PLAYBILL BRIEF ENCOUNTER With Jennifer Ashley Tepper on 54 Below's Future, "The Untold Stories of Broadway" and More

By Michael Gioia
24 Aug 2013

Jennifer Ashley Tepper
photo by Joseph Marzullo/Playbill

Are you going to the theatres and exploring them to get some color for your book?
JAT: Yeah. I've gotten a couple of really amazing theatre tours. Rey Concepcion, who is the doorman at the Marquis, gave me an amazing tour of the Marquis. Rose Alaio, who is the doorwoman at the Shubert, also gave me one. My friend Jared Bradshaw, who is [a cast member] in Jersey Boys, gave me a very beautiful tour of the August Wilson. It's been great because [during the tours, I thought], "Oh! I know this story that Randy Graff told me about this dressing room at the August Wilson," which was then the Virginia… And, [as] I was getting a tour of the theatre with Jared, I was able to be like, "That's the dressing room she was talking about…"

The living history of the theatres is kind of what you get from the book. And, you get stories about crazy bloopers that happened on stage and stories about the first preview and stories about the first time they came into the theatre — a variety of stories — but chronicling that person's relationship to that theatre. A big part of what inspired the idea was that there's this book that a bunch of theatre folks created — it's a pamphlet from when [the Helen Hayes, the Morosco, the Astor, the Bijou and the Gaiety theatres were going to be knocked down] to build the Marriott Marquis. A bunch of theatre people got together, and they said, "We'll each write an essay about our personal relationship to one of the Broadway theatres and send it to the city of New York so they will not demolish this," which, of course, they did anyway. It's not a published book, but [teacher and performer] Mana Allen lent it to me from [The New York Public Library at Lincoln Center]. [Collaborators Betty] Comden and [Adolph] Green wrote an essay about the Winter Garden and what it meant to them, and [writer, performer, producer and director] Garson Kanin wrote about the Cort, and each person picked one theatre. So this book is hopefully like an expanded version of that, where you get all these people who worked in the same theatre over a number of years each telling you their personal connection with that theatre. The traditions — that people who aren't working on Broadway might not know about — are really cool, like the tradition of signing underneath your dressing room table before you leave… Saturday Night on Broadway, Dollar Friday, things that people did in the 60s, energy circles from the 1970s…

Did you have any out-of-body experiences during your interviews? What would 13-year-old Jen Tepper be thinking?
JAT: Sometimes I think I should keep a running commentary of 13-year-old Jen Tepper while I'm doing the interviews because she would be screaming the whole time and fainting. [Laughs.] Interviewing Hal Prince at his office was an incredible honor and one of the most amazing things that I've ever had the privilege to do in my life because he's a hero to so many of us working in the theatre because of the kind of art he has created. That was amazing.

It's also been really, really cool to interview people I'm friends with and to sit down and talk to people I know very well and I've worked on shows with — to really get to ask them about their Broadway experiences, which is what we're doing with each other right now! A lot of people have invited me into their apartments or to the restaurant that is their favorite restaurant. I feel like I've gotten to see a lot of New York and little pockets into people's lives because of interviews for the book. I've done so many of them at Sardi's or at the Edison, but also so many in people's personal spaces.