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It’s hard to imagine that a veteran stage manager of Harvard theater never planned on pursuing theater in college. As the president of the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club, a First-Year Arts Program Proctor, and a board member of multiple arts affinity organizations, Julia K. Grullon ’24 has made her mark as a leader in student theater on Harvard’s campus. Harnessing her expertise in both the technical and psychological aspects of producing, Grullon spearheads the effort to promote health and well-being across Harvard’s drama community. However, she hasn’t always felt as sure of herself and her role in the arts as she does today.
Grullon first entered the world of stage management “on a whim.” Though she enjoyed acting in plays during high school, she always considered herself “pretty average” onstage and prepared to focus on community service and club soccer in college. However, the Covid-19 pandemic limited her ability to participate in physical volunteering and athletics. Pivoting, she decided to apply for the 2020 First-Year Arts Program as a stage manager, convinced she would never be “good enough” to be cast in a show as an actor.
It didn’t take long for Grullon to realize she had a knack for production. Managing logistics, organizing, and coordinating others gave her a sense of accomplishment and self-assurance that acting initially did not. After a positive experience in the First-Year Arts Program, she dove into stage management as a member of the HRDC. In an interview with The Harvard Crimson, Grullon described her primary responsibilities of a stage manager as threefold:
“One, to look out for the health and wellbeing of both cast and staff; two, to be a liaison between cast and staff and to really be an advocate for actors; and then, three, to be this glue between cast, staff, and production. The stage manager kind of knows all of the things about everything,” Grullon said.
“For me, I’m in charge of keeping tabs on how everyone’s doing,” she said.
According to Grullon, an equally important yet more subtle duty of a stage manager is to “be the director’s person.” Her experience in stage management has made her aware of the immense pressure many directors feel while leading the entire production team.
“I think the [stage manager] is really important because they are able to be a sounding board for the director. The director is able to vent to the stage manager and vice versa,” Grullon said. “That relationship is very, very important in my opinion. It’s one that I take really seriously.”
After three years of stage managing HRDC productions, Grullon became the organization’s president last spring.
“Coming into my presidency, there was a big culture of sacrificing everything for theater, and I really wanted to change that,” she said.
Over the past year, Grullon has used her background in psychology and educational studies to reshape HRDC practices through a health and wellness lens. She focuses on ensuring that production processes are healthy from a holistic viewpoint, not just for actors but also for the production staff.
For Grullon, healthier production processes means honoring commitments to oneself, in addition to commitments to theater. Grullon’s emphasis on choosing to take a lunch break, respecting others’ time, and setting boundaries of professionalism have all been key to improving workflow at the HRDC.
“We’re people first, and then we’re students, and then we’re students who do extracurricular theater,” she said, referencing a mantra taught to her by a mentor.
As she nears the end of her presidency, Grullon aims to continue developing more support systems for staff members and advocating for work-life balance at every stage of the production process.
This semester marks another significant shift in Grullon’s engagement with theater. Though she first became a stage manager out of insecurity and a “sense of imposter syndrome,” leading production teams has empowered her to pursue greater artistic freedom and self-expression.
“I realized at some point during my stage managing career that I had a lot of artistic thoughts and opinions, and I was holding them back. I was filtering them because it’s not my job. I felt like I was overstepping a boundary if I had those kinds of things to share,” Grullon said.
“While I do think I am very good at logistics, I also think I have this desire to put some kind of artistic vision of my own into practice, into reality,” she said. “I think that’s been pushing me to take more creative roles.”
Recognizing this desire to take on more roles beyond stage managing, this semester, Grullon serves as the executive producer and assistant director of the HRDC’s upcoming production of “Jekyll & Hyde,” a musical that follows Dr. Henry Jekyll’s series of experiments to discover the inner workings of the human psyche.
The premiere of “Jekyll & Hyde” on Nov. 8 will also mark Grullon’s collegiate acting debut. Though she sometimes catches herself “wanting to micromanage” the production process like a stage manager, she sees acting as an enjoyable outlet for creativity and experimentation. She admits that this acting role may be her first and last, but she is deeply grateful for the opportunity to learn from peers and mentors.
“That’s been fun, to just not have to worry about logistics at all and really focus on the creative side of things,” Grullon said.
Grullon’s relaxed attitude toward acting reveals striking growth in her sense of identity and confidence as an artist. Compared to her self-doubt toward acting in the past, her openness to trying new things and being vulnerable onstage highlights the transformative impact of her leadership and production experiences.
This mindset shift drove Grullon to bring other aspects of her identity to theater as well. After serving as the assistant stage manager of the Asian Student Arts Project’s 2021 production of “Legally Blonde,” Grullon became the secretary of the organization and is now a general board member.
“What I’m really interested in is uplifting pan-Asian voices and artists and creators in this community, especially in theater, which has historically excluded minority groups,” Grullon said.
In practice, she strives to ground the executive board’s discussions in the original visions of the founders of the Asian Student Arts Project.
“For me, it’s really important not to have representation for the sake of representation, but for it to actually mean something.”
In addition to ASAP, Grullon is a board member of Harvard College ¡Teatro!, a student theater company that brings together different cultures and narratives as a way to navigate their multifaceted Latinx experience on campus and beyond. This semester, Grullon strives to help ¡Teatro! rebuild a community amidst the challenge of bouncing back after the Covid-19 pandemic. She wants to expand inclusivity in concrete ways, like ensuring that every member of the company is genuinely excited about all productions in a given semester. By modeling ¡Teatro!’s practices after those of ASAP and similar theater affinity groups on campus, she hopes to cultivate “safe spaces and productions for Latine-identifying students.”
As much as theater at Harvard has given Grullon, she has given even more to the art form and its community. Her leadership skills and technical know-how have proven invaluable to the sustained growth of theater groups across campus. However, her genuine concern for the well-being of others at the individual, communal, and global levels make her leadership especially impactful. No matter how far removed someone may feel from the drama space, Grullon lives and leads by example to ensure that everyone feels welcome in Harvard’s theater spaces.
“There’s a place for you in our community. You don’t have to be a Broadway star to find fulfillment and enjoyment in theater here.”
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