Thursday, October 27, 2016

Interview with Author and Broadway Expert Jennifer Ashley Tepper


1. What inspired you to write your book?
In addition to being fascinated by Broadway shows, I've always been fascinated by the theaters where they live. Any time you are in a Broadway theater, you are part of history because you are in the exact physical place where thousands of productions have happened and countless people have lived out their dreams. When I worked on the Broadway musical [title of show] in 2008, I had the chance to fully explore the Lyceum Theatre. From secret trap doors to old smoking lounges to abandoned dressing rooms filled with box office receipts from the 1970s, the Lyceum felt like a Broadway castle of treasures. Jeff Bowen, the composer-lyricist and I would fantasize about things that other Lyceum shows throughout the ages had done in the same spaces that we were now occupying. I loved the idea of going theater by theater and exploring the personal histories and memories of people who had worked in each Broadway house.

2. What is it about?

For The Untold Stories of Broadway, I've interviewed over 250 theatre professionals about their memories working in specific Broadway houses. Readers get to hear from actors, producers, directors, writers... and also from professionals who we don't hear from as often, from stage hands to musicians to designers to door people. I also share my own discoveries about the history of each theater and the shows and people who have spent time there. When you open the book to the St. James chapter, you are taken from Oklahoma! to Hello, Dolly! to The Producers to Something Rotten!, hearing from people who were there on the front lines of those shows and learning the ways in which they are connected because of the building that they all shared. The book explores shows that ran for a long time and shows that closed quickly, and Broadway names you've heard of and those you haven't... you get to hear about Broadway debuts, ghost stories, how shows came to be written, backstage drama, on stage bloopers, opening nights, and a million other things in between. Basically the books are a backstage pass to read about a ton of the Broadway traditions and experiences you might not know about!

3. What do you hope will be the everlasting thoughts for readers who finish your book?
Two of my absolute favorite things to hear from readers are:

1) When students and young people tell me: I never knew what it meant to be a [insert job here: house manager, musical director, company manager, marketing executive, etc.]! That sounds interesting and I never knew that was an option to work in theater, so I'm going to check it out. I have loved getting to delve into some of the lesser-talked-about theatre professions, and it's been amazing to shine a light on those worthwhile jobs and the people who do them. So many kids who love theatre grow up thinking that performing is the only option for a life in the theatre and other things are "backups" and that's just not true- there are so many people who make theatre happen who have such valuable and interesting jobs.

And 2) When current Broadway professionals tell me: I'm about to work at the [insert name of
theater here], so I picked up your book and read about it. I had no idea that this person was in my dressing room/this person played the same stage as I'm about to/ the theater went through this fascinating moment in its history. I'm even more excited to be at the Winter Garden/ Richard Rodgers/ Nederlander, etc. now, because of your book!

But really, I just love when anyone who reads the book comes away loving Broadway more and understanding more about it.

4. What advice do you have for writers?
Write the thing!! If you are inspired to share something with the world, just do it. Don't wait for permission. Don't try to fit the idea into a box of what you think someone else wants. Make the time and create it, and the rest will follow you.  On a more specific, yet related, note about these books, one major thing I've learned is that there's nothing wrong with putting yourself in the story. The Untold Stories of Broadway could be considered books of history, sure - but what they really are is a unique hybrid of history, current theatre, and my own experiences and perspective. I started out thinking the books would be more cut-and-dried... but one of my favorite things is that they are actually these alive, personal, relatable volumes that (I hope) feel like you are running around these Broadway theaters and sitting in these interviews, with me. So writers... don't feel like you have to put your book in a genre box or make it conform to an existing model. And don't be afraid of a little gonzo journalism.

5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
I think people want to read books as much as ever, although the way we consume those books is changing. And yet even as books on screens take over our world, the theatre sphere still loves hard copies! The Untold Stories of Broadway seems to be something that readers want to hold in their hands rather than on their devices. I myself love reading from an actual physical book.

6. What challenges did you have in writing your book?
One of the most significant challenges is covering a wide timeline within each theater. I have tried to include stories from as far back chronologically as possible, for each house. For some theaters, the earliest story I could obtain was from the 1940s, but in others it was from the 1960s. When people are gone, their stories disappear with them. I have endeavored to interview as many theatre professionals over the age of 80 as possible, and I've spoken with many who have told me stories that don't appear anywhere else. While of course the books "zoom in" on specific shows and moments, getting a large variety of shows and years covered, stretching as early in Broadway history as possible, has been a huge challenge throughout the process.

7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
I think that readers with any interest in Broadway will find this book to be filled with really fun and moving stories that they can't find anywhere else. It's also like a gateway drug, and several readers who are only slightly interested in the arts have told me that the books made them want to see more theatre and learn more about it. The books are broken up into tons of short stories, so you can turn to a random page, read a quick tale from one person, and then close the volume... or you can say: I want to read about Wicked and the theater where it plays, and spend a few hours learning all there is to know about the secrets of the Gershwin Theatre. The Untold Stories of Broadway are the best books to read if you want to fall more in love with New York, musicals, plays, theaters, and all of the people that bring them to life.

To pre-order, visit: pre-order at

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.
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