An interview with John Simpkins, faculty member at New York University's The Steinhardt School and director of Pool Boy by Nikos Tsakalakos and Janet Allard, which NYU will produce in March at the Provincetown Playhouse in New York City.
A young singer-songwriter from New Jersey lands a job as a pool boy at the Hotel Bel-Air. Trying to parlay his interaction with celebrities into his own dreams of fame and fortune, he encounters people who see him only as a servant. As he learns “the game” and the lifestyle around him, he falls for the one other “real” thing poolside—a girl named April. Nick must choose between ambition and love—and struggle with how this fake, material world might even give him what he never knew he needed—something to write about.
NYU Steinhardt has been developing new musicals every spring for over 10 years now. Tell us a little about the program and its goals.
This facet of the NYU Steinhardt program [in Vocal Performance] is dedicated to working on shows that we feel we can help to the next phase of life in whatever way seems most beneficial to the specific project and writers. In some cases, we have provided a workshop-type experience with rewrites every day, the first chance for writers to see something out from behind music stands and “on its feet.” In other cases, the show has already had productions and we can offer the chance to implement any large changes the writers may want [...] in a low-pressure environment.
What benefits do the writers get from working with students?
Our students are in class every day asking questions about characters, analysis of songs as an actor, strong choices they can make, etc. Having that kind of critical and process-based thinking involved in the rehearsal room can only benefit the development process. Our students have also (hopefully!) not yet learned any of the political side of being an actor—it is as utopian a situation as one can expect with regard to the personalities in the room! We are also able to offer a long and luxurious (over 6 weeks) rehearsal process, which allows for constant exploration and experimentation in rehearsal and in the writing process.
How did you discover Pool Boy?
I have known and admired Niko’s work for years, and we have often talked about wanting to work on something together. I had heard a few songs from Pool Boy at a benefit for Barrington Stage a few years ago and fell in love with the music. I kept an eye on the development of the show since then…and actually had a former student from NYU Steinhardt (Jay Armstrong Johnson) play the lead in the Barrington production. I contacted Niko and Janet a few months ago to see what was happening with the show. Fortunately, they were eager to work together and continue to develop the piece, including rewrites since their production at Barrington.
What drew you to the show and how does it line up with your university population?
I was immediately drawn to the characters. They are heightened and wacky people—all surrounding a young person (the pool boy) who doesn’t even know the lesson he is supposed to be learning from them. I love the stylistic approach Niko and Janet have chosen to handle those characters. It is perfect for a university population. We try to encourage our students to make real, but bold and strong, dramatic choices in the work they are doing in class, and this show requires that kind of bold, fearless choices. As a Vocal Performance program, the vocal demands and excitement always help drive our choice of material, and our students can execute the kind of singing beautifully.
Why should your fellow members come see Pool Boy this March?
Whatever your experience with the show has been over the past few years, I can promise that this version will be quite different from previous incarnations and a very enjoyable evening of theatre. Also it’s a small cast, small band, unit set, etc., so it is quite able to be produced in any kind of theatre setting. I think it would be interesting to many of the member theatres to look at producing in your upcoming seasons.
Finally, who should people contact if they want tickets?
Tickets can be secured by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.