New Joe Iconis Musical Commissioned as Part of New Initiative

Joe Iconis

By John Simpkins

One of the exciting changes ahead as we chart a course for the future of Penn State Musical Theatre is a commitment to helping develop the next generation of musicals from idea to production. Penn State already has a rich history with assisting new musicals in readings and workshops. A new initiative will build on that success—and expand to commission a writing team every year. The team will visit campus in the fall semester to meet the B.F.A. Musical Theatre junior class. Our juniors will sing for the writers and get to know them artistically, and the writers will then depart and write a musical over the following year. They will return when the class begins its senior fall semester—and deliver a first draft of their show that has been written toward the strengths and personalities of that specific group of young artists. The fall “Senior Studio” class will then focus on rehearsing and developing that musical with the writers and creative team.

Each year’s project will culminate with both a campus and New York City performance. Depending on the musical from year to year, the campus performance could be anything from a “music stands” reading to staged reading to a fuller realized staged workshop. The New York City performance will include both an industry reading and a concert at a musical theatre venue in the city. Penn State will then own the rights for an amount of time in case we would like to produce a full production, at Penn State or professionally (or both!). 

Musical theatre writer Joe Iconis has been commissioned to write the first of these musicals. Joe has authored the musicals Be More Chill, Bloodsong of Love, The Black Suits, ReWrite, The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks, and We The People. His songs were featured on season two of NBC’s Smash. He has been nominated for two Drama Desk Awards and a Lucille Lortel Award, and is the recipient of the Ed Kleban Award, the Jonathan Larson Award, and a Doris Duke Grant.

I have known Joe for years, and have directed many of his musicals in New York City and around the country. He is the perfect writer to begin this project with us at Penn State. His ability to speak and write in the college-age bracket is unique and wonderful, and his voice has long been heralded by the New York theatrical community as one of the most promising musical theatre writers working today. Joe will visit campus in late April 2016 and be back in the fall to begin work with us on the show. The project will be presented in January 2017 in State College and New York City—watch for details to come later this year!

Those of you that work on new musicals as part of your careers will already know this, but there is a very specific skillset required of actors working on new works. There is no research or previous production template to follow—and frequently the writer and creative team are making fast and furious changes from first rehearsal all the way through preview performances. It is a skill that the well-rounded musical theatre artist needs in his or her repertoire, and we’re so excited to announce this program as a way to expand our possibilities in this area.

If you have any questions—or would like to support this program—please don’t hesitate to be in touch at johnsimpkins@psu.edu. As you might imagine, a program like this takes a tremendous amount of resources and energy. I would welcome the chance to talk with you about how you could support us as we move into the first few years of these projects. Who knows, maybe in a few years we’ll start seeing these shows appear in the American musical theatre landscape—and they will have started at Penn State!

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