PENN STATE MUSICAL THEATRE
When Cary Libkin arrived at Penn State in the early 1990s, it was in many ways a leap of faith, both for him and for the University. What would be possible in an era of limited resources, no existing donor base, no history of eager musical theatre students?
Within short order, dozens of students were auditioning. Then 200, then 400, then more than 500 each year. Before long, New York’s top theatre directors, casting directors, and agents were clamoring to represent and cast our graduates.
None of this happens by luck. It happens through the dedication and experience of faculty and staff, the talent and hard work of the dozen or so students who graduate each year from among the hundreds who are auditioned, and of course, it happens because of leadership. Cary Libkin provided all of the leadership one could hope for in creating what is now recognized as one of the top musical theatre programs in the country.As Cary turns over the reins of the program upon his retirement from Penn State, we can expect that in the coming era we will see marvelous progress that builds on the foundation he created. Meanwhile, Cary will continue to be active in his field as a director, giving master classes, helping others make connections so that they can succeed, and continuing to be a visionary.
BACKSTAGE CHAT WITH ALAN WIGGINS
(Currently in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical on Broadway)
"We're trying to make people like us all the time. In the audition room, let that go. Trust that you've done the work. Your skills are there. Have a good time. That's what they will respond to."
What do you love most about being a part of this cast?
It’s really exciting to get to tell a story every night that is a real story—there’s a different kind of responsibility to share someone’s legacy and life experience.
What advice would you give to current Penn State students?
Trust the training. Give it all you’ve got. The faculty will set you up for success if you really want it. When you graduate, audition for as much as you can that you feel that you’re right for, because it really is a numbers game. Don’t be so sure about where you fit, and what you do. You never know what someone else may see in you. Be open to as many experiences and opportunities and the right thing will find you.
A SPECIAL EVENING OF PENN STATE MUSICAL THEATRE JANUARY 18, 2016
Alumni of the Penn State School of Theatre will reunite for “WE ARE...ON BROADWAY!”, a one-night-only concert presented by current senior Carolyn Quinn in association with School of Theatre alumnus Mike Karns and the School of Theatre Alumni Group on Monday, January 18, at 7 p.m. at The State Theatre in Downtown State College.
“I believe that Penn State’s School of Theatre is one of the most prolific programs in the nation. We wanted the chance to showcase some of the talent from Penn State and the State College community,” said Karns, president of the School of Theatre Alumni Group.
The evening will showcase the talents of four Penn State alumni who are now performing on Broadway and around the country, current Musical Theatre majors, and local middle and high school students. The evening will be directed by Penn State’s head of Musical Theatre, John Simpkins, with music direction by School of Theatre Music Director Dan Riddle. Tickets start at $15 and are available via the State Theatre website.“I cannot wait for this concert to showcase the incredible talent that Penn State attracts, fosters, and produces.” - Carolyn Quinn, Stage Management major
EMPOWERING STUDENTS TO BECOME BETTER HUMAN BEINGS
INSPIRATION FROM DANCE FACULTY MEMBER MICHELE DUNLEAVY
"I try to give my students information about their bodies that will empower them to make smart choices in their dance and musical theatre careers. I hope they leave my class knowing something more about themselves as people than they did before the start of the semester.”
What is your favorite part of your job?
Seeing students really express themselves fully through dance—that moment when they forget themselves and become completely absorbed by the movement or rhythm.
This is a great question, and one that I struggled with for a long time. I used to think that teaching for musical theatre meant teaching a fairly narrow and specific vocabulary. I no longer think that's true. With so many styles of dance currently represented on Broadway, I think exposing students to a wide variety of dance forms, vocabularies, and creative processes better prepares them for success in the field. I do think that musical theatre students tend to be very outcome based in their approach to training, so sometimes my job is helping them understand and invest in the process of learning to dance.
Who are some of your greatest creative influences?
Wow—this is tough—so many people inspire me. I'm currently re-reading some books by director Anne Bogart. I really appreciate the way she talks about the creative process.
What makes the dance training at Penn State so strong?
The commitment of the faculty, hands down.
ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT: LAURIE VELDHEER
Laurie Veldheer, 29, a 2010 Musical Theatre graduate from Grand Rapids, Michigan, is off to an auspicious start in her career, including two leading Broadway roles. She was cast in Newsies, first at Paper Mill Playhouse in the fall of 2011, which then transferred to Broadway. She also starred as Sophie in Mamma Mia. “It was huge to do a second Broadway show, so I knew it wasn't just a fluke,” she said, laughing.
Spotlight: What words of wisdom do you have?
Laurie: It is a very hard business, but for those of us who love this, there is nothing else. For all the joys there are just as many hard times. Hopefully it doesn't make you jaded, but appreciative of the ability to perform and create wonderful theatre.
NATIONAL ACCLAIM FOR 2013 ALUM BLAKE STADNIK
The LA Times says Blake Stadnik “stars with ease” as Billy Lawlor in the current national tour of 42nd Street. This exceptional young actor is making a real impression in the theatrical community. In addition to all the rejection and challenges that make the life of a working actor so difficult, Blake has another challenge that he has overcome. He was diagnosed with a form of juvenile macular degeneration that left him legally blind at the age of 7.
During an interview with The Boston Globe, Stadnik explained that while actors can jot down notes from a director about where to stand and walk on stage, he has to remember the directions, practice the movements, and keep it all in his head. He can't recognize faces, but he can see shapes. So he can detect where the other actors are and pick up somewhat on their body language, which helps serve as his stage cues.
When he was a child, Stadnik's parents wanted to keep him from becoming sedentary. Because he seemed to start moving whenever he heard music, his mother signed him up for tap dancing lessons.
"It just clicked," Stadnik said. “I don't know if I'd be doing this without my condition. It's actually been a blessing in disguise." Since graduation, he has won over the hearts of audiences and industry professionals alike. Director Marc Robin said, when casting, “I want the best, and Blake is the best.”
GREAT RESOURCE FOR THE ADVENTUROUS SPIRIT
Check out alum Delius Doherty's new website: TreatYaSelfie.com
"As an actor we have very little control. We are constantly waiting on others to say ‘yes’ or get approval. I wanted something that was completely mine and created from the ground up."
"I started with the question that most people ask themselves, ‘what do I like to do?’ I love to travel and explore culture. But this business can be so financially inconsistent, it's important to save your money. I think people should enjoy life without having to break the bank. TreatYaSelfie.com users can find free deals and creative ways to enjoy New York City. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe everyone should splurge sometimes, so I also feature a couple of getaways!” #TreatYaSelfie
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: WATCH MARCUS PAUL JAMES ON THE WIZ LIVE!
On December 3, more than 11 million people watched The Wiz LIVE! Among the talented cast was '03 alum Marcus Paul James, singing about picking yourself up and trying again. "It was unreal," said James. If you missed it, catch The Wiz LIVE! on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 8 p.m on NBC.
Follow Marcus on Twitter: @marcuspauljames