Transcribed by Yaffi , Edited by Sarah
I had a chance to chat with Jennifer Ashley Tepper, who is Director of Programming at Feinstein’s/54 Below and author of The Untold Stories of Broadway series. We discussed her upcoming book, how she comes up with shows for Feinstein’s/54 Below, and more.
Joy: You are a Broadway historian, right?
How did you start that? Did you go to school for that?
I have always said I wanted to be a theatre historian, but it’s more of a title you get after you have done a body of work. It’s not really like a job that you can “get”, per se. So a lot of theatre historians are also directors, professors, artistic directors, producers, etc., and they have different kinds of jobs. So I would say that the work that I do, including If It Only Even Runs A Minute, my concert series, is historian work. And other things I’ve been doing recently, like my TEDxBroadway talk or being part of panels or giving talks about theatre history, and writing my books, Untold Stories of Broadway, like all of that… those things make me a theatre historian, but it’s not like you can apply to be one. So it’s weird. It’s a title, but not a job in itself.
What made you start that, though?
I have always been fascinated by theatre history as well as theatre of the present, and I love studying how they connect. I grew up in Florida, and I studied theatre before I really saw it. I was fascinated by learning about it from afar, through cast recordings and through books and through, like, you know, the Tony Awards and other things that I saw on TV and on video. I think that kind of made me have a historian brain because I was teaching myself about it rather than actually seeing it firsthand — like, I didn’t go to Broadway and then want to learn about it. I wanted to learn about it and then I went to Broadway.
How old were you when you saw your first Broadway show?
When I saw my first Broadway show I was 14, but I started studying all this stuff intensively when I was 9.
What was your first Broadway show?
It was The Full Monty.
With naked guys and everything?
There are some naked guys at the end. Actually I was 14, but my sister was 9 so that was very interesting. And we were in the front row!
So what made you choose that show to be your first show?
I knew I wanted to see a new American musical that had an original score and I knew — you know, before I had ever been to New York I could have told you everything that was playing, who wrote everything that was playing, who was starring in it, what streets they were on. I knew it. I mean, I picked the first shows I wanted to see on my first New York trip and my mom was like, we will go see x famous show and I was like, no, you can see x famous show on tour. I want to see something new, that still has its original cast, that you can only see in New York right now! I refused to have my first Broadway show be something we could see on tour.
You are like the head producer here at 54 below?
I am the Director of Programming, which means I am in charge of everything that gets onto our stage, basically.
How do you pick what gets onto your stage?
It’s a combination of so many different factors. It’s figuring out what can essentially sell 147 seats, what can, you know, get the ticket price we need to get in order to keep our doors open and pay the acts enough. You know, we are a very Broadway-centric venue, so it’s saying, I th