative, and honestly through all of my stage manager careers, I’ve felt like my team has mentored me.

TeenTix: How have you felt you’ve grown being in a mentor role vs. being a mentee?

Jaffe: In this role I feel like I’ve reflected a lot on how I was trained as a stage manager and how, in the now, post-covid era of theater, we’re training stage managers. There’s obviously a lot of throughlines there that haven’t changed, like the basic skills and work. It’s really awesome to teach them about boundary setting and work life balance and taking your boundaries. A lot of the time, [I was]working through breaks as a stage manager. And now, being a mentor, I really encourage my mentees to take their break, to leave the rehearsal room, to tell actors who come to us on breaks, “Hey, Let's talk about this in 10 min when we’re both on the clock.”, I think that’s a big shift in theater culture as a whole, and something that, as a mentor/mentee, I didn’t necessarily get that when I was a mentee and younger in the business. I’m trying to hold that standard—and of course, that’s easier said than done, and sometimes we slip. But, it’s really awesome to give these stage managers an ideal that they should strive for, and something that they should look for when they’re working.

2024 Rising Star Project participants. Photo by Youth In Focus.

TeenTix: Do you have any fun stories or anecdotes about the RSP now that you’d like to share?

Jaffe: In this show, we have a lot of fun tricks in the show, and that has included interesting props. The stage management team has had a lot of fun naming the different props in the rehearsal room. I would say that that’s been fun, like we have this one body double, and we’ve named her Petunia. She has found her way all around the rehearsal room in funny positions, getting tea, or lounging, and it’s been very fun to have her be there. (TeenTix: Almost like Elf on the Shelf?) Yeah, exactly! She’ll just appear in different places put around by the stage managers to brighten your day. … It’s been a fun way to bring the stage management team together and show some creativity of their own and also remember that a rehearsal room can be fun and light even when it’s stressful.

TeenTix: How many mentors and mentees are there, and how do your backgrounds differ?

Jaffe: Three of us mentors, and then four mentees… The other two mentors did RSP last year, so I’m the newest one to the program. We all bring a lot of different skills to the table and have worked really well as a team. [A mentor] wasn’t there all of last week and [the other mentor] and I covered her… It was hard… but we felt very prepared and able … It was a great experience for our mentees to see what happens when someone on your team isn’t there. You have to be ready to learn their track and what they do every day. It was a good learning experience for everyone … Being a stage manager is not just learning your own stuff, but actually what everyone else does in the room as well.

TeenTix: Do you think you might want to mentor with RSP again?

Jaffe: I think I would do it again, it’s been very fulfilling in a new way, than most stage management jobs. Just in the inherent mentorship role, I get a lot of joy out of it and to see the students having fun and putting on something awesome is so special. I’ve totally fallen in love with the program.

TeenTix: Any final words?

Jaffe: My final word on the program is at that age, between 14-19, theater, oftentimes, the opportunities are so actor-focused. Rising Star is one of those opportunities that people in production and crew, stage crew, and costumes, and hair, and lighting, can get a professional experience and learn those skills before college or before a professional career. For me, as someone who didn’t have this program, I had to find it myself, I think it’s so valuable for stage managers to get the experience. I would recommend it to all!

You can explore more about the Rising Star Project on The Fifth Avenue website.

Lead photo credit: 2024 Rising Star Project participants. Photo by Youth In Focus.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This article was written by a TeenTix Newsroom writer on special assignment through the TeenTix Press Corps.

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