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Penn State Musical Theatre Showcases Graduating Seniors, and Gives Audiences a Look Behind the Scenes

by on April 22, 2019 5:00 AM


As this year’s group of 11 Penn State seniors graduating from the university’s musical theatre program prepares to head off on their professional endeavors, the program gives them a leg up and lets locals in on the process with two upcoming shows.

PLACES 2019 takes the Schwab Auditorium stage at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. It’s what John Simpkins, head of musical theatre at Penn State, calls essentially a live taping.

“In this increasingly digital age…some of the ways in which [students] are going to get on people’s radar and book work and even submit actual auditions is digitally. That is becoming a much more integral part of the casting process,” he says.

The goal of the event is to provide material for each student that’s high quality, with nice video work, audio and post-production editing.

“Every student goes through a process where we select a song together that helps to reflect their skill set and their artistic point of view that they’d like to put out into the world,” Simpkins says. “April 24, at Schwab, assisted by our theatre sound personnel and our colleagues at Schwab and WPSU, we do a three-camera shoot. We do two takes of everyone’s song.”

Anyone can attend as part of the “studio audience.” Attendance is free and guests enjoy a range of music and interviews with each of the students, for a chance to hear about their Penn State journey and where they’re headed after graduation.

Simpkins assures that there’s music during the evening for any type of fan, whatever genre you prefer.

“It’s the most eclectic group of songs ever,” he says. “It’s not necessarily intended to be put together into an evening of entertainment; it’s intended to be specific to that student, so you’ll hear everything from pop and rock songs to traditional musical theatre songs to more charm and comedic songs.”

 While the PLACES 2019 event is an opportunity to see how the department works and to meet the students, the following Showcase performance is a chance to attend a completely insider event. The Showcase takes place in New York City, April 29, with two performances, at 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., at Alvin Ailey Theatre.

However, a dress rehearsal takes place at 5:15 p.m. on Friday at the Playhouse Theatre on the Penn State campus.

“The total purpose [of the Showcase] is to gather as many industry professionals that are working in our business — casting directors, agents, directors, producers, choreographers, anyone in the New York City theatre industry — in one room,” says Simpkins. “Similar to PLACES, it’s a carefully crafted series of songs designed to reflect the talents and artistic points of view of our students as they graduate and go off into the business.”

Attending industry professionals receive headshots and resumes for each of the students. Afterward, students should ideally have the chance to meet with agents interested in signing them as clients and a new network of fans and colleagues. While the Showcase and its dress rehearsal are big career opportunities for the students, it’s an opportunity for local theater fans to peak behind the curtain.

“A lot of people know what musicals are and experience them as entertainment,” Simpkins says. “The normal musical theatre enthusiast doesn’t normally think about some of the behind-the-scenes preparation…People really enjoy having the opportunity to see some of the inner workings of what goes on in our business, so they can combine that with their experience of entertainment when they’re sitting in the theatre seat.”

While both events are free, an RSVP is requested and can be made up until the day of the event by emailing John Simpkins directly at [email protected].



Holly Riddle is a freelance food, lifestyle and entertainment writer. She can be reached at [email protected]
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