Acting professor Barta Heiner is retiring this year after spending the past 28 years developing the BFA acting program at BYU and impacting many students’ lives.
Heiner is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and has performed in more than 100 productions, including the recent movie “Once I Was A Beehive,” playing the part of Nedra.
Heiner said her mother, friends and teachers played a big role in her decision to continue working in the acting world.
Her mom had her memorize and recite poems for people, but it wasn’t until high school that Heiner had a formal part in a play. Friends encouraged her to audition for a show because she did accents well.
“There was a Swedish nurse in the play and I could do that accent, and so it was only one line,” Heiner said.
She said she was shy, but she got the role and took drama classes. “I just had some teachers that believed in me and kept pushing me,” she said.
Just as Heiner was influenced by her teachers, she has paid it forward by impacting tens of thousands of students, according to BYU theater assistant Lindsi Neilson.
“She’s always very kind,” Neilson said. “(She’s) very fun to work with and her first worry is about how things will affect the students and how we can help the students. I really admire her for that.”
Neilson said Heiner has been instrumental in establishing the BFA acting program.
“Her impact on the department has been incredibly huge,” Neilson said.
Students in the acting program are quick to praise Heiner and the talent she has as an actor and acting coach.
“She is just such a gem,” said Collette McCusker, senior in the BYU acting program. “She has so much knowledge. She just has all the elements you need to be a great actor and she just teaches them to us.”
McCusker said Heiner has taught her to put her best work forward, no matter the circumstance.
Acting senior Jordan Nicholes said Heiner is the sweetest and kindest person he has ever met. “She gave up a very successful career to come and start the acting program at BYU,” Nicholes said.
“If I could tell her one thing I’d tell her that her work here has been more far reaching and long lasting and important than it ever could have been, from a student’s point of view. All the lives she’s touched and changed, to me, has had a greater impact on the world than her career could have.”
In honor of her last year at BYU, Heiner will perform in “Mother Courage and Her Children,” which runs through April 1.
Heiner said the show is based on the Thirty Years War in 17th Century Europe.
“It’s got comedy in it,” Heiner said. “So when I said, “Oh, this is about war,’ people will go, ‘Oh, well I don’t want to see that,’ but it has comedy in it.”
BYU acting student Brittni Henretty said the play is about how the war in Europe affected a mother and her children.
Heiner plays the mother. Henretty said the play is “very deep” and that Heiner is perfect for the part.
“She kind of has that kind of a figure with students here,” Henretty said. “She is Mother Courage and then there’s students that are playing her children because that’s how it really is.”
The event will commemorate the time Heiner has spent at BYU as an acting professor.
Heiner plans to continue to be involved in the theater and acting department as a retiree. She also plans to travel after the school year ends.
“Then I want to clean my house,” Heiner said. “I’ll finally have time, and I might be able to put in a real garden this time.”
Most of all, Heiner hopes her students stay strong in the gospel as they pursue their passions.
“You need to know what you really believe and you need to be excellent with what you do,” she said. “Because if you’re going to stick up for what you believe, then there’s some people that will not want to work with you or will test that area sometimes.”
Heiner also maintains that others will value people for their hard work.
“If you’re excellent — if you’re really good at what you do — a lot of times even though they don’t like what your standards are, you’re still a commodity they really want to work with,” Heiner said.