Augustine Ripa, a theater professor and director of the Eckardt Scholars Program. Ripa has been at Lehigh since 1979, and has been teaching and directing plays for 40 years. (Courtesy of Augustine Ripa)

Augustine Ripa reflects on 40 years of theater


When Augustine Ripa started working at Lehigh in 1979, there was no theater department. He received tenure while he was in the English department, and one of the first things he set out to do was establish the department of theatre.

Residing as chair of the department for 18 years, Ripa now teaches theater and directs the Eckardt Scholars Program.

Ripa, who has been teaching and directing plays at Lehigh for 40 years, contributes to the department of theatre through his dedication and impact on those around him.

“The Lehigh I get to deal with is the Lehigh of volunteers, the Lehigh of students who can’t wait to get more theater under their belt and who want to do it in the classroom, who want to do it in production,” Ripa said. “I see a beautiful subset of Lehigh students who just want to do what I love, and that’s really cool. That’s been an ongoing highlight for me that’s never stopped.”

Ripa said he appreciates the opportunity he has had to work with a dedicated group of undergraduate students who want to be involved in theater.

Ripa is also directing the play “Blithe Spirit,” currently showing at Zoellner Arts Center, which has a diverse student cast in terms of academic interests, goals at Lehigh and experience on stage. 

Aimee Teplitskiy, ’22, said she feels this play is distinct, due to the small cast.

The actors are able to form close relationships with each other while working on the production, and they are able to learn from each other, Teplitskiy said. 

Acting in a play is a commitment in addition to everything else that students are asked to do, so Ripa said one of the most important disciplines his students extract from theater is time management.

Even if his students don’t go on to be professional actors, he said he is confident they will know how to organize themselves, how to deal with people, how to work collaboratively and how to be part of a team.   

Ripa said his favorite part of working on “Blithe Spirit” has been how well the cast has taken to exploring the verbal wit, language and history of the play. 

Teplitskiy said she has enjoyed her time working with Ripa and is appreciative of what she has learned from him. He has a lot of experience, evident in the way that he loves the language of the show, she said.

 “I think that’s something that people don’t usually appreciate,” Teplitskiy said. “When you’re on stage, you just think, ‘This looks cool, this sounds kind of fun.’But, Gus (Ripa) really loves what the show is trying to say. 

Teplitskiy said Ripa’s interest in the history of the play helps her learn how to better play her character, but also makes her realize that every single play is special in its own way. 

Ripa said his other favorite thing about this play is working with their current team of designers. 

Erica Hoelscher, a theater professor, has worked alongside Ripa for the past 25 years. She is also the costume designer for “Blithe Spirit.” 

Hoelscher said she feels this play is very special because it is a supernatural comedy, and everybody involved with the play is highly dedicated. 

Hoelscher said she is honored to have worked with Ripa for 25 years, making her the longest continuous colleague of Ripa in the theater department. 

“I’ve always come away learning something from him, and it just means so much to me that we have gotten to a point where we feel very comfortable with one another,” Hoelscher said. “We talk things through, and we have differences of opinion, which makes our work better. I don’t know what else we could ask of each other as colleagues.”

She said Ripa’s work has never lost its vitality and relevance over the years Hoelscher has known him, in regards to his directing and ability to communicate with students.

Hoelscher said as professors age, they’re often thought of as getting behind the times with modern trends, and become less relatable to the students and their mindset.

However, she said Ripa is very aware of what the students think and is apt at communicating with them. 

“He’s always pushing the envelope,” Hoelscher said.

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  1. Hey Gus:

    Jay Payleitner here. Class of ’79, Illinois Wesleyan. Memories include learning stage combat, Scapino!, and — not a joke — the first time I had quiche was at a party at your house. Great respect for your approach to acting.

    I was actually on the Lehigh campus in 2013 when my daughter, Rae Anne, led the Black Knights to a softball championship over your Mountain Hawks.
    What am I up to?

    Best to you.

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