What Now? Getting on With the Show!

| September 30, 2013 | 0 Comments


Since 1992, Rick Simas, a theatre director, professor and musical theatre specialist, has taught in S.D.S.U,’s Master of Fine Arts Musical Theatre Program.

Since 1992, Rick Simas, a theatre director, professor and musical theatre specialist, has taught in S.D.S.U,’s Master of Fine Arts Musical Theatre Program.

Just for fun, think over the musicals you’ve seen and loved.   Here’s a little launch:  The “Fantastics,”  “Dames at Sea,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Good News; No, No, Nanette”; and “Promises, Promises.” 

Add dozens more, and you’ve probably named many of the shows that Rick Simas has produced, and/or directed, or both – in his long musical theater career.

Since 1992, Mr. Simas, a theatre director, professor and musical theatre specialist, has taught in S.D.S.U,’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Musical Theatre Program, co-directing with Paula Kalustian. Earlier, Simas taught at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, and the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.  His dissertation, The Evolution of Dance in the American Musical Theatre, which helped earn him his Ph.D. in Dramatic Art from U.C. Berkeley, is used as a text at SDSU. 

Simas is a noted expert on the works of Stephen Sondheim, Hugh Martin, Yip Harburg, and Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, Leonard Bernstein and Cole Porter, among others.

We wanted to know more:

LW:  You’re the “face” of the Musical Theatre Program at SDSU … and an inviting one at that!  We’ve loved every production we’ve seen. What does it take to get students to the level of performance to which you’ve obviously brought them?

RS:  We work with our MFA students for two years—15 units per semester, 60 units total. It takes a lot of hard work, passion, and perseverance.

LW:   Clearly, the program’s meant to lead your students into musical theater careers. How realistic is this today?  Do you have some stars out there?

RS:  We’re educating lifelong musical theatre artists who will teach and perform, direct, choreograph, music direct, or work in whatever area of specialization for which they’ve been extensively trained. We have alums teaching – and working in theatres – nationally and internationally.

LW: Do students come in with some innate talent, or experience?

RS: Yes, with undergraduate degrees – and extensive training from other colleges and universities.

LW:  How do students qualify for the program?

RS:  It’s definitely competitive. We usually see between 50 and 70 applicants and choose six to ten every two years. We have a multitude of criteria.

LW:  How has it happened that your program is only one of so few left in the country? What does this say about our evolving culture?

RS:  There are actually two MFA Musical Theatre Programs in the country: ours and the Boston Conservatory (now starting its second year). They are expensive to run – and have a high student/teacher ratio.

LW: What is your own experience in musical theatre?

RS:  Mostly as a director – but I began as an actor.

LW: If you were to play a part today, whom would you wish to play?

RS:   I don’t think I have the constitution for acting anymore, but, if I had to choose, John Adams in “1776” (even though I’m too tall and too old!). Some suggest that I play “Man in Chair” in “The Drowsy Chaperone”; they insist that I am that character…

LW: You have a Ph.D in Dramatic Art?  Did you intend to be a performer, teacher?

RS:  No, I actually intended to be a director.

LW:   Your spring 2013 “Portfolio” showcased our greats  –  Kander & Ebb, Sondheim, Hamlisch, Lerner & Loewe, and a dozen others. Is there an under-40 audience now who knows those names? Our entertainment culture today is so fragmented.

RS:  Our first semester covers George M. Cohan to Frank Loesser; our second is Lerner & Loewe through Stephen Schwartz; our third is contemporary writers; and our fourth is an audition showcase. We seek to engage community members and our students, hoping to instill in them a passion for the American musical theatre.

LW:  Do you have favorite shows?

RS: The truth is … for most theatre artists, the show we’re working on is the favorite;   if you’re passionate about the work – it consumes you. Hard to choose … but:  I’ve loved “Good News,” “Triumph of Love,” “A Man of No Importance.” Some little gems I’d love to direct: “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” “The Happy Time,” “Anyone Can Whistle.” 

 Big musicals I’d like to do: “The Boys from Syracuse,” “Oklahoma!,” “Canterbury Tales,” “My Favorite Year.”

And, plays: “The Owl and the Pussycat,” “Six Degrees of Separation,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona.”

LW:  Your short list of notable challenging characters?

RS:  Mama Rose in ‘Gypsy”; Billy Bigelow, “Carousel”;  Eliza Doolittle in “My Fair Lady;  the title role in “Sweeney Todd:; And, Hamlet, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Richard III, King Lear, Medea and Oedipus!  More recently, I’d add Beverley Weston in “August: Osage County.”

LW:  What does the program need to ensure a long, strong future? 

RS:  Our program is now guaranteed in perpetuity, as we have two endowed positions. However, we are always seeking community support and engagement for our students and program.

LW: Your recent production is “Man with a Load of Mischief” at North Coast Repertory Theatre got good reviews.  Yet, I’m pretty sure few in your audience ever heard of it?  James Hebert (UT San Diego) said,”… it remains about as obscure as ever…” even though he clearly enjoyed it.

RS:  I may have more experience with this ‘odd’ musical than anyone.  But I love it – and, apparently, our audiences did as well.  Maybe it will make it into the mainstream of musical theater … or, it might make it into a sequel of my book, “The Musicals No One Came To See.”

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