Jean Berek was born in Schenectady, N.Y., and grew up in Phoenix, Ariz. After receiving a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts in lighting design from the University of Southern California, she worked as an electrician and master electrician at the Whole Theater Company in Montclair, N.J. She also spent three seasons in the lighting department at the Santa Fe Opera, where she fell in love with the beauty of the surrounding mountains—and opera.
How long have you worked at Juilliard, and what is one of your favorite memories from your years here?
If you include freelancing, I have worked at Juilliard for 24 years. I started as an electrician, then I was a master electrician, next I ran the Lighting and Sound department, and then became the business manager, and a few years ago operations was added in. My favorite memory is the day my now-husband, Clifford Berek, came to work for us as an electrician. My jaw dropped to the floor when he walked in and I have been enamored of him ever since. (He later worked as a lighting designer for Juilliard before leaving the theater and going to work for a branch of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.)
What job at Juilliard would you like to try out for a day and why?
Dylan Flynn’s position in Human Resources. He knows and works with every staff and faculty member at the School. Being so isolated in our office underground, I have never had the opportunity to meet very many of the wonderful people who work here.
What is the strangest or most memorable job you’ve ever had and what made it so?
Marble Canyon in Arizona, which is near the drop-off point for rafting trips down the Grand Canyon. I worked as a maid, waitress, souvenir shop cashier, and post office clerk. What was so memorable is that although I grew up in Arizona, until then I had never developed a true appreciation for the beauty of the desert.
If out of the blue your boss said to take the day off, what would you do with your free time?
I would bake a batch of muffins—a good friend calls me the muffin lady—and then I would rake or garden, or go up to South Mountain Reservation in New Jersey and take a walk in the woods. I crave being outside and try to do so as much as possible when I am not at work.
Many Juilliard staff members are also artists. If that applies to you, how do you balance your job and your artistic endeavors? If it doesn’t apply, did you ever consider pursuing an art, and why didn’t you?
I really do not have any artistic talent. When I was in third grade my school offered instrument lessons and I desperately wanted to play the flute, but my parents said no. Instead I sang off-key in our church choir. (They were very forgiving.)
What was the best vacation you’ve had and what made that trip so special?
My first trip out of the country was when my husband and I went to Holland for our honeymoon, 15 years ago. He had spent several years there growing up and was the ideal travel guide. We are going to Belize in February, and my 12-year-old daughter is especially excited; she has talked me into taking a zip line ride through the forest canopy!
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I am a budding knitter, although I feel tenuous about moving beyond hats and scarves. If anyone has any advice, I am completely open to it! One other thing that I should probably not admit within the walls of this school is that I enjoy contemporary country music; it must be the fact that I grew up in the Southwest.
What is your favorite thing about New York City?
I have always loved how you can get around without a car—just hop on the subway or the bus and take off. I wish more suburbs were designed in a way that required less need of a car. One of many reasons I love my town, Maplewood, N.J., is that you can walk or ride your bike to anywhere in town including the grocery store, library, bank—you name it.
What book are you reading right now?
I have started reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollen. In it he traces our main sources of food from their source to the table, throwing in the historical references as to how these pathways have come about. It is definitely opening my eyes to the negative effects of industrialized food. I have also just finished a series of books that my daughter has read by Suzanne Collins called The Hunger Games. They are about a society in which control is maintained by forcing two teenage contestants to fight in the annual Hunger Games until only one survives. They are a bit gruesome and I was surprised that my daughter was so taken in by them, but all in all, they were fairly well written.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
I feel extremely lucky to work with such talented people, and I do not just mean the students, but the faculty and staff as well. Especially in Production, our staff approaches their work as an art form, collaborating with the entire artistic team, and thereby the performers as well. I truly admire the dedication that everyone here at Juilliard puts into their work.