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BWW Interviews: Jennifer Ashley Tepper Looks Back, Ahead, and Below

After years of pulling together her own concerts and events, Jennifer Ashley Tepper is taking the next step in her career. Recently, the young producer was named as the new director of programming for 54 Below, the upscale cabaret venue that has, in just one year, seen performers ranging from Patti LuPone to Joe Iconis grace its stage.

Looking Forward

In her new role, Tepper will be booking most of the slots in the club with a combination of-as she calls it-"amazing Broadway luminaries and also with brand new people, and also with concert series, all of that exciting stuff." Back in December, Tepper produced the Joe Iconis Christmas Spectacular at 54 Below and became familiar with both the venue and its team. When she heard about the opportunity to join the creative crew, Tepper knew it was what she wanted to do. "It's not the kind of thing I could have said three years ago, like, 'this is what I want to do'; it's just kind of evolved into the perfect thing for me," she says.

From her own producing experience, Tepper has learned about lots of "pockets," as she calls them, within the theater and cabaret communities. "I think that events that mix those pockets together as much as possible are great," she says. "One of the things I've learned from If it Only Even Runs a Minute is just how awesome it is to have twenty-somethings who have just come to New York...seeing original cast members from shows, and how great it is to have these more seasoned, older professionals see these younger people performing their stuff."

Combining generations of performers in one event is a signature quality of If It Only Even Runs a Minute, and Tepper is "excited' by people at different levels of their careers showing off their experience and skills together. "I've learned that that's a really important component for making everything come alive," she says. "I think that the key to bringing in those young, passionate theater people is to continue [creating] quality programming, but also to [make] musical theater this new, living thing."

In her new role, Tepper wants to expand upon her talent for bringing different generations of theater performers and fans together, and to expand upon Phil Geoffrey Bond's work at the venue. (Bond, for his part, will be moving from Director of Programming to Director of Original Programming.) "I have just been such a big fan of Norbert Leo Butz and Brian D'arcy James and all of those people," Tepper says of the theater artists who have made their cabaret debuts at 54 Below under Bond's tenure. "I'd want to continue what they're doing there." She also plans to continue producing her own concert series and creating new variations on concerts series that are in place at the venue.

Looking Back

For the past three years, Tepper has worked with producer Ken Davenport, an experience that she calls "a massive education." During her years with Davenport, Tepper sat in on ad meetings, press meetings, producer meetings and investor meetings for a range of productions including three Broadway shows. "In terms of learning about producing, it was invaluable to be there," she says. "Every question you could ask doing a Broadway show, I was part of hearing, if I wasn't directly on the team [to answer it]."

At Davenport Theatrical Enterprises, Tepper worked in a range of industry fields, including media relations, group sales and investor relations-all qualities that can prove useful in her new position. "A little bit of everything has been a really good take-away, and it's funny, because I've always been a fan of doing lots of different things at the same time," she says with a laugh. "I think my new job is going to have a lot to do with managing relations with the artists and their representatives and the venue-and all of that coordinating between people to make a show happen is exactly what I've been doing. So on some level, it's all been preparation."

What's Next

While she adjusts from Davenport Theatrical Enterprises to 54 Below, Tepper is also working on a new book about Broadway theaters, with stories from the people who performed there. "It's not like, 'This wall was erected in 1948,' or that type of cut-and-dry type of thing. I try to bring that to anything I do, in terms of concert producing or event producing or all of that. And make it about 'this is really interactive' and you're going to learn something. You're going to enjoy learning something."

While she can't share exact details about her plans for 54 Below yet, Tepper knows what she wants for the venue: "One of my main passions is, of course the writers themselves...so I'd definitely like to do programming that focuses on the musical theater [writers] that we have and have some evenings celebrating them. That's part of my dream."

The bigger goal, of course, is to see 54 Below thrive as the much-needed replacement for venues like Feinstein's at Lowe's Regency and the Algonquin's Oak Room, both of which shuttered in recent months. "The dream is to make it Broadway's #1 concert venue for new theater-goers and older theater-goers, just because of how great the programming is and the location. For people who want to see 10 new theater writers and Barbara Cook, all of those things that Broadway comprises, to have them comprised at the club in a way that sells out every night...That would really be my dream."


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From This Author Jena Tesse Fox

Jena Tesse Fox is a lifelong theatre addict who has worked as an actress, a singer, a playwright, a director, a lyricist, a librettist, and (read more...)