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Powerful Women: Let's Talk - 61: Lynne Tepper

Lynne Tepper
Lynne Tepper

Lynne Tepper is Shelley Irwin’s guest on today’s Powerful Women: Let’s Talk

You've seen Lynne Tepper on stage and heard about her work behind the scenes. A native of Grand Rapids, Lynne returned to West Michigan to join the staff of Circle Theatre as Production Manager in 2000. She was appointed Executive Director of Circle Theatre eight years later. Lynne Tepper is our guest on this edition of Powerful Women: Let’s Talk

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


Produced by women about women. Powerful women, Let's talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world. Transforming who we are and how we live.


Shelley Irwin: A native of Grand Rapids. Lynne Tepper returned from Los Angeles. She worked in television production. She joined the staff of circle Theatre's production manager. Of course that was back in 2000 moving to 2008 where she was appointed executive director of circle theater and of course now it's 2021 and she still continues to do her good work with circle. You'll hear her voice nationally and regionally as a voice over artist and well, let's ask her why she is such a huge animal lover. Let's talk to you on this edition of powerful women, Let's talk, Lynne Tepper

Lynne Tepper: I don't. I've always since I was a kid been an animal lover. I would bring strays home all the time.

Shelley Irwin: Yes,

Lynne Tepper: It drove my parents crazy. But we always did have a pet, we usually had like a dog and a cat. But when I became an adult and I wanted to get a pet. It was just more important to me to do a rescue then go through a breeder or something like that. There's just so many of these animals that are at all of the shelters. As you know, that it's just one of those things that I just felt really strongly about, especially because a lot of the shelters will euthanize after 72 hours once they haven’t had an animal adopted. I mean, luckily, more now don't do that. Yeah and it's a challenge. You know, our dogs in particular have been challenges. They've come with everything from separation anxiety to abuse issues and stuff. But it's worth it. The time that you put in and our animals are part of our family. They're like my kids.

Shelley Irwin: Does Willow know that?

Lynne Tepper: She actually refers to them as her siblings. The dogs anyway. She thinks she's the mother of the cat that we have. But that's her cat. So she's the cats mom. But she refers to the dogs as like her and her siblings. So it's cute.

Shelley Irwin: That's a compliment. Well, I know you're in the entertainment field because it looks like the names of your dogs are BB King and Queenie and your cat is Alexander Hamilton.

Lynne Tepper: Yes. Well, my daughter named the cat. But we've always had that where we've always named our pets after usually musicians. And when she came up with Alexander Hamilton. We're like you know, Alexander Hamilton wasn't a musician and her response at that time when we got the cat was, well, they made a musical about him not a play. So he must have been a singer haha.

Shelley Irwin: Obviously Willow is important in your life.

Lynne Tepper: Yes

Shelley Irwin: Will get to her and why the name but Lynne, take me back to your first exposure to theater.

Lynne Tepper: My very first exposure was actually circle Theater in 1977 my parents took me to see Cabaret, which was directed by Fred Sebulski, Dwayne Davis and now my father in law Ken Tepper and I've had the great good fortune to work with all of them as an adult. But I had a dance teacher that was in it and my mom was notorious for not really researching what she would go and see whether it's taking us to a foreign film that she didn't know had subtitles or something like this. So they didn't know anything about the show and I had a dance teacher, I just think that will be fun will just take her and she'll see her dance teacher. And it's so yeah. And I guess in the car on the way home. My mom said that I said to them, I know what I want to be when I grow up and she said, what did you think she was just thinking please just don't let it be like a stripper, because of the show cabaret. And so it really obviously had a big impact on me and it really stayed with me. And I think it was something that I always felt inside, but I didn't know how to put a name to it until I saw it

Shelley Irwin: Interesting not to jump too far ahead, but under your direction that circle haven't you put on Cabaret.

Lynne Tepper: Yes, we've done it twice since I've been the executive director. So, yes.

Shelley Irwin: So was there a theatrical educational journey. Did you study this love?

Lynne Tepper: I did. I mean, I studied it at what was GRJC at the time when it was JC with Fred Sebulski. He was my first official theater teacher and then when I went to New York, I decided instead to taking the college route. I did more the Conservatory route. So I studied at the Strasburg Institute and so really focused there. And then I studied at other places like the singer's forum and HB studios and stuff like that. So being in New York at a young age because I went there, I was 19. It was a great education. Both life education and the theater and voice and just being in that city in being able to experience that.

Shelley Irwin: And it looks like you have performed in cabaret venues

Lynne Tepper: Yeah. I started to ironically mutual acquaintance past board member Rick Santa Maria. I was in a place that he was performing and he said he and thinking about starting a cabaret and he started with a Mary Rademacher and I and Robbie Cooley and Edwin Johnson. If you remember Edwin way back in the day. And so we started off individually doing kind of cocktail hour. And then he performed us all together, put us together for Friday and Saturday nights at the old Pearl Street lounge doing a cabaret and it was actually the first one in town. Rick was at the forefront of that. And it was what a wonderful experience was great fun. But up until that point, I had only done theater I'd never done any kind of singing like that. So it was great. And I learned quite a bet and working with Mary Rademacher because she's such a pro and have been doing it for so long. I learned quite a bit from her.

Shelley Irwin: And she would say the same of you. How did you get to where you are than at The present moment. Again, this is somewhat of a full circle thing.

Lynne Tepper: It is. It's crazy. If you had told me like 20 years ago. This is where the I never would have thought it. I was actually really in the groove. Happy being production manager. That's my that's what I do. That's my forte. It's with organizational skills and just working directly with the production staff. And that was kind of my jam and I really liked it. I had honestly never really aspired to be executive director. But when Joe was leaving, the board came to me and said would you consider this in interim anyway. And I thought, well, I my love for circle went so deep, both professionally and personally at that point that I thought, yeah, I want to be here to help keep the doors open because it was a really tentative time for circle. And at that point I didn't have my daughter so I had a lot more time to give . My husband was incredibly supportive. So I was like we need to do everything we can do to keep the doors open and called in a lot of favors from a lot of wonderful people and the community, as always was amazingly supportive and everybody jumped in and My goal at that time was just to get back on its feet in a good place. And then I was going to kind of move on from there. Like I said, it wasn't what I aspire to and then I the sudden I wake up and I'm still here and we are in a really good place now, even despite covid. But you know, it's so, so much part of my life now. I mean, I've been involved in theater now for over half my life. So, I mean, it's a big deal and my relationships kind of are, you know, gravitate around that to so

Shelley Irwin: Yes. Tell me back to career stepping stones. Was it a big decision to move on when you are in the thick of things. LA, New York ultimately moving back to a West Michigan. Now were you going to lose something.

Lynne Tepper: You know, I think when I came back from New York. I was I was ready. I was kind of I think it was every experience is valuable. And I'm so glad that I was able to do to do that and be there. But I think I wasn't really ready. I was still really green. And even though I had a great experience. I realized I still had more to learn. And you know, I've never had a hang up coming home, so to speak. Grand Rapids is a really wonderful place. And the arts community here, as you know, is fantastic and very unlike most cities, its size. I mean, so many people I know when they move here, they're like, oh, my gosh. The arts community here is amazing and it really is. And this was always home to me. I always thought I think I knew I was going end up back here I’m a Midwest girl, you know, and that's kind of I can deal with maybe warmer weather. But and then with Los Angeles. That to me was kind of a fluke how I ended up there. And it was just again, I felt like I could have gone to the cycle. I was ready. And then that's when I started dating my now husband and we were to try to decide are you going to come here. Am I going to go there. And when we started thinking about really putting down roots and raising a family. I was like that's not something I want to do in LA and there's nothing against people who do it. They make it work and they do a fabulous job. But it wasn't for me. And so I always feel like I always end up coming home in. So many of us who have left and come back in. And I've never thought that there was anything about it. That was something to be embarrassed about or anything like that. It was just that was that time and I always kind of go with my gut. And I just thought I'm ready. I'm ready to come back home and really settle down.

Shelley Irwin: Some advice to others. If you would , do we purposefully seek out ventures, other pieces of advice. I mean, is it the right place at the right time or who you know or how does a young woman begin to orchestrate plan her life to perhaps be where you are now.

Lynne Tepper: Since I didn’t do a lot of planning. It's hard to say. But I mean, I do believe that there is something to be said whether you believe in God or the universe or whatever. Some things are sort of meant to be. And I think all your experiences, good and bad lead you to the point that you are and so many things can influence. But I had really great role models in this. You know, in theater in this town and people who believed in me when I didn't necessarily believe in myself. Even when I was taking over taking the position of executive director. I was like, I don't you want me, Are you sure you want me to do this, you know, and then but there were wonderful people like David Weinandy who were amazingly supportive and he was like, you could. You can do this. And so I've had people along the way . I didn't believe in myself for there to support me. And that's something that has always stayed with me, not just in my gratitude for those people. But to carry on and to give back. And that's something I realize that in the position that I'm in. I have the ability to be able to do that with other people in support then maybe when they don't believe in themselves or see something in them that they don't see yet because of my years of experience. Shelley, That’s one nice thing about getting older

Shelley Irwin: Let's talk about a young Lynne Tepper that wants to study the arts that wants to be on stage. That doesn't want to be led to. again and perhaps another career that she may not have the passion for. What do you say to her that you know, may have to convince her parents that she wants to study theater.

Lynne Tepper: You know, I was really fortunate. I was destined to go into social work. That's what my family's background was. My dad was a double major in business and psychology. My mom was a social worker. My parents did foster care my whole life growing up. They were very active with the juvenile court system and the different adoption agencies in town and that kind of thing. And so I was fortunate that my parents were kind of like I don't know what this is. But if this is what you're really passionate about. And I must have expressed it to that. They knew I was serious about it that they were like we will sport you. I mean, I was fortunate both my mother and my father were of the mindset. You can do whatever you want if you want to be president of the United States. You can do that. And that was so valuable. You don't realize those things as much until you get older. But I was such an introvert as a kid to that having that and knowing that I had that safety net made a huge difference. So they were probably more supportive of me than me. I had to get past my own insecurities. But they were very supportive. And I think that, you know, we my husband and I have talked about it with my daughter and the only thing I would say is that she came and said I want to go into the arts. I'd still tell her You have to get a college degree. I mean, you can do it, but you're going to go to college, but you're going to at least get a degree. And I hope that you would double major. But as long as you're getting an education. That's the most important thing I think, and its hard. It depends. I mean, you the idea of your kid going into this isn't the greatest because even know I'm fortunate that I get to work in the field that I love it Is that a nonprofit you're not going make a lot of money. So you just have to be prepared and really know what you're getting into. But it's so valuable especially now more than ever. I think

Shelley Irwin: You mention introverts or how does an introvert succeed on stage.

Lynne Tepper: I think everybody would be surprised to know that a lot of performers are introverts and that's why it took me a long time to get involved in theater I actually started doing plays before I started doing musicals even though I wanted to sing because I was so terrified to sing in front of people. Obviously the more you do it for the most part. It gets easier. I still have a lot of stage anxiety and even doing a curtain speech in front of people is a lot. I also like challenges and I like to challenge myself and push myself to grow. And I think that the reason that you do see a lot of introverts in theater and in the performing arts, is it gives you the freedom to express yourself or become something else that you don't normally have the permission to do in a safe environment.

Shelley Irwin: Nailed it, you self disclose moving into fun facts. You are the oldest of 6 kids, but you're adopted

Lynne Tepper: We are. I had a friend when time who said we look like an ad for the United Nations. We, it's a multiracial family and my parents just You know, I can't say enough about how lucky I was and how amazing they were. I was actually considered a special needs child because at that time when I was adopted because I'm actually half Native American even though I don't present as that. And at that time, those for the kids that were hard to place because most people wanted kids that we're going to look like them, especially for white families. And so my parents were like, we just want a kid. We don't care. And so at that time you would have had to wait years. But I think for me they only had to wait like 6 months because they said we just want a kid and It's interesting now that that was considered special needs. If you are a multiracial child.

Shelley Irwin: Why did you name your daughter Willow.

Lynne Tepper: She’s adopted also. And her ethnic background is Irish. And so we wanted to honor that heritage and willow is an old Irish name and we wanted one that you could spell and pronounce when you see it, if we were going to go with more of an older traditional Irish name our parents thought we were giving her a hippie name. That's where they thought we were or some people were like did you name her after the movie willow or Will Smith has a daughter named Willow and we were like, no, honestly we had lots of boy names that we liked. But that was the only girl in a we could agree on it and I like unique names. I mean, my last name growing up was Brown and Lynn is not the most exciting name. So I've always liked unusual names

Shelley Irwin: Lynne with an E don’t forget that. What about the role and this is probably an inside joke for our community. The role of Ken Tepper in your life.

Lynne Tepper: Well, I knew Ken way before I met his son Matt, my husband. I did meet Matt through Ken and you know, when I worked with him. And then as the more we work together. We became friends. But everywhere I go, whether it's a doctor's appointment or some place new and they hear Tepper. They're like are you related to Ken Tepper and it's like everybody knows him . And I'm so used to it. Now every once in a while I’ll get Matt Tepper. But for the most part, it's always like and it's always that way. It's like are you related to Ken Tepper and it's usually I took dance with him or I was in ballet with him or I worked with him at the law firm or you know what have you. And so it was lucky, though. So I knew what I was getting when I married MATT and it was awesome because I really lucked out in the in-laws department in general. But I just adore Ken and he was a big part of my love for theater.

Shelley Irwin: How are you preparing your Willow to be self-confident to take risks to follow her dream as her Mom has.

Lynne Tepper: It's hard. And I think any parent would say it depends on the kid. It's very different. We have a lot of things in the House. We don't we don't talk negatively. We don't say, oh, that was dumb I feel stupid. That was stupid or anything like that. We just really try to be more positive. And but it's hard. She has some anxiety and so and that I can relate to very much It is difficult. But I'm we're really lucky. She is really a curious outgoing. She's an extrovert and that helps. But she's curious. She loves people. She loves new things and it's just constantly reinforcing her and supporting her like my parents supported me in whatever she wants to do and encouraging her to try new things. She's much more adventurous than I am. I mean, I was a very careful child and she will go, she just goes for it and mean. As long as knows now she gets older. She likes to know a little bit more of like what's all involved. So she knows what to expect just with her anxiety, but she's adventurous. She'll just go all out for stuff. So it's really just like still encouraging her to do that where I was more the kid yet to push out the door. You know, you could do it. Just go and she's like, why not. So I think that's built in and I think it's also Matts a lot like that. So I think that helps I'm usually the not the downer one, but I'm usually the one OK, we'll make sure we're thinking about this to make sure the so that you're prepared. But it's hard, though, now I got to be honest. There's so many things that you have to watch out for your kids with social media and all of that stuff. So we're probably monitoring that a great deal. And I don't think I’m a hover parent, but I definitely want to make sure that we see any kind of signals and stuff like that because it's such a different time. Then when you know, we were growing up and I just had an idyllic childhood. We never locked the door. You know, I mean, it was just like running the neighborhood all day. And unfortunately, the world's just not as safe as it was or maybe we just know more now. I don't know.

Shelley Irwin: That's why we go to circle theater to watch the show to escape.

Lynne Tepper: Yeah, exactly.

Shelley Irwin: In winding up. We see you behind the scenes. We still see you on stage. What is still on your bucket list.

Lynne Tepper: Well, I've been so lucky that I even when I didn't really know it was a bucket list the time. But I've been lucky to check some of that off. Now it’s kind of different. It's I don't know if it's much as shows. There's certainly some shows. I'd still like to do. There's always something like Gypsy would be really cool. But for me because I just haven't been on stage a lot. I actually would like to once start doing it again plays. I missed. I really love doing plays and it's a lot less stressful for me than doing musicals. So I would really like to kind of do that. Plus, I feel like you can get into the meat of that move. You're not trying to juggle choreography and music to you have more time to really focus in on the characters and I've always get more in a lot of ways more pleasure. But so much of it is the people you're working with and there's so many factors to what makes it work. But yeah. And I'm I've also aged out of some of those things that would have been bucket list and its but I'm good with that. You know, because I had some really great opportunities and roles. And I got nothing to complain about that area

Shelley Irwin: What are you reading now? Do you have a lot of time to sit and read and read and escape or anything such.

Lynne Tepper: I don’t have a lot of time. I Used to be an avid reader and now I don't have as much time between work and my daughter. I'm actually more of a crossword puzzle now than anything that's my destressor. And that's I can do it short spurts whereas once I start reading something I'll get interrupted and I can't really get through it. I got to go on a trip last time I got a book. It was Trevor Noah's autobiography and I was getting ready to read and I never had any opportunity. And so it's still sitting on the shelf haven't gotten there yet. Hopefully I will. like I said, I I just don't have the time that I used to. But I used to just love it, that that was my that was my thing.

Shelley Irwin: Well, it's obviously a passion in the world of theater, your bucket list still in theater. You're reading books about those in the entertainment field. So I'm good that you captured this art. Lynne Tepper. Thank you very much for this edition of powerful women. Let's talk.

Lynne Tepper: Thank you, Shelly

Shelley Irwin: I’m Shelley Irwin


>> Produced by women about Women these powerful podcasts focus on powerful women in how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more powerful women. Let's talk get additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast, please rate and subscribe powerful women. Let's talk is produced by wgvu at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU. Its underwriters at Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The WGVU Morning Show, a newsmagazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. features a wide variety of local and national newsmakers, plus special features.
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