Melissa Kaplan: Entertaining the Arts
Surrounded by art and music throughout her childhood it’s no wonder that Melissa Kaplan found a career in the same field.
As Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator at Lansing Community College (LCC) Kaplan has a hand in all things creative around campus.
“I love making things happen. I love creating connections and collaborations between people and departments,” said Kaplan. “I like to help expand our resources to reach more people. You have to experiment and try different things to help the organization.”
Kaplan’s musician father and her mother, who has a degree in fine arts, met while performing in an opera, so it’s no wonder that Kaplan’s childhood consisted of creative projects and artistic outlets. Her role with LCC brings her love of the arts full circle.
Although she enjoys the excitement of working in the performing and fine arts, she admits she didn’t always know what she wanted to do. Kaplan explains that it was the journey to discover her passion that taught her the most about herself.
“When I started in college I was studying biology, but I never really knew what I wanted. I was interested in a lot of things. But I was lucky to realize that early on. I could have carried on with what I was doing and never found out what I really wanted” Kaplan said. “I got my degree in journalism because I like writing and it could encompass a lot of my interests. I couldn’t make up my mind, like a lot of students today. It happens all the time and I encourage people to try different things that they may be interested in. I was interested in arts management and so I took some classes, there was no program, but it piqued my interest. I saw myself as someone behind the scenes, someone who could fulfill a need to help artists.”
Kaplan previously worked to produce training and educational films. It was a career she truly enjoyed and one that started her down the twisting path that lead her to her current role with LCC.
“I produced training and educational videos that covered a variety of topics. I was production manager and producer. When the company relocated, I started my own company and worked alone. But it was challenging to keep it going and figure out how to get to the next level. I was never quite sure how to get there or if I would even like it,” Kaplan said.
Before Kaplan could find out where her production career would lead, the opportunity at LCC presented itself.
“It was perfect timing,” said Kaplan. “I was friends with a costume designer and she told me when this position was open and it seemed like a perfect fit.”
While she doesn’t consider herself an actress, (apart from an appearance as the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz and the youngest daughter in The Sound of Music when she was younger) Kaplan’s role behind the scenes brings to life some of the most inspiring performances in the Lansing area. A few specific shows stand out in Kaplan’s mind and her career.
“The very first show when I started with LCC was Spring Awakening before it was a musical. It’s about finding your place with your peers,” said Kaplan. “Rent also stands out a lot. I think it is interesting how musicals can address issues and don’t always just have to be bursting into song.”
But Kaplan knows it’s not as easy as just bursting into song. She gives a lot of credit to the performers she works with on campus and those who pursue a career in the arts.
“Being an artist is a full time effort in itself. It is challenging. It can be hard to get a job in the arts. It is something so valued, but still undervalued. Everyone has creative ability, but you don’t always have the opportunity to express that. Not everyone is fully free to explore their creativity, but the performers here are,” said Kaplan.
Kaplan speaks so passionately about the arts that it is no wonder she found a place as the Fine and Performing Arts Coordinator. Although her job entails many different aspects including community outreach and production management, she enjoys most the connections that come along with working in the arts.
Taking a note from her performers, Kaplan has recently done some exploring for herself. Jumping into a few classes and getting involved with local theater groups and clubs.
“The classes I have taken are really great. They have pushed me to get out and try something. I’ve taken acting classes and I was in a reading for Peppermint Creek for the play, Eight, which was a fundraiser and I am really hoping to do something like that again. I also learned to play the steel drums; they are just a happy instrument. It is a lot of fun here, there is so much opportunity,” Kaplan said. “I feel really fortunate to take these classes and work with the faculty and be with the students to see what they are learning.”
Her adventures have also taken her abroad. Kaplan loves to travel and learn about arts and music in other cultures. She embraces the beauty in all cultures but has fallen in love with Ireland after her most recent adventure.
“We went for two weeks. Andy Callis, a full time theater professor and director here had been a few times. We had been talking about going for a few years and we finally went. I fell in love! I have been other places, but none that I have felt quite so connected too. It was gorgeous countryside, oceans and mountains. It is very romantic. There is music everywhere! It’s casual and informal but you can go in anywhere and there would be music. I’ve been to a lot of places in Europe, but there was just something about Ireland. I would go back tomorrow,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan’s spirit is undeniable and her passion for the arts can be seen every time she speaks. She is inspired by those who are free to express themselves and hopes she can have a hand inspiring the next generation of performers.
“It is an ongoing challenge to be good at something. Whatever you choose to pursue, you want to be as good as you can be, whether it is in the field of science or health or the field of arts. You continually have to practice your trade in any field and in the arts it requires a great deal of commitment and sacrifice,” Kaplan said. “In the arts it is highly collaborative and other people depend on you, not just your team, but the audience too. But the reward is wonderful. There isn’t another job that is as rewarding as to express yourself and share that with other people.”
Tags: arts, Cover Story, entertainment, lansing community college, Melissa Kaplan
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.