Pam Pepper takes her final bow
The Brown & White
By MIGUEL COLE
NOVEMBER 6, 2019
Pam Pepper has worn many hats — including professor, mentor, friend, colleague, director, chair and associate dean — through her time at Lehigh. But these are hats that she will now put on the shelf. Lehigh University’s Department of Theatre will say farewell to someone who has aided it in its growth and development. Pepper started at Lehigh in 1987, back when the theatre department was located in Wilbur Powerhouse. Pepper is now directing her last play, “The Broken Machine,” which has never been produced at Lehigh.
“It is a beautiful and timely play, with some important thoughts about our world, our environment and the importance of love,” Pepper said. Pepper said she is not as focused on retirement as she is on the story of this play. “I am really grateful to my department for helping create this opportunity for me with ‘The Broken Machine’ as a final project,” Pepper said. “Working with playwrights and working in new play development has been of interest to me for my entire professional career.”
Her colleagues, Kashi Johnson, chairperson and professor of theatre, and Augustine Ripa, professor of theatre and the director of the Eckardt Scholars Program, said Pepper has had a profound influence on their lives. Johnson is not only a colleague to Pepper, but was once her student at a point in time. “I owe a great deal of my theatrical everything to Pam Pepper,” Johnson said, “She was my first acting teacher and quite honestly, that class (that I took with Pepper) — little did I know at the time — would change the course and trajectory of my life.” Johnson said she and Pepper have a phenomenal relationship, and that she has immense gratitude for the role Pepper has played in her life.
Pepper invited Johnson to come back to Lehigh to help with the production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” and Johnson’s work on this production helped land her a permanent job on campus. Johnson said the department has been continuing to work as usual, trying to get through the semester without focusing on losing a department member. “If I let it sink in too deeply, then I’m going to have to deal with the fact that she’s retiring,” Johnson said.
Ripa, who knew Pepper before she began working at Lehigh, said he and Pepper have maintained a close relationship. “The thing I loved about hiring (Pepper) was developing with her,” Ripa said, “We complimented each other as colleagues and artistic collaborators.” Ripa and Pepper pioneered the development and growth of the theatre department at Lehigh from the basement of Wilbur to the stages of Zoellener. Ripa was also directed by Pepper. He commented on her attention to detail and ability to allow free, creative expression to her actors while focusing on the core meaning behind a play. “She’s got a drop of everything, get it done, get it done well and get it done right, work ethic and that is one of the things that has always impressed me about her,” Ripa said.
Johnson agreed. Johnson said Pepper’s love for theatre and teaching is infectious and that she doesn’t play around. Pepper said she hopes someone can be found in enough time so it does not interrupt the dynamic flow of work that she has been a part of for so long. Pepper recounts her relationship with students as being one of the more important factors of her job. She said she believes students are the focus of the work done in the theatre department, and that they should never be lost or forgotten. “The arts play a huge role in a person’s development and quality of life,” Pepper said. “Without them, it’s a fairly dry existence.”
Johnson said the genuine connection to the students is one thing she wants to keep alive after Pepper leaves. As Pepper moves on to the next chapter in her life, she is excited to see what lies beyond the dark spaces of stage rehearsals. “I’m going to do whatever I want, whenever I want to do it,” Pepper said, “I am really looking forward to having no deadlines.”
Pepper said she is an avid fiber artist who is eager to get back into the world of crocheting and knitting — two of her favorite hobbies. She is also interested in painting and has aspirations to become a park ranger. “I am selfishly sorry and sad to see (Pepper) move on from us, however, I think that this is one of the happiest things that’s going to happen to (Pepper),” Ripa said.
Pam Pepper retired from the Lehigh University August 2020.