Spotlight on Abby Bass: TPAC Board Intern

Abby Bass

Tourists and recent transplants to Music City may not realize its rich and diverse arts culture or that we’re a community of performers and fine arts enthusiasts as well.

At TPAC, we love shining the spotlight on Middle Tennesseans who care about the arts and arts education as much as we do. So on a chilly December day, we sat down with Abby Bass, Director of Events at Williamson, Inc. and TPAC’s newest Board Intern, at one of our favorite lunch spots to discuss everything from her time working at Disney World to her favorite musical.

Even though her current job is not directly related to the performing arts, she still finds ways to stay connected to the theater community regularly, and we’re excited to have her serving with our Board of Directors.

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Q&A with the Jersey Girls From “Jersey Boys”

While the show may be called Jersey Boys, the three “Jersey Girls” who play all the female roles in the show know how to steal the spotlight! Dianna Barger, Tristen Buettel, and Michelle Rombola work together to play between four and 20 characters while on tour. In this Q&A, we chat with them about everything from auditions and quick changes to what excites them most about bringing Jersey Boys to Nashville.


From left, Dianna Barger, Tristen Buettel and Michelle Rombola. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Q: How many different characters do you portray throughout the show?

Dianna: I portray four different characters in the show. A French hip-hop dancer in the opening scene, one of the backup singers of the girl group The Angels in “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Francine Valli, and a dancer in the closing number.

Tristen: I play about 20 different roles, from “party girls” to girlfriends, from French singers to The Angels!

Michelle: I portray 18 different characters throughout the show. Mind you they don’t all speak, but 18 characters nonetheless!



Q: With having so many quick character changes, what is your pre-show and mid-show preparation like to get into the mindset of each character?

D: My track actually doesn’t have any quick changes so I have the luxury of having time before my scenes to get into character!

T: Having a solid clearing of the mind and vocal and physical warm-ups. I do about 15 minutes of vocal exercises, and I try to go to the gym almost everyday. It helps me put the day behind me and clear my mind for what is to come.

M: Well, we’re shot out of the cannon right at the top of the show. I hardly stop moving at all in Act 1. So honestly, getting into character all comes from the rehearsal process. I know how they walk and talk and their relationships with everybody on stage. As soon as the costume goes on and I go out on stage, it’s easy to become the character because of all the detailed work we put in during the rehearsal process. I also happen to work with the most talented group of actors. They make it easy.


Michelle Rombola and Jonny Wexler. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Q: Do you have a favorite character?

D: I could never choose!  There are things that I love about all of the people I portray.

T: My favorite character is Lorraine. She is so smart and carries herself with such class. She knows how to articulate herself and isn’t afraid to listen to her gut. She puts herself and her career first and doesn’t let men in the way.

M: My favorite character that I play is Mary Delgado. I absolutely love getting to portray her on stage. Strong Italian woman? I’m in.





Q: What was the “Jersey Girl” audition process like?

D: Intense!  This is a fun and supportive team to audition for, but challenging at the same time!  It was about three days of dancing, singing, and reading scenes from the show.

T: I went in for Jersey Boys about seven times throughout this audition process. I had gone to the open call in July and then I kept getting called back in. I was originally in for a different role, and they had me read all the girls’ sides until they pinned me on the Lorraine track. It was so fun, and I had no idea I was truly being considered. Jersey Boys has always been one of my favorite Broadway shows so the fact that I was even being considered for the show was enough for me, in addition to getting to learn all the choreography at the dance call! I was in Spain when I received the offer and the next day was my birthday — it was truly the highlight of 2017 for me. My mom and I were literally jumping up and down in the streets of Spain!

M: I actually went in to the chorus call in NYC. After that it was a few appointments doing scenes, singing, and learning the choreography. I actually met the other “Jersey Girls” at one of the final auditions! We spent the whole day together harmonizing and dancing among a group of girls. It’s so funny thinking about how we didn’t know each other then. Now, a mere four months later, we’re like family!


Tristen Buettel and Jonny Wexler. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Q: How is portraying a real person onstage different than a fictional character? Does it add more pressure to the performance?

D: It’s an honor to be able to portray a real person and take on the challenge of doing justice to their life and their story.

T: With playing a real character there are more facts and guidelines that can pave the way in how a certain actor portrays them. Personally, I feel that it’s easier because now with YouTube and books, you have a clear example of what this person was like. With fictional characters, the sky’s the limit!

M: I’d say it’s different because you have real back story to the character as opposed to something fictional you created on your own. After that though, it’s pretty much the same process as any other character. The Jersey Boys team is incredible because they encourage us to be actors and not imitators. Because of that I’ve never felt any additional pressure to be a certain way!


Q: Have you been to Nashville before? What are you most looking forward to doing while in Music City?

D: This is my first time in Nashville!  I’m most looking forward to taking in as much live music as I can!!

T: I’ve never been to Nashville!  I am SO EXCITED!  I’ve rented an Air B&B in a house where each room is music icon themed (Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash etc.)! I’m so excited to be there for a week and to explore the town!

M: This is my first time in Nashville! I can’t wait to explore the city. It’s so hard to say what I’m most excited for, but I think it’d have to be experiencing the live music scene! I’m also dying to try some Nashville hot chicken. Music and chicken, is there anything better?

Tickets for Jersey Boys (Jan. 9-14, 2018, at TPAC’s Andrew Jackson Hall) are on sale now at and by phone at 615-782-4040. Jersey Boys is presented by Monell’s Dining & Catering.

Q&A with “An American in Paris” star McGee Maddox

We chatted with McGee Maddox who plays Jerry Mulligan in “An American in Paris” coming to Nashville October 31-November 5,


Q: What drew you to musical theater, more specifically “An American in Paris”?

A: I have always looked for ways to expand my skills as a performing artist and musical theater seemed like a natural next step for me coming from a purely dance background. Knowing that Chris Wheeldon was at the helm of “An American in Paris” made this show and venture most appealing.

Q: What has been the most challenging part of transitioning from ballet to musical theater?

A: The performance schedule. As a principal ballet dancer I might perform two maybe three times a week. With this show I’m onstage 6 nights a week.


Q: What can audiences expect when coming to see the show?

A: The most talented group of singers, actors and dancers in the country.


Q: Do you see any similarities between yourself and Jerry Mulligan?

A: We are both artists. We look for the beauty in all things.


Q: What have you done to make the role your own?

A: I can’t tell you all of my secrets.


Q: What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?

A: The joy and love that our company bring to the stage night after night to tell this story.


Tickets for “An American in Paris” presented by Bank of America are on sale now at TPAC.ORG, in person at the box office or by calling 615-782-4040.


Five Questions With Daniel David Stewart from ‘Part of the Plan’

We sat down with the incredibly talented Daniel David Stewart a couple weeks ago to discuss his involvement with ‘Part of the Plan’ and what he hopes audiences will take away once seeing the show.

Q: How did you get involved with ‘Part of the Plan’?

Daniel: I got involved with POTP two years ago, I was asked to do a reading in LA which is where I’m from. The reading turned into a workshop and I never really thought I’d hear anything again. Two years later the writers did all this work to get the show to TPAC and they very graciously asked me to be part of the show. I’m happy to be here!


Q: What attracted you to ‘Part of the Plan’?

Daniel: I think the first thing that attracted me was that I grew up listening to Dan Fogelberg’s music. My parents raised me on singer-songwriters so I instantly loved it. I also thought it was awesome to see what is essentially a jukebox musical of a person’s work that was not based around the person’s life. It’s a new musical with that person’s music. I thought that it’s not done enough as a well done story. Hirsh is a character that gives me an excuse to go to the gym everyday and look like a soldier, the cast is also such a great group to work with.


Q: What can people expect from the show?

Daniel: People can expect really great music that makes them feel at home wherever they are. There’s something about the folk music of that era that gives you a sense of inner peace and light. You can expect to see a very thoughtful loving story told with loving songs. We go to musical theatre to have a grand emotion that comes from grand emotional music.


Q: Who would you recommend to see ‘Part of the Plan’?

Daniel: Everyone. I think that you can relate to these characters because you can see a little bit of all of us in them. Whether it’s my character Hirsh who’s a young whippersnapper trying to figure things out or someone like Sean who’s trying to do the best for his country. You get to see two couples experience being young into their older selves and you can relate to every part along the way.


Q: What are you most looking forward to once the show premieres?

Daniel: I’m excited to see this seven years of work pay off in a big space. To see it happen in front of a large audience is going to be a beautiful experience. I’m excited to share this music, more people should know about Dan Fogelberg that do. I’m excited to watch people hear his music for the first time.

You can also check out Daniel’s interview with ‘Out and About Nashville”:


If You Go:
Part of the Plan
Sept. 8-24, 2017
TPAC’s James K. Polk Theater
505 Deaderick St.


Performance schedule, prices, and cast are subject to change without notice. Institutional sponsors for TPAC include Nissan North America and Coca-Cola. TPAC is a nonprofit arts organization funded in part by support from the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Metropolitan Nashville Arts Commission. TPAC reminds ticket buyers that the only official place to buy tickets online is


5 Questions with JT Hodges from ‘Part of the Plan’

We sat down with country singer and actor JT Hodges to discuss what it’s been like to work on a brand new musical. ‘Part of the Plan’ premieres here at TPAC September 8-24.   Q: How did you get involved with ‘Part of the Plan’? JT: I got involved with POTP through a fellow songwriter friend of mine who happened…

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Q&A with Babs Rector: A teacher’s view on the value of arts education

Babs Rector - Cropped“I cannot tell you how much I grew as a teacher and a patron of the arts by participating in ArtSmart,” wrote Babs Rector on the eve of her retirement as a 5th grade teacher at Meigs Middle Magnet School. “TPAC Education has consistently offered superior professional development and stayed current with educational trends, which is a feat itself! I am so glad to have had the opportunity to be part of it.”

After teaching in three different Metro Nashville Public Schools over the course of three decades, Rector took time answer a few questions from SPOTlight about her experience with arts education. Throughout her 30-year teaching career, she was an active participant in TPAC Education’s ArtSmart, a program which blends professional development training, collaboration with teaching artists on classroom residencies, and attending performances on TPAC’s annual Season for Young People.


Q: We so appreciated your sending a note about your TPAC experience as you retired. Tell us more about your growth as a teacher and a patron of the arts after participating in TPAC Education’s ArtSmart.

Babs Rector: As a teacher, I realized that arts education helped me reach children with different learning styles. That’s important. TPAC Education also taught me to be more creative with any subject matter.  If I was teaching science, for instance, I wanted the lessons to be creative.  I wanted my students to relate to the subject.  I learned to apply and adapt ArtSmart principles in other creative ways across the curriculum. I also found that TPAC Education excels at understanding current trends in education.  The current emphasis on project-based learning (PBL) in Metro Schools is a great example of that.  Arts education is not just something ‘extra.’  TPAC provides teachers with the resources on plugging into the latest standards and requirements, across the curriculum.

Q: Describe the impact of ArtSmart in your life, both personally and professionally.

BR: For me, in the beginning, the ArtSmart Institutes helped me to define different ways to look at different works of art. Personally, that exposed me to a variety of art forms, from modern dance to visual arts. I’d choose one focus for the classroom from the different options.  After I was introduced to them, however, I was likely to attend a performance or go to Cheekwood to see the sculptures. I also benefitted from working directly with professional artists — actors, musicians, dancers, painters, sculptors and others. Their perspectives were not something I had ever experienced personally. To work closely with the artists gave me so many different ideas on how to work with students.  And then, I did something that is so critical to the student experience and collaborated with the teaching artists. We brainstormed ideas for each ArtSmart unit in the classroom.  We came up with unique ideas for student learning and we came up with them together.  That helped me with professional development in other areas, especially collaborations with other teachers.

Q: The training and teaching artist residencies culminate with a field trip to TPAC for a performance or to another place to view visual art.  How was that beneficial to classroom learning?

BR: First of all, TPAC’s performances or ArtSmart works of visual art relate directly to various subjects. Going to a performance at TPAC?  You cannot even begin to tap into the depth of what those performances have to offer.  The quality of the shows is always top-notch. The highlights of going to TPAC were seeing how the students reacted during the performance or talked about it after the experience because they had experienced something similar in the classroom. Clearly, they connected with the live performance and it reinforced what they’d learned.  One example: Before we saw A Midsummer Night’s Dream we experimented with talking in couplets and explored how difficult it is to come up with something with that pattern of rhyme. We talked about the names of the characters.  Why would Shakespeare choose those names?  This play is not something that students would normally study in the 5th grade. ArtSmart helped them to connect to the work of art and give them an early introduction to William Shakespeare in a way that was relevant to them at their age.

Q: What kind of impact did you see in the lives and learning of your students?

BR: When we focused on the plays, for example, we did a lot of work with writing, including crafting short skits. I saw so much development and creativity when we did those activities.  Some of the students, who were perhaps not so academically talented, really shined when they acted out a skit.  When they performed a theatrical piece, let’s say, they were very witty and creative. They had a chance to shine in a different way.

Q:  Any parting words?

BR: I wish that every teacher, every student, had more opportunities in arts education.  I firmly believe that the arts are vital to a well-rounded education. I believe that the arts open doors for children. TPAC Education provides opportunities that many children do not otherwise experience in their young lives. When they see a play or study a work of visual art, it helps them to work through some of their own challenges and problems.  As a teacher, it’s been very rewarding to see how the arts draw out the creativity and ability of all children regardless of their cultural and economic circumstance. Kids need this experience. The arts enrich their lives.  At the same time they enjoy the arts activities and performances, they work out some things that are very tough in life.

Click here to learn more about ArtSmart and TPAC Education’s other programs.