The Early Years with Lynne Smith
Interview: February 2021
Forty years of entertainment, cultural events and community programming have flown by for many of those who were involved in the early years of Tecumseh Center for the Arts. Lynne Smith was one of the original technicians hired at the auditorium in 1981. Current TCA Director Kelly Jo Gilmore interviewed Lynne in February 2021, in celebration of the theater’s 40th anniversary.
KJ: What were the first years like at the auditorium?
LS: There were a lot of groups interested in using the theater in its early years. Many of the groups are still having events today like Tecumseh Dance Workshop (now renamed The Ballet School) and Tecumseh Pops. I remember multiple events being planned at the same time and everything had to fit behind the mid-traveler because there wasn’t a wall at the back of the stage or a shop area to store sets and equipment.
KJ: How did you store everything before the shop and hallway?
LS: We outgrew the theater almost immediately because it was built as an auditorium rather than a performing arts theater like it is today. Storage was an issue so we would only build things we needed for that specific show coming up and then store things wherever we could fit them! (laughing) The Baby Grand Piano was stored stage left in the wings, in a box that we would roll in and out to make room for different events.
KJ: Youth Theatre has always been an important part of the theater. What are some of the early shows that were performed here, or individuals involved?
LS: Oh my, so many names come to mind when I think about those early shows. Tom Serra, Ron Frenzen, and Mark Deming come to mind. Tom had an amazing eye when it came to producing shows like Finian’s Rainbow. Of course, all of them were involved with producing shows. They would teach the kids how to project their voices, they even had accents and the acting was unbelievable. We didn’t have microphones or a sound system then, so the youth performers were taught how to project. Tom had this amazing way of bringing out the best in everyone and have so much fun while doing it.
Youth Theater was under the TCA at that time and we did 1-2 productions a year. I remember people being upset because we would sell out so fast that we would have to add more weekends and performances. If I remember right, Shirley Herrick really wanted the auditorium to be a place for the youth to perform and helped to start the youth theatre.
KJ: TCA Technicians have always been a big part of the theater too. Who were some of the early technicians?
LS: Harry Sabourin was the very first technician, I believe. Jim and Mary Ann Bone, Don and Dawn Yeadley, and Rick and Diane Marsh are some of the earliest technicians that I can recall. Of course, many of us weren’t necessarily professionally trained but we were all willing to jump in and help and it made for some great memories.
KJ: I know the Kiwanis Club of Tecumseh was popular in those yearly years with their Travel Series. What was that like in the beginning?
LS: Kiwanis Travel Series was hugely popular with 300+ in attendance at most of their shows. It was a real family outing back then. The early Kiwanis Travel Series was all slideshows. Technicians would have to run anywhere from 9-20 different Kodak Slide Projectors. It would take technicians all day to set up for a Kiwanis show. Older couples in the community loved the series. It was the place to be and they would bring their grandkids with them. It was a family affair every time they had a show.
KJ: I know that Big Band concerts were also popular?
LS: Ken Herrick loved Big Bands and it was one of the reasons we always had a Big Band in our season lineup. It was why we had so many greats back then like Count Basie, The Glenn Miller Orchestra, and Maynard Ferguson. It was also one of the reasons Karen Bunch and I started the TCA Big Band in the early 2000’s. Karen and I went to then Director Rob Steele and got the okay to create the TCA Big Band. We were given $1,000 to start and were able to get a group together, buy some music, shirts, and equipment. We’ve been performing ever since.
KJ: Tell me about the first show you ever worked at the theater?
LS: The first show that I worked at … it had to be Li'l Abner. I reached out to Bob Soller, the Artistic Director at the Croswell Opera House, about coming over and giving me some pointers. Bob was so gracious and informative. He was always willing to help and would regularly work both Croswell and TCA shows. It was such an amazing experience to learn from him and collaborate with another theater. I remember we would always invite Adrian Dominican Sisters to our dress rehearsals back then too, so we always had a full audience – even for the rehearsals. Back then local elementary through high schools would come and watch the matinees during the school day as well.
KJ: I know the National Touring Shows has been around from the very beginning. What was it like to bring those bigger shows to town?
LS: The touring season was something else. We would have magicians, circus acts, and road shows. Every other season we would work with Dennis Young at Jackson Community College to share techs and bring in some of the larger shows. Most of the time, it was me and Karen (Bunch) grabbing our friends to come and run shows. Many had no idea what to do! Lol
KJ: Was there any other events you can share?
LS: There have been so many of the years. In fact, we even hosted the Catholic Church for a while when the church was being built. Karen and I would trade off weekends to work Sunday Mass. We would also work closely with Croswell and try not to overlap any shows. I remember a Community Arts calendar being created and we would all coordinate our seasons together. It was just a lot of collaboration and fun. The theater was just the pride and joy of Tecumseh for so many years, a very long time. It was a big deal for many years. The place to be in Tecumseh!
KJ: What was the overall feel when the theater first opened its doors?
LS: Excitement! The new theater got Tecumseh Players out of the Glass Room. It gave schools a place to perform. Tecumseh Pops was born, and this was their home stage from the very beginning. It was just so exciting to have the TCA. There was this underlying energy that you could just feel. The theater was for the community, a place for community groups to perform, where the community could come together and enjoy shows together. It was a very big deal. Youth no longer had to perform on gym floors or in cafeterias. It was just this amazing feeling that the arts were coming to Tecumseh – it was in the air. There was just something exciting about having a theater this size in a little community like Tecumseh.
Behind the scenes of Tecumseh Center for the Arts.