30 Under 30: Ann Beyersdorfer, Set Designer

In celebration of LDI’s 30th anniversary—1988-2018—Live Design gives a shout out to 30 Under 30: thirty young movers and shakers who are changing paradigms, looking at things from new angles, and rapidly rising to the forefront of their field. From scenic, lighting, projection, and costume designers to technicians and programmers, as well as those who work for manufacturers, production companies, or rental shops, our 30 Under 30 are the harbingers of tomorrow.

A lover of theatre all her life, this New York City based set designer loves to create a communal experience of storytelling through environmental, immersive, and experiential designs. Ann Beyersdorfer has worked primarily in theater and opera as both a principal designer Off-Broadway and nationally, as well as an associate designer on Broadway and internationally. Her mentors include Alexander Dodge, David Gallo, and Donyale Werle. 


Name: Ann Beyersdorfer

Age: 27

City, State of residence: New York, NY

Position/title: Freelance set designer as well as Alexander Dodge’s current design associate

Current project(s): I am currently designing the premiere of a new play called Knead at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta this fall. I recently designed a new musical, My Name’s Not Indian Joe, Off-Broadway, a really fun short film written and produced by Dori Bernstein, and Off-Broadway’s “sleeper hit” Afterglow, which ran for over a year! I also am the associate set designer on the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of Samson et Dalila (designed by Alexander Dodge), the 1st National Tour and European productions of Anastasia (designed by Alexander Dodge), and am assisting designer Bunny Christie in the transfer of Ink from the West End to Broadway this spring.

Most Notable Achievements: The little show that could, Afterglow the play, was anticipated to run for two months, then ran for over a year in NYC! Not only did the play spark productive discussions, but we also created a functioning shower on stage during each performance in a small black box loft theater. I also was the associate designer on the following noteworthy productions: Jitney on Broadway (designed by David Gallo), which received a Tony nomination for Best Set Design and Tony award for Best Revival of Play; The Children on Broadway (designed by Miriam Buether); Cinderella in Moscow; 2016-17 Phish New Year’s Eve concert at Madison Square Garden; and an immersive production of Peter Pan in Beijing (designed by David Gallo).

How I got into this industry: I got bit by the theater bug at an early age when TV specials of The Three Tenors or Hello Dolly! held me spellbound. I grew up singing, dancing, and acting in shows at school and at The Muny in St. Louis and attended any show I could. I absolutely loved the theater! I also loved art, architecture, and historic buildings, as well as drawing and painting. As a child, I created impressive structures, as my mom would tell it, with blocks, cardboard, paint, glue, and almost any other items I could find. In college, I studied architecture at Syracuse University, but the theater was still calling me. So, I had some discussions with the advisors in the drama department at Syracuse and discovered the field of set design. I didn’t even know that existed! It is the perfect blend of all my passions: theater, art, and design. I ended up earning my BFA in Theater Design and Technology and have never looked back.

Influences: Nature, current affairs, architecture, art, human interaction and reactions to environments, the human psyche, my mom who has always told me to follow my dreams, my family, the teams I work with…really everything and everyone that I encounter in my day-to-day influences the way I interpret scripts and dream up worlds. I am also extremely grateful to the mentors that I have had: Alexander Dodge, David Gallo, and Donyale Werle. They have all been so generous with their insights, time, and talents, and are brilliant, visual storytellers to have been able to learn from. I look up to them so much! I also am a huge fan of Es Devlin’s work.

Worst advice I’ve ever heard: “Just do what they did on Broadway.” Plagiarizing is disrespectful to the creative teams who put so much time, energy, and care into making the shows that we know and love. I find it exciting to get a script, analyze the text, research the environment, and reimagine it for the needs of the story we are now telling. We should revel in that creativity!

Best advice I’ve ever heard: My grandpa told me, “Do what you love, and you will be successful” and “Work hard and treat each person with kindness and respect. You never know where your paths may cross again.”

My favorite thing about the production industry: There are a lot of things that I love about working in this industry, but I think the one that encompasses it all is the community it creates and the discussions that it fosters. Developing a show is highly collaborative. Most shows happen so rapidly, but through that fire, incredible bonds form. Everyone brings their hearts to the table. We challenge each other but at the end of the day, we all have to be pretty in sync with one another in order to create a well-tuned, cohesive shared experience. The community extends to the audience who leave their day-to-day lives for an hour or two to experience a world that is new to them, be entertained, and/or be politically, societally, or emotionally challenged. As a set designer who experiments with immersive design elements, I love being able to bridge the gap between what’s happening on the stage and completely inviting the audience into the story we are telling. The art we create can be all of this at once: entertainment, an escape, and a language tool to enable discussion on topics that are otherwise difficult to articulate. One of my favorite things is to listen to audience members continue to discuss important and/or even difficult topics and themes that were brought up in the work we shared with them. If they were that engaged and it inspires them in some way, then it means we did our job well, and it is a win in my book!

Favorite design/programming/technical trick: The technology used in Scene Around’s production of Soldaat van Oranje in the Netherlands completely opened my eyes to what is possible in live production! The audience seating is on a turntable, and the apron of stage around them is on a turntable. It’s all very cinematic, but you’re there in real time with the story unfolding before you. As you rotate, and the apron rotates, panels shift and slide open to reveal epic scenes such as a beach complete with a rain storm and real, torrential waves in the ocean, and then a runway with an actual plane that enters. It is a harmonious example of all elements (lights, sound, projections, costumes, set, direction, management etc) working together.


Plans for the future: I hope to tell important stories, and still be cultivating experiential, tangible theater that creates a bridge between the audience and the story that’s happening on stage. There are many exciting, talented women rising up in this industry with whom I hope to collaborate. I would also really enjoy working on more international productions. (And adopt more dogs!)

Other interests/side gigs: I am a very proud dog mom to an adopted Terrier mix named Oliver; I spend a lot of time with him. I also love baking, reading, and traveling. I’m always interested in trying new things, exploring new places, and experiencing other cultures. Recently, I became a volunteer with the Covenant House in NYC, a shelter for homeless youth which provides support and assistance as they transition to self-sustaining adulthood.

Awards, honors: New York Innovative Theater Award Nominee for Best Set Design (x2); NYC United Solo Festival Award Winner for Best Set Design; Broadway World Award Nominee for Best Set Design of a Play; and Judith Greenberg Seinfeld Distinguished Fellow (Syracuse University).

Organizations, memberships: United Scenic Artist local 829 and Broadway Green Alliance

Other: “A brilliant design will always benefit from the input of others.” - Zaha Hadid (There is no “i” in team. Collaboration is key!)

Website if applicable: www.annbeyersdorfer.com

Instagram: @acbeyers

Check out Live Design/LDI's other 30 Under 30: