A gift for storytelling and the future of theater

Alumna Jayne Baron Sherman, an award-winning producer in theater, film, and television, is helping future generations of students tell compelling stories with a $3 million gift to the Department of Theatre Arts.
Jayne Sherman

As a student at the University of Miami in the 1960s, Jayne Baron Sherman loved film and theatre. Her first career, however, was in the marketing and public relations sphere, where she rose to the level of vice president of a multinational company by the time she was 30 years old. 

“There came a time when I felt I needed something else,” Sherman recalled. Friends she met through her nonprofit volunteer work encouraged her to pivot to film and theatrical production. 

“There was part of me that was an artist and part of me that was a businessperson, and I discovered that producing [allowed me] to put the two of them together instead of them battling each other,” she said. 

As Sherman related, she had the necessary skill set and was in the right place at the right time. The result has been a hugely successful second career. Sherman’s Broadway hits include Tony Award-winning productions of “Kinky Boots,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” and “The Normal Heart.” In addition to her extensive theatrical work, she has produced films and television shows, several of which are streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Apple TV+, and Hulu. 

Thanks to a generous gift from Sherman’s late father, their family name graces the Alvin Sherman Family Stage in the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre, and she is now looking to cement her theatrical legacy at the University. She has made a $3 million gift to the Department of Theatre Arts to support productions, programming, and technology maintenance and upgrades for the Ring Theatre and the black box theatre in the new theatre arts building, currently under construction on the Coral Gables Campus. 

Sherman’s gift is part of the University’s Ever Brighter: The Campaign for Our Next Century. The most ambitious in the institution’s history, the $2.5 billion campaign is set to conclude in 2025, when the University will celebrate its centennial. 

“Our theatre arts program gives students who seek professional careers in the theater the foundational training and exposure they need to succeed,” said Leonidas G. Bachas, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “Jayne Sherman’s generous gift will strengthen the program and help ensure the continuation of high-quality, leading-edge productions for years to come.” 

For Sherman, the essence of a producer’s job is, as she put it, the love of the work—and a good head for business. “If I don’t love a particular piece, I can’t do it, but I also have to believe it’s commercially viable,” she said. 

Commercial success, in theater especially, brings another layer of challenges. “If a show fails, you close out your books, and people lick their wounds,” she explained. “If you have a successful show, you have to maintain freshness. You have to make sure that you’re still connecting with audiences and getting, as we say in the business, butts in seats. And it’s about maximizing the benefit to your investors, cast, staff, and crew.” 

The other side to this equation—love of the story—shines through when Sherman speaks about her work. The stories she has produced span a wide range of subjects, from the lives of the women who worked as British spies during World War II (“A Call to Spy”) to a portrait of commitment in the face of adversity, as experienced by an older same-sex couple (“Love is Strange”). 

In a 2022 interview with the College of Arts and Sciences, Sherman noted: “If you look at my body of work, it all has a pattern. I don’t do fluff. Whether it’s a play or a musical or a series, they’re all about human emotions—acceptance, change, inclusion—or looking at things a little differently.” 

Sherman gains the greatest satisfaction in seeing her and her colleagues’ efforts come to life on stage or film. She wants future generations of theatre students to experience this feeling, and she believes that the University of Miami is well-positioned to achieve this aim. 

“I think the University of Miami is a wonderful school, and the theatre arts are well recognized,” Sherman said. When she heard about the new theatre arts building—and what it would mean for students and faculty—she was inspired to make her gift. 

Sherman is particularly interested in the black box theatre in the new building. As she explained it, a black box theatre is a developmental space where directors, performers, and crew can workshop new pieces. “It tends to foster smaller dramatic productions and more experimental work,” she said. “The new black box theatre will give students the opportunity to do more in terms of theatre arts.” 

In addition to her generosity to theatre arts, Sherman is a steadfast supporter of the University’s LGBTQ+ Student Center. Last year, she and her wife established an endowed fund that provides stipends to students with financial need who are involved in, or have an affinity for, the LGBTQ community.

It’s part of her proud 30-plus-year history as an LGBTQ+ activist and advocate. She marvels at how far the University and society have progressed in her lifetime, but she remains vigilant.  

“There are many reasons why Miami was wonderful for me, but it was a very different world [back then], and the notion of being ‘outed’ was dramatic,” she recalled. “You worried about losing your family, your place in school, your job. There are still people living with that, and I don’t forget that for a moment.” 

Sherman sees her work, which regularly includes characters and themes related to a range of social justice issues, as an opportunity to influence people’s perceptions. “Theater and film help change lives and minds in the very simplest way—we hear this all the time,” she said. “Good theater and good film are always more universal than the actual story.”