Jasper native rubs elbows with A-list stars


Jennifer Birge

The working title of Jennifer Birge’s imaginary book about her experiences handling A-list celebrities and managing theater stages across the globe is “The Extraordinary Life of a Nobody.”

The Jasper native has had some crazy experiences. Some were so crazy they’d never make it into print.

“Sometimes I just sit here and get in situations and I’m like, how did I get there?” she said. “Why am I here? It’s bizarre.”

From accidentally eating dinner with Meryl Streep to protecting Paul McCartney from a swarm of adoring fans at the World of Disney store in New York City, Birge — who is currently the associate director of theater production and facility operations at New York University Gallatin School — has led a fast-paced and always-changing life since leaving Indiana in the mid-1990s.

As a stage manager, she has worked with bigtime names like Christopher Walken, Ben Stiller, John Mahoney, John Spencer from The West Wing, Robert Kennedy Jr., Al Franken, Alfred Molina, Susan Sarandon,  Diana Ross and Joey McIntyre from New Kids on the Block. Other celebs she has handled at various events include Cicely Tyson, Spike Lee, Tom Hanks, Angela Lansbury, James Earl Jones, Glenn Close, Michael J. Fox and Cuba Gooding Jr.

“Working with creative people, that’s been as rewarding as can be,” said Birge, 47.

Her family has a history in broadcast television, so after graduating from Evansville’s Reitz Memorial High School (the family lived in Evansville for a while), she shipped north to Purdue University in West Lafayette to pursue a degree in telecommunications. But she grew bored of the work, however, and after meeting with acclaimed American director and producer Richard Donner in Los Angeles through a family friend, Birge shifted her focus to theater.

She transferred to the University of Southern Indiana, where the leader of the theater program encouraged her to try managing a stage. She had no clue at the time what that job entailed, and also had no idea it would end up being a major part of her diverse entertainment management career for years to come. 

“I just kind of took to it like a fish to water,” Birge recalled. Upon graduating from USI, she journeyed to Rutgers University in New Jersey and completed her master’s degree in stage management.

She explained that stage management involves working hands on with actors to achieve the director’s vision in any particular project. They note every movement the actors make and every light and sound cue needed by the designers.

“And then as an audience member, when you’re watching a show on stage, when the lights change or a piece of furniture moves or anything moves — that’s the stage manager [who] calls those cues,” Birge said. “So, you have to know your show very personally and if it’s a musical, you have to know the music and know on beats of music certain things need to happen.”

Shows she has served as a stage manager on include “Nothing but the Truth” at Lincoln Center Theater in New York City in 2003 and the European tour of “Cirque du Soleil” in 2007. She is currently one of the stage managers for the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Birge has also worked as production stage manager. In that position, she was tasked with working as the “overall coordinator,” handling the logistics of getting a show inside a venue outside of rehearsals.

Her production stage manager credits include the national “Saturday Night Fever” tour in 2002; “Happy Days: The Musical” in 2006 at the Falcon Theater in Toluca Lake, California; and Glenn Beck’s “A Christmas Sweater” holiday tour across the country in 2008.

For as stressful as the job can be, Birge finds her work rewarding because if done well, it helps to strike a chord with an audience.

“That, for me, is the reward,” she said. “Just seeing people benefit from what you’re doing.”

She added: “For me, what’s always been most rewarding was dealing with celebrities ... I love that people feel comfortable with me. I’ve been requested by some people to come and work with them, which is very rewarding.”

Birge is the daughter of Jerry and Mag Birge of Jasper.

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