For many people in the Tecumseh area, you cannot talk about the TCA without including long-time City of Tecumseh employee Karen Bunch. During the month of February 2021, Karen shared her memories at the theater including the first time she ever performed here.
“My first experience with the theater was playing in the Pit Orchestra for the Tecumseh Players’ shows, Anything Goes and Sweet Charity,” stated retired Technical Director Karen Bunch. Both were produced by the Players in the first year of the theater’s opening. “As a performer myself, it was wonderful to play in the auditorium. I had never played in a Pit Orchestra before and it was an exciting experience.”
Prior to the theater being built, Tecumseh Players was performing shows in the Glass Room, located in Hayden Mill Building, just east of downtown, at 703 E. Chicago Boulevard. Karen recalls seeing several shows in the Glass Room prior to the auditorium being built. “Seeing a show in the Glass Room was small and intimate. There were pros and cons to being so close though,” Karen recalled with a smile and a laugh. “You were literally right on top of the performers. I remember It took a while for everyone to get used to playing in a bigger space on the TCA stage.”
Tecumseh Center for the Arts didn’t have microphones for shows when it first opened. “If vocalists didn’t sing loudly enough during shows, they weren’t going to be heard over the orchestra. On the other hand, the orchestra always needed to be aware of that because, if you played too loudly it would bounce off the back walls,” commented Karen. “The acoustics in the theater have always been impressive.”
Even when touring shows came to the theater, Karen recalled how these acts from all over world would be impressed by the acoustics. “I remember crew members and performers would come on stage and say, ‘Wow, this is a great space for a town this size.” Karen added, “They would walk on stage and clap their hands just to hear the acoustics in the auditorium.”
Karen remembers the first-time microphones were used at the theater, “it was a big deal! It was for the youth theatre production of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat. There is a narrator role in that production and the theater purchased two Shure microphones, handheld microphones used specifically for roles such as that.”
Karen began working at Tecumseh Center for the Arts in 1983, along with Harry Sabourin and Lynne Smith. One of her first employee memories was being hired to stand in front of the stage during a performance by Maynard Ferguson, in which Tecumseh native Tim Ries was a part. “My first job was to be a bouncer and keep anyone from getting up on stage while they were performing,” laughed Karen. “That was quite the experience. It was fun to interact with them during the show.”
Other early shows included Lil’ Abner and Finnian’s Rainbow. She recalled working with Don Dobrowski, Alice Travis, Terry Hunt, Eric Korte, Jim Rice, Donna Andre and so many more.
“I remember what a big deal it was when the second theater director Jack Raeburn, oversaw the construction of the Scene Shop and Green Room,” commented Karen. “That was an exciting time to have the added space. I believe those rooms were built around 1986-1987.”
Prior to those additions, everything had to be built on the stage or in the wings and then be thrown out after a show or performance. It is much different than today when renters can build in the shop for weeks prior to their show or even store props and set pieces after a show has finished.
“I remember life before internet, cable television, and social media,” laughs Bunch. “The theater was the place to meet up with friends and neighbors. I remember my parents had season tickets to the Kiwanis Travel Series. It was always a nice night out for them and many others in back in the day.”
Karen also remembers the role the Herricks played at the theater. “The Herrick Foundation had been the anonymous foundation that gifted the auditorium to the City of Tecumseh. I think most everyone knew it was the Herricks, because they were very generous and community minded, but they just didn’t want to make it a big deal,” stated Karen. “They took very good care of the building for us over the years. Seems like, anytime the theater needed something, Mr. Herrick would take care it.”
Working at the theater as an employee for 37 years and being part of its history since the beginning, has given Karen a lot of experiences and memories at the theater. She has worked with all the past employees and directors, thousands of performers, and musicians, and is incredibly knowledgeable about the who, what, when, where and how things happened.
When asked about some of her favorite contributions and memories, Karen replied, “There are too many great memories and people. It’s been a huge part of my life. If I had to pick one thing, it would be working with kids who wanted to be part of the behind-the-scenes crew. Our Student Tech Corps has been a great starting point for many young people to learn what it's all about. Some even chose the industry for their career, as producers, stagehands, lighting or sound techs, riggers, or shop foremen in Theatre or Live Performance, or even in the Theatrical Lighting Manufacturing industry as a project engineer - that's been neat to be a small part of!”
Though Karen officially retired in July 2020, she is still involved with the theater. She is currently helping Tecumseh Youth Theatre’s production of Disney’s Moana Jr. She is also a vital member of the TCA Big Band & VocalAires, as well as a member of the Friends of the TCA, and part of the production team for the TCA Nutcracker Ballet.
One of the proudest moments for her was the start of the TCA Big Band & VocalAires with Lynne Smith back in the early 2000’s. “I remember Lynne and I going to talk to Rob Steele (the fourth TCA Director) and asking him if we could start a Big Band.” Steele committed $1,000 for the startup of the Band. The funds were used to purchase a drum set, music and polo shirts. “I remember sending out letters to the community to see if anyone would be interested in being a part of the band,” commented Karen. “There was a great response and the rest, they say, is history.”
The TCA Big Band & VocalAires is still part of the season’s lineup today. Prior to the pandemic, the TCA Big Band & VocalAires performed twice a year, once in May and again in December.
“The last year has been challenging,” stated Karen. “2020 has thrown a lot of punches and it’s incredible to think it’s been a year since I worked a show at the TCA, and the last time the big band rehearsed together. I just keep thinking we will get through it. We just need to keep looking out for each other so we can all be together again once the theater reopens.”
Currently, Tecumseh Center for the Arts is open but at limited capacity. Stay tuned, as Tecumseh Center for the Arts makes plans for late spring and early summer 2021.
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Behind the scenes of Tecumseh Center for the Arts.