About Our Program

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As you navigate this website, you can easily see how we approach our Acting Training, Voice Training, and Dance Training. What is harder to explain in print – but is the strength of Penn State Musical Theatre – is the integrated way in which we approach the training of a musical theatre artist. Below are a few examples of this integrated approach – and the opportunities we offer our students that make us unique. We are committed to the education of the whole artist and human – and passionate about not only the teaching of skills, but also about helping our students acquire their most powerful and individual artistic voice. Thank you for your interest in Penn State!
--John Simpkins, Head of Musical Theatre

Photo from American Idiot performance

The student-artists in the Musical Theatre program are high-level pre-professionals. The training they undertake is extraordinarily demanding - filled with intense physical and vocal demands, as well as the emotional stress of extremely high performance focus. In many respects, the experience of the student-artist resembles the experience of Penn State’s varsity student-athlete. Our mission with the Wellness Center is to provide a comprehensive range of services to help musical theatre students avoid injury, minimize stress, and negotiate the demands placed on them in their training. Fall 2018 sees the first two programs begin – a Nutrition Fueling Station and the program in Psychological Services.
Logo of Musical Theatre Wellness Center

Dedicated to the physical, mental and vocal well-being of musical theatre students, the Wellness Center begins this Fall by launching two programs…
The fueling station is a concept developed by our Nutritionist Kris Clark over her time at Penn State Athletics. It is a collection of foods available and provided to musical theatre students throughout their day in order to fully maximize the nutritional health of our students. The goal is to connect nutritional behavior to the training in musical theatre. The fueling station will position students to optimize energy levels before and after workouts, dance classes, rehearsals, and other physically strenuous components of musical theatre training. It provides foods that are rich in nutrient requirements that are supporting the physical exertion the program requires with nutritional preparation and recovery.
This concept is developed by Dennis Heitzmann, former Senior Director of Counseling and Psychological Services at Penn State, along with a colleague Leann Diederich. We have put in place a system that allows Musical Theatre students to confidentially seek consultation, referrals, and treatment for a variety of counseling and psychological services. Dr’s Heitzmann and Diederich will become specifically acquainted with our students and programs so they can best consult, refer, or provide services to our students.

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Each year, we commission writers to visit our Junior musical theatre students to meet, share work, and discuss issues. The writers leave and begin to write a musical surrounding those young artists. They return the following Fall to deliver a first draft of a musical inspired by the now Senior students and are in residence with us throughout the year workshopping and developing the musical. The project culminates in an NYC concert (usually at Feinstein’s/ 54 Below) and a full concert reading on campus. Possibilities exist for the show to continue on at Penn State into production and then professional co-production with a Regional or NYC Theatre. Commissions that have been a part of this series so far include…
LOVE IN HATE NATION – by Joe Iconis.
THE LAST DAY – by Mike Reid and Sarah Schlesinger.
Senior musical theatre students performing at 54 Below

Kirsten is writing a show for us that is currently titled The Lucky Boy - an adaptation of the Grimm’s fairy tale “The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs.” We look forward to working with her this year – and showcasing the piece in an NYC Concert on Saturday, January 12 and in a full reading at Penn State on Thursday, April 11.

Mark your calendars!

Photo of Kirsten Childs

Kirsten Childs (book, music, lyrics) is the award-winning writer of the musicals The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin, Miracle Brothers, Fly (with Rajiv Joseph and Bill Sherman), Funked Up Fairy Tales, and Bella: An American Tall Tale (directed by Robert O’Hara). Bella: An American Tall Tale received its world premiere in the 2016-2017 season at Dallas Theater Center, with a co-production at Playwrights Horizons, NYC. Bubbly Black Girl was recently produced at Theatre Royal Stratford East in the U.K. and at City Centers Encores! Off-Broadway. For her work Kirsten has received Obie, Kleban, Larson, Richard Rodgers, Audelco, and Gilman/Gonzalez-Falla awards, as well as Lortel and Drama Desk nominations. She’s currently working on a commissioned project for The New Group with writer/director Gordon Greenberg. Kirsten has written for Disney Theatricals, the American Songbook series at Lincoln Center, the New Electric Company, City Center Encores!, Works and Process @ Guggenheim Museum, and Premieres/Inner Voices under the producership of Paulette Haupt, Artistic Director of the O’Neill National Music Theater Conference. She’s an adjunct professor in NYU’s Graduate Musical Theater Writing Program, and a member of the Dramatists Guild Council.

The Reading Series
At least once a year, we do a reading of an existing musical in development. This is mutually beneficial for the writers in their development process and for our Penn State artists to continue to learn how to work on new musicals, interact with writers, and create character. Recent readings have included…
Tyrants – by Alexander Sage Oyen and S.P. Monahan
The Greatest Musical Ever – by Joey Harrell
Electrik – by Caleb Smith


Each year, we invite multiple NYC based Industry professionals to campus to participate in Master Classes, Guest Teaching, and concert performance. These guests range from agents/ casting directors to performers to writers. The information they provide our students is invaluable – and through this interaction, our graduates have a head start on meeting and making positive impressions on Industry professionals.

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Each Spring, the Senior class in musical theatre showcases in NYC to a full house of Industry professionals. Students typically finish the Showcase with multiple audition opportunities, meetings with agents and casting directors, and a group of people that they can now include in their “network” moving forward.

Each Spring, the Senior class films a three-camera shoot of some of their musical material. The event is called PLACES – and the goal is to provide our students with some professionally filmed media for their websites and youtube channels as they enter the Industry.

Each Winter, the entire BFA Musical Theatre students and faculty spend a long weekend in NYC. The itinerary is packed with master classes by Broadway artists in voice and dance, show tickets and talk backs with cast and creative teams, and alumni interaction that fosters a sense of Penn State musical theatre alums that assist our current students and recent graduates in a myriad of ways as they acclimate to living and working in NYC.

Alongside the individual coursework in acting, voice, and dance we offer an integrated studio class in the sophomore, junior, and senior year. The goal of the studio class is to deliberately work on the integration of the three separate art forms as they combine to make a musical theatre artist. The sequence follows a series of courses: Song Analysis (Solo Golden Age), Song Analysis (Solo Contemporary), Scene Study (all styles), Ensemble Performance, Audition Skills, Cabaret Performance, Business Skills for the Musical Theatre Actor, Showcase/ Places.

In the Junior year, our students take a course called Musical Theatre Styles – geared toward a practical study of Broadway dance styles and choreographers from 1930 to the present. In addition to being a terrific dance class, the students learn original choreography from the luminaries of the Industry – and why and how they transformed musical theatre with their work. This course integrates history, dance, theatre, and performance all in one class.

Every two weeks, the MT voice faculty conducts a studio class. All students and faculty are welcome for a low pressure, multiple faculty class. The goal is to work on repertoire that is important to the student for any reason – an upcoming audition, something they are doing in a class for which they would like additional help, or a role in a show for which they would like additional coaching.

In Musical Theatre at Penn State, there are highly selective graduate programs in Directing and Musical Directing. The BFA students in musical theatre have the opportunity to work with and learn from these grad students in a variety of ways in both classroom and rehearsal situations.

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Contact Us

Address: Penn State School of Theatre, 116 Theatre Building, University Park, PA 16802 USA.

Office: (814) 865 7586

Fax: (814) 865 5754

Tickets: (814) 863 0255

Email: theatre@psu.edu