In honor of the TCA's 40th season, TCA Director Kelly Jo Gilmore met with Theresa Powers, the president of the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation to talk about the past, present and future of the theater.
Do you remember when you first became involved with Tecumseh Center for the Arts?
My earliest memory of the TCA was when our then 5-year-old daughter played a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz…..this was through Tecumseh Youth Theatre so it was right around 1987…one of the biggest casts ever….it was awesome.
How important do you think the arts and music is to a community?
I feel the arts and music are a vital part of children’s educational experience. And having a venue where they can go even further in their lives with their love of music or acting is the best! I love watching our local adults in Pops or Big Band and the local children in TYT! I’m kind of jealous because I have no musical talent….I tell everyone that I’m good at being in the audience!
As president for the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation, what programming are you most proud of supporting at the theater? The program I’m most proud of is watching the Tecumseh Schools Orchestra perform at the TCA. There have been tears of joy more than once! When Elizabeth passed away in 2001 one of my biggest regrets was that we had not been able to get an orchestra program started in Tecumseh Schools for her. It was her dream and it hurt that we had not fulfilled it. BUT in 2003 we got a break and with the help of Bob Phillips and many others we made it happen….that was the best!
Do you think Elizabeth Wilson would be proud of what the theater has accomplished over the past 40 years? Yes, I believe Elizabeth is very proud of what you have accomplished at the TCA. BUT I do think that one of the things she would still complain about is that there is no way to get from the lobby to back stage! That always bugged her….I’m hoping some day we can change that!
The annual Veteran’s Day event has been a special event for you … one you have been involved with over the years … why do you think this program is important to the Tecumseh community? Elizabeth started the Elizabeth Ruthruff Wilson Foundation around 1995 and she asked me to be on her board of directors…one of the first things we talked about and she wanted to do was support a Veteran’s Day Concert. She felt it was very important to honor those who had fought for our freedoms…so we have tried very hard to make sure that we always have a concert every year….one of my favorite events each year….a great reminder for all of us!
You have worked with a lot of people at Tecumseh Center for the Arts over the years, what are some of your favorite memories? One of my favorites is in the fall of 2001…during a conversation with Rob Steele and he mentioned they were trying to get the seats recovered before the show “1776” and only had a couple teenagers doing it. My husband had just retired so I figured he needed something to do. So I talked him and one of his buddies into going down there with me and helping. So here I come and start giving orders and got a system going and away we went! (The two kids asked Rob if I was a community service person! lol) Well in about two weeks we had all the seats repaired and recovered. (and all too the tune of “Hotel California” because they were working on the sound system at the same time! And we must have heard it at least a hundred times!)
Another favorite was when we had the Canadian group Bowfire come and play with the Tecumseh Schools Orchestra. They rocked the place and became one of my favorite groups!
One real highlight was when Amy Welke (a TSO student) was the first to play with Tecumseh Pops…Elizabeth would have loved it!
And last but not least meeting and becoming a friend with Karen Bunch is right up there.
What would you tell people who have never been to Tecumseh Center for the Arts? I would tell people to give it a try…you will be pleasantly surprised. The TCA is truly a gem of our community!
What would you like to see Tecumseh Center for the Arts accomplish in the future? I would love to just see us keep on growing the way you have in the past few years … I would also like to see us bring back some of the great fiddle groups like we've had in the past!
Any other thing you would like to share?
A way to get from the Lobby to the back of the auditorium without going outside! Elizabeth would love that! Maybe someday!
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.
Interview with Kieran Cavanagh
Producer, RHYTHM OF THE DANCE
Q. So Kieran tell me how it all started for Rhythm of the Dance?
A. Back in 1998 I got the opportunity for our Irish dancers to tour America with our National Orchestra. The tour was such a success that we then toured Scandinavia in March & April of 1999 without the Orchestra, as it was much too expensive to move the National Orchestra around. Now here we are all those years later still touring the world for 40 weeks of the year every year.
Q. You have now played in 50 countries I believe across four continents. Tell me of your experiences around the world and the highlights over the last decade or more…
A. It never ceases to amaze me how many countries we have actually toured and some of them are non-English speaking territories like Russia, where we generally start a tour as far over as Siberia and then work our way back to Moscow over a 5 week period of one-nighters going from town to town overnight by train. It’s pretty amazing and the people come out and fill the theaters and sometimes bring Celtic song books and literature with them to show to us and we have sometimes even played music with them in our hotel. They cannot communicate with us, only through the music. It’s fantastic to see this happen, how music can bring different nations and cultures together. One of the biggest highlights for me was when we were invited to perform in Shenzhen City in China for the Millennium New Year’s Eve TV special.We had an 8-minute slot and the show was broadcast to 1 Billion viewers in Asia on CCTV. Can you imagine being able to reach that big of an audience in one TV show? It was amazing and I was emotional when it happened, it was our finest hour for sure and we now tour China every year.
Q. You have also toured places like Taiwan, Lithuania, Romania, Serbia, Egypt, China, India, South America , North America, Adriatic region, Russia, Poland, UK, the list goes on and on, it is truly an International production.
A. We cover a lot of Territories around the world annually and we try to create and open new markets all the time.
Q. I have seen the show and I cannot believe the pace of your dancers! How do they keep that up for two hours?
A. Well it’s pretty frantic to watch alright, however our cast have been dancing and trained since they were four years old and they are incredibly fit and have to take care of their body and their diet. But each day at the Venue we have a dance captain in the show who will have a drill with the dancers prior to the performance, where they get to warm up their muscles and exercise and the rest come natural to them.
Q. You also have a great band in the show and I didn’t even know what some of the instruments were. Can you explain what instruments you have in the band?
A.OK, well first all our musicians play live on stage and that to me in very important and I have always prided myself on continuing to carry a big band around the world to play our music live to the audience.We have an array of instruments, like the Flautist, Fiddle, Accordion, Bodhran drum, Whistles, & Banjo, so there is a vast array of musical instruments in the show and it is not unusual for one musician to play several instruments.
Q. You also have singer(s) and I have to say they were great and very entertaining.
A.I always had a boy & girl vocalist and because we play repeat territories annually, I always keep the show fresh. When I introduced some Tenors to the show some years ago , they were an instant hit and they still wow the audiences every night. And of course they give our dancers a much needed breather and time to change costumes, as we have about 25 costume changes in the show which is a lot, especially sometimes when the dancers have literally just seconds to make that change to a new costume or it could be switching shoes from the hard shoe, which makes the loud tap on the stage, to the soft shoe which is for what we call light pieces of dance.
Q. What can the audience expect when they go to see Rhythm of the Dance and what separates you from Riverdance, how is your show different?
A. The audience can expect to visit Ireland for 2 hours, they will leave the theater feeling that they have been on a trip around Ireland and they will have a strong impression of our culture and our music. Irish music is loved all over the world as is our Dance now. I think what sets Rhythm of the Dance apart from Riverdance is that we tend to be a bit more traditional and purist and we rely less on the technical support than other shows do, like Pyro’s & large lighting rigs, although we do carry quite a lavish production.
Q. Where do you recruit your dancers? Does The National Dance Company Of Ireland have their own Dance Academy or do you advertise to find dancers?
A. Our choreographer runs our dance studio. We always have a wealth of dancers available to the show, which is a great tribute to the show and my creative team.
Q. What does the future hold for Rhythm of the Dance?
A. Irish dance continues to be hugely popular all over the world and I believe that Rhythm of the Dance will be around for many years to come. We remain true to the art form and keep making the show interesting and entertaining for the audience, that’s the most important factor. I would hope we have many good years of touring ahead of us.
Q. You are offering a streamed performance now. This is new isn’t it?
A. Yes. The pandemic cancelled all tours. The streaming company WatchLive came to my attention. We taped one of our live shows in September 2019 using six cameras that turned out really well. It has not been made available for public viewing of any kind. We have teamed with WatchLive to make it available to theaters world-wide to offer to their audiences during this St. Patrick’s Day season. The response has been gratifying. We are considering continuing making a show available to places where our live tours are not yet possible.
Q. Kieran Cavanagh, it’s been great talking to you and I love your show, do you have a final word for our readers?
A. Come and enjoy a magical 2-hour Irish experience. You’ll be glad you did. It really is out of this world as seen by 7 million people in 50 countries, and as we say in our commercials, ENJOY THE PASSION, THE ENERGY, THE RHYTHM. The Rhythm of the Dance.
This event is sponsored in part by Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs.
Behind the scenes of Tecumseh Center for the Arts.