Architect of Joy, Engineer of Dreams
Junie Janette Harris '04
By Sarah Valente
Moving from construction manager on large-scale commercial and residential projects to tour company manager for immersive entertainment productions, Junie Janette Harris 83’s career trajectory has been unusual. Over the years, Junie has managed to blend her skills in two seemingly disparate fields into a career that has her traveling the world…in the company of queens and monsters.
After a year of managing the tour of the Bridgerton-inspired experience The Queen’s Ball, Junie now finds herself in Paris, where she is helping to bring to life a new immersive production, based on the hit show Stranger Things. Talking with Junie, it doesn’t take long to recognize that she’s a force of nature; the energy and enthusiasm that she brings to her work and her commitment to mentoring the next generation of entertainment industry professionals light up any room she enters.
A Blueprint for Success
Managing the development of commercial buildings from the ground up and shepherding the transfer of a major theatric spectacular from one urban hub to the next – each requires the ability to see the big picture while applying laser focus to the smallest details. Both tasks call for the capacity to handle myriad moving parts and deal with countless glitches. Both require someone who is creative, strategic, and efficient – qualities that Junie Harris possesses in abundance. She explains, “Everything starts with project management. First you identify the end goal, then you develop a layout for the task, step by step.” Firmly believing that project management is the single most important skill for success in any field, Junie says, “If you can’t manage what’s in front of you, you can’t move forward.”
Junie also maintains that an effective leader must be able to navigate workplace politics with grace. In high school, she interned with the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute (MBYLI), founded to train District of Columbia youth in the concepts of leadership and self-development. The MBYLI training model emphasizes practical experience and a holistic approach to developing leaders. Junie was placed with the DC Department of Recreation. She reflects, “That year had a profound effect on my leadership style. I honed my public speaking skills and learned how to function in a political climate.” It was also an experience that opened Junie’s eyes to the importance of internships – and the mentors who guide interns to success.
After receiving her degree in construction management from Hampton University, Junie spent a decade overseeing nonprofit and for-profit development projects in the nation’s capital. She says, “Driving around DC, I can still see ‘my’ buildings. It’s as if I left my mark on the cityscape. I love that!” In 2000, Junie took the next step on her professional journey by forming her own construction management firm.
Little did she suspect that her career was about to head in a surprising new direction. A friend suggested that Junie apply her project management skills to television and invited her to help as a production assistant on the popular show America’s Most Wanted. A year into her work on AMW, the tragedy of 9/11 occurred. Junie recalls, “I was stuck in New Orleans, filming a segment with crews from DC and New York. The experience that we endured, away from our homes and trying to locate family and friends in the aftermath of that disaster, was terrible and life changing.” She returned to AMW headquarters in Washington with a new sense of purpose. She says, “Working with the show to help locate those responsible for the attacks gave me an understanding of how television can change lives and bring people to justice.” She never looked back.
Entertainment Entrepreneur and Mentor to a New Generation
Just as she had founded her own construction management firm, Junie’s entrepreneurial instincts led her to establish her own entertainment and events production company, District Consortium Incorporated (DCI). A merger of several small boutique firms, her company handled entertainment operations and special events for an impressive roster of clients, including the Golden Globes, the Emmy Awards, and the NAACP. For eight years, DCI was the producer and production manager for all the events surrounding the NAACP Image Awards, including the awards dinner, symposium, nominee luncheon, screening series, fashion show/ladies tea, and pre- and post-show galas.
Business flourished, but like many other companies, DCI proved not to be pandemic-proof. Junie decided to use the lull caused by COVID-19 to pursue a master’s degree in entertainment business from Full Sail University. She says, “As great as things were going in my career, I was self-taught. I wanted to expand my knowledge. I also wanted the credibility that comes with an advanced degree.”
Junie had an additional motivation for seeking a graduate degree. Having mentored interns throughout her career, Junie established the Consortium Leadership Foundation (CLF) – a nonprofit organization dedicated to opening doors for youth who want to break into the entertainment field – while she was leading DCI. Potential major donors, such as foundations, would scrutinize her credentials when she applied for funding. Junie felt that having a master’s degree would help to assure her foundation’s sustainability.
CLF is dedicated to teaching leadership skills, developing partnerships, and empowering youth to become entertainment industry professionals. Junie explains, “We are not training actors and directors. Our focus is on the critical behind-the-scenes roles like costuming, makeup, lighting, and sound, as well as the business side of the industry.” The organization’s emphasis is less on preparing young people for specific jobs – though that does come into play – and more on developing skills that can be parlayed into many aspects of the entertainment field. Junie says, “I’m so proud of the doors we have opened for kids from underrepresented communities and challenged areas, helping them see what’s possible in the entertainment industry and giving them access that can help them get started in this field.”
The Fever Pitch
You might think that between balancing her business, her foundation, and the demands of earning an advanced degree, Junie’s plate would have been plenty full. But she has never been one to turn down an opportunity, and in 2020 Junie’s attention was drawn to an irresistible offer: the chance to help bring Bridgerton, one of the most popular television shows in recent memory, to life in a dynamic new way. Would she consider coming aboard Fever Projects, the brand-new touring division of the successful technology platform Fever?
The concept, developed in partnership with Shondra Rhimes/Shondaland and Netflix, was to create a grand, immersive, interactive experience based on the Bridgerton series. Known as The Queen’s Ball, it would have multiple tours traveling worldwide, and Junie would be one of the tour managers. After a successful year with the Bridgerton-based show, Fever recently assigned Junie to a new project; this winter, she was off to Paris to take over the international tour of their latest experience, based on another Netflix smash – Stranger Things.
Junie is quick to point out that Fever’s wildly popular immersive spectaculars are very different from, say, the national tour of a Broadway show. One difference is the vast number of actors and crew hired and rehearsed in each city. Five full-time staff traveled with The Queen’s Ball. “The other 60 to 70 people – 98% of our hires – were local,” Junie says. For Stranger Things: The Experience, the staff increased to 10, and the number of local hires per city jumped to more than 200 people.
Additionally, the setup and length of the run are longer than those of a touring musical. “When we get to a new city, it may take four weeks to get up and running before we see an audience,” Junie explains. But Fever shows remain in each location for three to six months, steadily attracting sold-out audiences.
One of the things Junie enjoyed most about her time with The Queen’s Ball was the amount of love the experience inspired. She says, “People would often arrive in Regency attire, bow to the Queen, marvel at the chandelier, and then dance the night away. And the number of marriage proposals that took place at the Ball proves that love is still in the air.” When asked for specifics, Junie laughs, “I can’t share the details or Lady Whistledown will find out!”
One of Junie’s favorite stories from the Bridgerton experience is about a young attendee who made a costume entirely centered around the bee, including a hive in the wig. Junie recalls, “She spent months making that outfit and was crowned the Diamond of the Ball. Her tears of joy made my own work worth it.” Another story is about a woman who was escorted by her son, who was dressed in a neon-blue tux and top hat. Junie recalls, “They danced all night long, with so much joy.” A particularly tender moment came when a dad brought his special needs daughter to the Ball on Father’s Day. Moved by the memory, Junie shares, “She also was named the Diamond, and to see her face when the confetti rained down on her…that was something I’ll always remember. That’s why we do what we do.”
Junie observes that the two shows she has worked on for Fever are very different, noting, “The Queen’s Ball was mostly an adults-night-out experience, where the guests could drink and dance. Stranger Things: The Experience is geared more for families. But it’s set in the 1980s, and the music alone will make it appeal to anyone who was alive during that time.” She adds that, from a production standpoint, the latter is the more complex show, akin to building a mini-theme park, with special effects and a much larger cast. A child of the ’80s herself, Junie enjoys the experience. She says with a smile, “Seeing the adults run to the arcade and relive some of that high school homecoming feeling is great fun.”
Junie believes that her job is a chance to offer people life-changing experiences: “There’s something special about seeing the everyday person feel like royalty or the nerdy kid fit right in, in a roomful of other nerdy kids and monsters.” She concludes, “A good day for me is when my team has fun, the patrons have a ball, and everyone goes home happy.”
Whatever her next career move is, one commitment will remain at the heart of Junie Harris’s work: lifting others up. She says, “Being able to provide a way into the entertainment field for individuals who would not otherwise have that option will be my legacy.” Junie acknowledges that she is a role model, noting, “It’s interesting to be a Black woman leading predominantly white teams. For many, this is the first time they have experienced having a Black woman in charge.”
A lifetime of experience has fueled Junie Harris’s commitment to break down barriers and create opportunities for people of color. She reflects, “During my time at Potomac, Bus 18 transported DC students from all walks of life to McLean. I was part of the group that started a movement of broadening the perspectives and increasing the diversity at the school. That experience has stayed with me, and I will do all I can to carry that legacy forward.”