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SUMMER 2016
GREETINGS FROM

PENN STATE MUSICAL THEATRE

Cary Libkin

Greetings from Penn State Musical Theatre, where we are busily preparing for the school year!  We are welcoming 13 students into the program this fall. They are an eclectic and exciting bunch of young artists and we are looking forward to getting to work with them. We will be conducting our first Musical Theatre Orientation Weekend to introduce them to students, faculty, alumni, and supporters. We’re calling it “Welcome to the Family” and it will take place September 3–4 on campus. If you happen to be in town (perhaps for the Saturday football game), we’d love to have you join us for Saturday evening and Sunday festivities. I want our new students to have a chance to meet as many people as possible. We’ll also be conducting a series of open master classes, lectures, and discussions that you would be welcome to attend.  Please send me a note at johnsimpkins@psu.edu if you will be in town—I’ll gladly send you an itinerary and some more information. Hope to see you!

We are also ready to resume work on our first Musical Theatre program commission, a new musical by Joe Iconis. Joe visited the junior class last spring and over a weekend of picnics, master classes, concerts, auditions, and work sessions, he got a chance to really understand the individual artists that make up our now senior class. He has written the first draft of a musical that we will begin rehearsing in the class we call “Senior Studio.” I believe this is the first commission of its kind in the country, and we are so proud and excited to have Joe working with us this fall. The project will culminate in a presentation in State College, and a concert reading in NYC in January. More information will be available this fall. I hope you can join us for this exciting new venture in Penn State Musical Theatre.

I wish you all a happy fall and hope your lives, pursuits, shows, and projects are all bringing you great joy!

John Simpkins

Head of Musical Theatre

MEET THE INCOMING CLASS OF 2020!

Join us on campus September 3-4 for "Welcome to the Family," where you can meet and give a warm welcome to this very special Penn State Musical Theatre Class of 2020!

Check out all the first-year bios here!

ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT

Cary LibkinLauren Weinberg

Lauren Weinberg, a 2009 graduate of Penn State's Musical Theatre program, has performed in 25 different roles across New York and in regional theatre, television, and film, in addition to her work in the commercial arena. A versatile actor, she picks up dialects easily, knows stage combat, has studied puppetry, and is even a Certified Tequila Expert. Lauren, who lives in New York, was interviewed this past spring in Greenwich Village.

Spotlight: What have you been doing lately?

Lauren: I just got off of the national tour of Guys and Dolls, playing Adelaide. In fall 2015 I reprised that role again at the Olney Theatre outside of D.C.  Last summer I knocked something off my bucket list: I was in the world premiere of a recently published play at a small upstate theatre in New York.

Spotlight: I’ve read a number of reviews about you playing Adelaide from around the country. They are great to read.

Lauren: It’s really fun. Some people don’t like to read reviews because they say it affects your performance, but I like to read them because we don’t get feedback from anyone other than those we work with. I like to see how an outsider views a show we are proud of.  I was lucky that people were very generous in their reviews.  A lot of it was endearing and positive. A motivator. And Adelaide is a fun character, which explains something about why the show has been around so long.

Spotlight: You’ve worked non-stop for the last year, and now you are back to auditioning. Our current students could benefit from hearing you talk about the highs and lows and what it’s like auditioning again.

Lauren: I’ve learned that the highs are so very high and the lows are so very low. Let the highs motivate you so you can ride that roller coaster through the lows. Persistence and motivation are what will keep you going, since it isn’t always about your talent in this industry. Most of us are talented. It does feel like I’m back to square one. I expected this. Every time you come back from a contract you have a newfound worth about yourself. For a long time I felt like I apologized when I went into a room, because I didn’t know what I was capable of providing for them. In reality, we are the people who have what they need. I’m part of Actors’ Equity now, which I’m grateful for, and I’m trying to create new networks now with people who haven’t seen me before. Now I look at auditions as an investment in my career.

Click here to read the full interview.

Lauren's Official Website | Follow Lauren on Instagram

How '07 alum STEVE SCHEPIS became one of NYC's most adored makeup artists

Steve Schepis (’07) is one of the most charming, hilarious people I know. We met at Penn State and have been friends ever since. I love his story because it’s full of something we can all identify with—the unexpected turns our life can take, and the amazing things that can happen if we commit to something that brings us joy.

H​ow have your experiences working in musical theatre paved the way for where you are now?

Before performing in Priscilla Queen of the Desert on Broadway, makeup wasn't even on my radar. And now I'm a full-time makeup artist. It's kind of ironic: Priscilla was the pinnacle of success in my theatrical career (in some capacities), and yet, it provided the inspiration to move into a COMPLETELY different line of work. Funny how things work out, eh?

What do you love most about being a makeup artist?

My job affords me the opportunity to meet lots of people from all different walks of life. I spent a week making up a Pulitzer Prize-winning scientist, Jack Black's producing partner, television journalist Cynthia McFadden, famed media exec Susan Lyne. I did Lisa Kron's makeup for the Tony Awards this year. It's awesome to meet people that I probably wouldn't come into contact with otherwise. 

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to invest in a new passion or develop a skill?

My favorite poet Theodore Roethke wrote, "Going is knowing," and it's how I aspire to live my life. Don't dip your toe in the water to test the temperature; just dive right in! You'll find out a lot about yourself and your newfound passion if you just immerse yourself in it, rather than hanging out on the sidelines. Life is NOT a spectator sport! Carve out a bit of time to explore this new passion EVERY DAY. I find CONSISTENCY and FREQUENCY to be key ingredients when honing a new skill. 

Steve Schepis is a New York City based makeup artist and writer.

Read the full interview here.

For more, visit Steve’s Official Website | @steve_schepis

BE MORE CHILL opens the School of Theatre season
October 4-15, 2016 | Playhouse Theatre
Music and lyrics by Joe Iconis | Book by Joe Tracz | Based on the novel by Ned Vizzini | Directed by John Simpkins

Jeremy Heere is just an average teenager. That is, until he finds out about “The Squip”—a tiny supercomputer that promises to bring him everything he desires most: a date with Christine, an invite to the raddest party of the year, and a chance to survive life in his suburban New Jersey high school. But is being the most popular guy in school worth the risk?

Praised as “a high-energy, imaginative, well-crafted world premiere musical,” Be More Chill was lauded as “a vibrant, inventive musical that makes the most of every moment.” The show premiered at New Jersey’s Two River Theatre in 2015. Later last year, the recording was released by Sh-K-Boom Records. Penn State will be the first production to follow the world premiere. 

Joe Iconis has also authored the musicals Bloodsong of Love, The Black Suits, ReWrite, The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks, and We The People.  His songs were featured on Season 2 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.

Joe will visit the cast during the process and perform a late-night cabaret following one of the performances. More information coming soon!

Evenings: $25 | Preview/Matinee: $20 | Penn State Student (with valid PSU ID): $12.50

Opening Night Reception at the Playhouse, Thurs., October 6: $30 (DOES NOT INCLUDE SHOW TICKET) (Includes pre-show hors d'ouevres and post-show desserts. Doors open at 6:00 p.m.; show begins at 7:30 p.m. Purchase show ticket separately.)

MATT DOEBLER WILL ASSOCIATE CONDUCT NATASHA, PIERRE, AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

Matt Doebler, a Penn State grad and former Musical Theatre faculty member, talks about working on Broadway-bound The Great Comet, and shares some words of wisdom on what has helped him create a lasting, meaningful presence in this industry.

Ryan Watkinson

 

What would constitute a perfect day for you?

I live for connecting with other people. If I have a day where I’m sharing my art and part of myself with somebody who then takes that and feeds off it, I mean, that’s basically why I’m in this business. It’s a simple thing—I want to make a difference in someone’s life and change their energy into something more positive. If I come home and I feel like I’ve inspired somebody, and there’s been some kind of ripple effect, that to me is a great day. There’s a reason why I rejected other careers that might have been a little more secure. 

 


What has it been like to work on Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812?

Working on the Great Comet has been very exciting and challenging, because I’ve had to go back and pull on all of my years of training, particularly the earlier ones—thank you, Penn State School of Music! This show makes me flex some different musical muscles than the other shows I’ve recently worked on, such as Wicked and The Book of Mormon. I’ve had to focus and work that much harder, but it’s fun at the same time.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to build a career and a life in this business?

For actors, my advice is to tailor your craft so that when the opportunity comes knocking, you have all of the pieces in place. I can’t even tell you the absurdity with which these casting decisions are made, and how little is in your control. It’s more about just being ready to go. If you walk in and embody what the creative team imagines that role to be—and you have the skillset—you have a really good chance of getting hired. There’s so much you can’t control. All you can do is be ready for the moment when it happens.

Read the full interview with Matt here.

PENN STATE MUSICAL THEATRE ALUMNI MAKING A SPLASH IN LONDON!

On July 1, 2016, ’02 alum Emily Miller opened in a London West End production called Savage, and ’05 alum Vanessa Reseland opened as the Witch in Into the Woods at Menier Chocolate Factory. Here’s a little inside scoop from these two fabulous Musical Theatre grads:

On Point Dance

Emily, what has it been like working on Savage?

I’m very grateful to have done Savage for several reasons, both professionally and personally. It was fascinating to work on a piece that was based on a true story. A little over a year ago the playwright read an article in The Guardian about a man named Carl Peter Vaernet, a doctor during World War II that thought that he had come up with the “cure” to homosexuality. It was an honor to help bring the story to life and get the word out to so many people. 

Vanessa, Into the Woods is sold out until the end of the run. How is this show impacting audiences?

Fiasco is a company willing to open their individual and collective hearts to remember why we were all drawn to the theatre in the first place. I have never felt so connected to the soul of an audience in my life. Every night, this show strips us all bare and reminds us of the hope humanity is capable of with honesty, trust, and levity. I look out into the crowd, witnessing their vulnerability every night, and it is a gift I hold sacred. 

Emily, how does working as an actor in London compare to the United States?

If I had to sum up the major difference working here vs. working in the United States, it would have to be the lack of opportunity to audition here. It’s one of the reasons it’s important to do as much Fringe as possible because sometimes it’s the only way you can be seen by a casting director. I got offered Savage after the director saw me in a Fringe show, actually. The lack of opportunity, however frustrating, has been a blessing in disguise. I’ve had to step up my game with networking and self-promotion—something I’ve never really been comfortable with.

Vanessa, what does playing this iconic role mean to you?

Playing the Witch is a dream come true. Playing the Witch with Fiasco has been a lifesaver. I am honored to impart this show's wisdom to an audience of varying demographics, all connected through the power and responsibility of love and ambition in a realistic, although fairy tale, world.

Read the full story here.

 

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