In Spring 2020, Shelby Eppich became one of the first two people to graduate from Michigan State University with a BFA in Stage Management, a program founded in 2017 by Tina M. Newhauser, Head of the Department of Theatre’s Stage Management Program at MSU.
Now, three years after earning her degree, Eppich works as the Artist Relations and Special Projects Manager at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Interlochen, Michigan. She also freelances as an event Stage Manager and recently collaborated with Newhauser, her long-time mentor, on a large corporate event in Washington, D.C.
The job was a Global Investors Conference for a private equity company based in D.C. Held at the Waldorf-Astoria, U.S. investors and partners of this firm were welcomed with panels of speakers, insights into company growth, and top talent entertainment. Such a conference required the help of a stage management team to facilitate and execute the tightly scheduled event.
Newhauser served as Stage Manager and Show Caller for the event, and when looking for an Assistant Stage Manager, she called upon her former student.
As the Assistant Stage Manager, Eppich handled the speakers who were presenting and the talent that was performing. She also helped with client relations and maintaining the schedule and flow of the conference.
“Having opportunities to work with my students, once they have graduated and are forging their own way in this creative world, is so meaningful to me,” Newhauser said. “I love to reconnect because now I get to learn from them.”
“Having opportunities to work with my students, once they have graduated and are forging their own way in this creative world, is so meaningful to me. I love to reconnect because now I get to learn from them.”Tina M. Newhauser
This was not the first time Eppich had collaborated with Newhauser since graduating from MSU. They also worked together on a similar event in Washington, D.C., last year.
“Working with Tina is nothing short of a treat every time,” Eppich said. “I find myself still learning from her incredible leadership no matter how many times I’ve seen her do the same sort of task or event. I hope she continues to call me when she needs me.”
Newhauser first brought Eppich with her on large-scale events when she was an undergraduate student, giving Eppich a taste of professional experience with real-world productions. Eppich was part of a team that traveled with Newhauser to New York City in 2018 for a high-profile, high-budget New York City launch event. She also worked alongside Newhauser as an Assistant Stage Manager for a number of small-scale local events and conferences.
“I almost felt a little lost when seeing the caliber in which those smaller shows were held, because no matter what, they are still at a high-stakes mentality,” Eppich said. “But then I took on some larger conferences and it was life-changing.”
In creating these opportunities, Newhauser helped lay the foundation for Eppich’s career.
“She is an advocate for her students and is a powerhouse,” Eppich said about Newhauser. “She’ll say, ‘I’ve got a gig and could use an extra hand.’ It was important to us to see how she operates, to see what’s possible. Having her as a mentor is a great gift to have if you’re looking to do something in this field.”
Eppich views her close relationship with Newhauser as one of the most important milestones in her career.
“Almost everything I do has some relation back to Tina. I could go somewhere brand new and say, ‘Do you happen to know Tina Newhauser?’ And somehow, some way, they know her,” Eppich said. I plant that seed, and they know, ‘Oh, you come from Tina Newhauser’s MSU program, I know you’re going to be in good shape.’ That’s a really special thing to have going for you. To be part of that legacy she holds, and to be able to share that I’ve learned directly from her, is nothing short of wonderful.”
It also was Newhauser who helped steer Eppich toward the BFA in Stage Management major after Eppich had worked with Newhauser on the Spring 2018 Department of Theatre production of American Idiot.
“American Idiot my sophomore year was really formative because that was the first time I did something of that caliber,” said Eppich, who served as the show’s stage manager. “I’m calling this show as a stage manager, seeing the process from the production meeting to the final performance. That influenced my process and how I wanted to move forward as a stage manager.”
Being at the center of the production allowed Eppich to communicate with people from every level of the play. She quickly became a trusted problem solver and a source of knowledge on set.
“My anxieties eased. It grew my confidence from minimum to maximum,” Eppich said. “It gave me a good sense of my personality. I definitely like to be helpful.”
After the play, Newhauser suggested that Eppich switch her major to the new BFA in Stage Management. This decision led to a myriad of amazing opportunities for Eppich including an internship with Broadway Cares, managing the production of MSU’s Haunted Auditorium, and getting a front-row seat to observe Newhauser at work.
“So many people think, ‘Oh, you’re going to get a theater degree, see you on Broadway one day.’ That’s not it. There are just so many different things you can do with your degree in theater.”Shelby Eppich
Her internship with Broadway Cares gave her first-hand experience with theatre in New York City and all the ups and downs involved.
“That experience really cultivated what I wanted after I graduated,” Eppich said. “It gave new light to this concept that it’s Broadway or bust. So many people think, ‘Oh, you’re going to get a theater degree, see you on Broadway one day.’ That’s not it. There are just so many different things you can do with your degree in theater. My experience in New York showed me that I definitely want to stick to the nonprofit or educational side of theatre.”
Eppich recently served as production manager for Interlochen’s national trip to New York City to perform with the New York Philharmonic.
“That is something I never thought I’d do,” she said. “I sometimes still feel like a student when I become a part of the events, but that is the best part. I never want to stop learning and each event gives me a new lesson or method of execution that I am so grateful for.”
Looking back on her career thus far, Eppich reflected on the valuable lessons she has learned along the way.
“Dreams are what you make of them and are what you make of your scenario. It’s totally achievable what you want out of your life, you just need to curate that path for yourself,” she said. “That maybe means taking the side jobs that you don’t necessarily want to have. But each step is going to curate something in your future that is going to allow you to succeed moving forward.”
Eppich stressed the importance of sponging up all the information you can get your hands on. She does this by observing how others approach situations and challenges that she might deal with one day, how they handle themselves in adversity, and how they resolve the problem.
Advocating for her wants and needs is another valuable skill Eppich has developed. Often, she speaks up when a particular project or task catches her interest. This also ties into networking. At freelance events, Eppich makes sure people know who she is, what she’s done, and that she is someone who can solve problems.
“Dreams are what you make of them and are what you make of your scenario. It’s totally achievable what you want out of your life, you just need to curate that path for yourself,”Shelby Eppich
“Often, one thing leads to another,” Eppich said. ”You’re one person away from knowing someone else. That’s definitely key to keep in mind as you have new adventures.”
In the future, Eppich wants to expand her work with accessibility in theatre. She currently volunteers with the Michigan Alliance for Cultural Accessibility for which she helps hold institutions accountable, ensuring they have accessible resources in their communities. She also helped found – and currently curates – the Accessibility Series at Interlochen.
“I want to continue working to make art accessible for all, to make sure anyone can come see a show,” Eppich said. “I’m ready for that concept to just become streamlined. For so many people who weren’t able to see art before, now they have new ways to do so.”
Eppich shares this piece of advice for current college students: “Lean into your resources when you have them. Tina is reflective of what a mentor can do for you, and college is a special time to have those resources. Not only are you paying for them, but that’s what they’re there for. They’re there to help kickstart your career and figure out what it is that you want to do with your life. Lean into those resources or those people because they are totally there to help you. They’re going to support you heavily when showing your engagement and will create a foundation that will support your career.”