PENN STATE MUSICAL THEATRE
“What’s so amazing is the opportunity to create something where there was nothing. That’s why I like to direct, but plays close. This is not going to close. It’s going to continue to grow in unimaginable ways.”
In 2016, Cary Libkin, head of the Musical Theatre program, passes the reigns to John Simpkins. He shares his reflection on the last 25 years and gives thanks to those who made it all possible.
You started a music theatre program from scratch and it’s grown into one of the most reputable programs in the country. What are some of the key ingredients that made that happen?
I know I wanted excellence; I know I wanted humanity. I did my grad work at a school that was known for its cut-throat approach, and I was sure that we could have a program that was just as competitive and just as artistically rigorous but also emphasized humanity. The metaphor that has been useful to me from the very beginning is that a director tries to gather the most talented people they can find, and hope that they make you look good. I think we’ve been so fortunate and also so careful in selecting faculty that are really passionate artists and also wonderful human beings.
What would you want to say to this amazing Penn State MT community that you’ve created?
Simply, thanks. I’ve had such a wonderful 25 years, and I think it’s the alumni, the donors, the friends, faculty, and administration that have helped me do what I do and I’ve had such a great time doing it.
What do you wish for the program as it continues to evolve?
One of the things that I am confident John will bring, and something we can all continue to cultivate, is the commitment to exploring not just the B.F.A. or M.F.A. programs, but developing a training center for musical theatre. A place where people can come to really think about the art form, to write musicals, and explore how to most effectively train actors. To stretch the very definition of what musical theatre is. That’s where I hope the program will go next.
MEET THE INCOMING CLASS OF 2019!
These thirteen amazing individuals are ready to embark on four unforgettable years at Penn State!
Top row (left to right): Katie Griffith, Julio Iguina-Pascual, Mikayla McKasy, Jack Bowman; Middle row: David Friedman, Amanda Silverstein, Graham Hancock, Oliva Dei Cicchi; Bottom row (including lower right corner): Lena Skeele, Jonathan Hashmonay, Lauren Echausse, Thomas Doelger, Kamryn Harris
“At my audition for Penn State, the students and faculty couldn't have been warmer. This ability to maintain kindness while being professional is what drew me to Penn State.”– Jack Bowman (Westport, Connecticut)
“One of my produest moments was when Cary called me and offered me a spot in the class. I never thought I would have the opportunity to be attending one of the best musical theatre programs in the country.”– Amanda Silverstein (Kensington, Maryland)
On doing the work, juggling, and giving back
“Nobody owes you anthing just because you spent four years working on your craft. you pay your agent 10 percent, so 90 percent of the work needs to be done by you"
Spotlight interviewed Gilbert Bailey over the summer. Gilbert, a graduate of the Musical Theatre class of 2010, has enjoyed five years of employment in a broad variety of productions in New York and worldwide. He has written two musicals, one called Tightrope with Penn State alumni Amy Corcoran and Mike Karns, the other a commission called ’Bout to Blow.
On doing the work: “My main advice is that nobody owes you anything just because you spent four years working on your craft. Don't feel entitled because of your degree. And if you think your agent is going to do 100 percent of the work, you are crazy.
To keep up with Gilbert, follow him on Twitter @GLBaileyII!
IT'S A MARATHON NOT A RACE
Let me set the scene: When I graduated from Penn State in 1998, I was ready to take New York City by storm. I was a well-trained artist, had my dream agent, and immediately started working—how could I not be [insert your favorite movie star] in a year?
My first pilot season was off to a roaring start. I received good feedback for this show called The Sopranos and booked a national tour. I thought all was amazing in the world.
And then...year two, things weren’t moving as fast. The negative self-talk after auditions was running my life and I couldn’t get out of my head. I started playing it safe and second-guessing myself in the audition room. My self-worth was solely based on my résumé and feedback from my agent and manager (which is a death trap because you rarely get any and it’s not their job to make you feel good about your work). I also compared myself to everyone I auditioned with—people like Rosario Dawson and Kerry Washington, whose careers were skyrocketing and I felt like a piece of crap.
Compare leads to despair. Period.And so I made it my mission to uncover my own self-sabotage and started to learn all the skills people actually need to be wildly successful in art, and in life. And now I help other actors do the same. So I’d like to remind you: let go of your timeline, you don’t need it! On Sept 9, in New York City, I’ll be hosting a special evening for Penn Staters called “Jedis in Training.” When you connect to your own force, you are ready to defeat your inner dark side and create the career you desire. Click here to RSVP—it’s free for alumni!
Di Ana Pisarri is a New York City-based writer, speaker, and coach helping actors sustain a life in the arts—what she calls “Jedis in training.” Her clients range from actors just beginning their careers to Broadway, TV, and film’s biggest stars, but no matter the level of success, the work is the same—cultivating your own happiness inside and outside the audition room!
MEET JOHN SIMPKINS
Welcome Letter from Incoming Head of Musical Theatre
I look forward to meeting you over the coming weeks and months. I am excited to begin the semester—and am deeply honored to help continue the tradition of excellence in musical theatre at Penn State. I look forward to working with the dynamic faculty and students to sustain and grow what has quickly become one of the elite training programs in the country.
I first became aware of Penn State Musical Theatre some years ago. As a director who sits in many audition rooms, I tend to track where artists receive their primary training. In those situations, I am consistently met by a very skilled group of artists who have been students at Penn State. They are not only prepared for the job opportunity that is in front of them, but seem to also have that sometimes elusive “human” component that I am always searching to find.
Cary Libkin will be leaving a tremendous and rich legacy. I look forward to immersing myself in the school this fall, learning the many components of the programs, and helping to chart a course for the next generation. One look at the current and rapidly changing Broadway landscape tells us that we have to be ready to train artists for an increasingly diverse set of skills, opportunities, and material. What an exciting time to be working with people that will help shape the future of musical theatre!
Thank you for the already warm welcome and I look forward to meeting you all very soon.
FROM BROADWAY TO THE UK
After his fifth Broadway show, ’07 alum Ryan Watkinson was ready for something different. In 2013, he was accepted into the prestigious London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. He graduates this summer, with plans to move to Los Angeles in the fall. Ryan shares his thoughts on what he believes creates a successful career, his time at Penn State, and what he does to keep going.
What do you believe is the secret to a successful career?
I was always so worried about being the best, and wanted to get it right instantly. I never allowed time for things to fall into place. My advice is to trust the faculty. They’ve guided so many students to lead incredible careers. It’s not going to happen overnight. Now I know to allow things to fall into place, day by day. Trust your work and that you’re doing the best you can at this moment. The work will pay off.
ON POINT DANCE IS CREATING A STRONGER DANCE COMMUNITY
In 2012, Jeffrey Nunez was on the national tour of In the Heights. As he travelled the country he realized how difficult and painstaking it was to actually find schools where he could take classes while on the road. Thus came the idea for the On Point Dance App. He started working on the app in August of 2012 and launched in January of 2013. Since then, Jeffrey has made it his mission to make On Point the ultimate resource for dancers.
Watch their amazing first dance video “Royals” featuring alum Natalie Weiss (that has almost 100,000 views!)