Songs For A New World

NOVATO ACTOR RETURNS FROM BROADWAY

Jim Poulos Gives Back To The Place Where It All Started

Photo_1_-_Jim_Poulos-webFor Jim Poulos, life in the theater is a combination of continual preparation, patience and not letting any opportunity pass.  Mr. Poulos, a star on Broadway, native Marinite and San Marin High School alumnus is in Novato for four weeks to direct Songs for a New World, which opens Marin Summer Theater’s 2011 season and performs on July 8, 9, and 10 at San Marin High School.  July 7 is a limited seating “pay-what-you-will preview”.

 

Songs for a New World is a musical revue created from the songs of Jason Robert Brown, composer-lyricist of such critically acclaimed works such as Parade, The Last 5 Years and 13.  Brown’s songs take the audience from the deck of a 1492 Spanish sailing ship to a ledge of the 57th floor of a  Fifth Avenue penthouse to meet a startling array of characters. They range from a young man who believes that basketball is his ticket out of the ghetto to a woman whose dream of marrying rich lands her the man of her dreams but a soulless marriage.

For Mr. Poulos, the journey from Novato to Broadway was one of patience, preparation and talent.  After graduating from San Marin in 1990, Mr. Poulos attended Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA), an acting and technical theater training program in Santa Maria, CA.  Through contacts he made at PCPA, he was able to get jobs acting with small professional and semi-professional theaters up and down the California coast for the next five years.

In 1997, Mr. Poulos and his fiancé actress and stage director Melissa Rain Andersen (now his wife) were living with their parents between gigs. One day they were on their way out of town when he read about an open audition for the national touring company of the musical Rent;  Rent had opened on Broadway in 1996 and won a Tony Award for Best Musical and a Pulitzer Prize. Mr. Poulos had auditioned for Rent about 6 months earlier, but nothing had come of it.

Photo_2_-_Songs_Cast-webNot being one to let an opportunity slip by (regardless of how slim), Mr. Poulos and Miss Anderson turned the car around, grabbed their beach chairs and went down to the audition: open auditions are often referred to as “cattle calls” because anyone can tryout and there can be 1,000’s of people auditioning for one or two parts. The couple spent over 3 hours waiting in line for their shot.  Not unlike an American Idol audition, once inside Poulos was allowed to sing only 8 bars of music, or less than thirty seconds for two interns. He passed on to the next round, where he got to sing 16 bars of music for an assistant casting director.  Only after passing that round did Mr. Poulos find himself in front of the actual casting director. And Poulos was prepared: “I still had the script and music from when I auditioned before, and I had spent the prior six months working it so I would be ready if I got another chance” said Mr. Poulos. After two more grueling days of singing, dancing and acting for the casting director and the Rent production team, Mr. Poulos got a call on a Sunday morning telling him that he could have a “temporary” two month contract with the Broadway production: if he got on a plane to New York the next day. After talking with Miss Anderson and negotiating for one extra day, they decided to take the chance and flew to New York on Tuesday with just their suitcases.

One week later, with just two hours’ notice, and no rehearsal, Poulos was on stage as Gordon (a small featured role).  By the end of the month, Jim assumed the role of Squeege Guy, and only two months later, the role of Mark Cohen became available when the role’s originator, Anthony Rapp (who later starred in the film version) left the show. The producers offered the part to Mr. Poulos and for the next two and a half years, Mr. Poulos played Mark in the Broadway production, performing eight shows a week.

Asked how it felt to play the same role for over two years Mr. Poulos answered  “It was amazing, I really enjoyed the long run. The challenge was in how to stay present, and not turn into a robot.  But I loved the group of people I was working with.  Most all of the other actors were new to their roles in the show, and we did ad campaigns, television appearances, and billboards.  It was a very exciting time.”

Songs-J_Polus-4-webWhile he was appearing in Rent, Mr. Poulos stayed open to new opportunities.  “Even when you are working, you need to keep looking for that next project”.  So in late 2000 Mr. Poulos left the cast Rent to star in a new musical called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. “We had been doing readings and workshops of Tom Sawyer for over a year, and when we got word that Tom Sawyer would be produced on Broadway, I left Rent.”  Although it was risky to leave a successful show for a brand new show with an uncertain future, Mr. Poulos did so without hesitation, Mr. Poulos explained: “The opportunity to originate a role on Broadway is a big deal.  It is the dream of most professional actors.”

Unfortunately, the dream of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer did not last long.  The show closed in May 2001 after only 21 performances.  It received Tony Award nominations for Lighting and Scenic Design but it got lost in the tidal wave of press and awards given to another show that opened two weeks earlier, Mel Brooks’ The Producers.  “That is how it goes sometimes,” said Mr. Poulos.  “Without a Tony Award it is hard to draw an audience.”

Since then, Mr. Poulos has stayed very busy working nationally and internationally.  Across the country, he has been seen in the national touring productions of Little Shop of Horrors, The Graduate, and South Pacific, as well as regional theater productions including Amadeus, Urinetown, A Little Night Music, The Odd Couple, Lend Me A Tenor, and Nerds:// A Musical Software Satire.  He has worked with theater greats such as Hal Prince, Susan Stroman, Michael Greif, Jerry Zaks and Paul Gemignani. Miss Anderson had also has a successful career, appearing Off-Broadway and at Encores! City Center, which garnered her a cast recordings of Babes in Arms and Tenderlion. She is now directing shows across the country, and has episodes of Law & Order: SVU and Lipstick Jungle in syndication.  The couple has been able to work together on a number of occasions.

Photo_3_-_Jim_Poulus-Chris_Zander-webIt was MST’s executive producer Emily Gates who invited Mr. Poulos to work on Songs for a New World. When asked why a busy professional actor would come to Novato to direct a student summer stock production, Mr. Poulos offered two reasons.  “First of all, I was asked.  Emily Gates was my high school choir teacher and strongly encouraged me to pursue performing arts.  Secondly, it is an opportunity to direct, which is something I have wanted to do.”

Working with young actors is fun for Mr. Poulos. “I see myself in these kids, especially the ones that think of themselves more as athletes than actors.  Even though I was in choir and musicals, I did not get serious about performing until my Junior or Senior year in high school.”  It is also a chance to give something back. “Acting is a craft that is passed down from generation to generation.  You can’t learn it by reading about it, you have to watch and learn from your teachers.  That is how I learned.”

MST company member Skylar Collins (Graduate of MSA and currently at UC Davis) enjoys working with Mr. Poulos.  “Jim sets the bar high and teaches us methods to achieve those goals. Dedicated to telling the story, he's inspiring us to work hard and give our best performances.”

MST Company member Gena Madory said, "Working with Jim is an incredible learning experience.  The amount of time and effort spent on really feeling out every rhythm, sound, word, and motivation in the piece is giving the cast an invaluable glimpse into what it's like to work in the professional world.  We are so lucky to have Jim as our director!"

“Jim’s experience and tips about how things work in professional theater are really interesting,” said company member Rae Davoren (Graduate of San Marin and currently at Oklahoma City University) .  “I think they will help in the future and he has really helped me improve my performance”

“Jim is the only vocal coach I’ve ever had,” said company member Fernando Siu (Graduate of Terra Linda and currently at College of Marin).  “He gets into singing technique, words, everything.  He is passionate while being super nice at the same time.  He knows what he is talking about.”

Songs-J_Polus-5-webFor Mr. Poulos, the lessons he wants to convey are simple to describe, difficult to achieve.  “Preparation is everything.  With enough preparation you can forget everything, and be present for the audience.  The audience wants to watch a performer relate to someone or something.  They don’t want to watch the performer ‘act’.  A program like Marin Summer Theater teaches an actor to go with their first, best instincts, and not over-think what they are doing on stage. “

After Songs for a New World, MST will present Once in a Lifetime on July 14, 15, 16, 17.  A comedy by Kaufman and Hart (You Can’t Take it With You, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Merrily We Roll Along), Once in a Lifetime is a knockout satiric tale of three on-the-skids vaudeville troupers who decide to head for Hollywood and try their luck at the newest craze: "talkies".   There they find absurd Hollywood starlets, insane movie studio executives, crazy gossip columnists, desperate cigarette girls, dim-witted stage mothers and jaded studio hands.  This gem is a wild send-up of the excesses of the movie business before it was the movie business. 

West Side Story will close the MST 2011 season on July 28, 29, 30 and 31.  A landmark Broadway musical and one of the theatre’s finest accomplishments, West Side Story is Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is transported to modern-day New York City as two young idealistic lovers find themselves caught between warring street gangs, the “American” Jets and the Puerto Rican Sharks. Their struggle to survive in a world of hate, violence and prejudice is one of our time’s most innovative, heart-wrenching and relevant musical dramas.

Tickets for all MST performances ($15 for adults and $10 for students and seniors) can be purchased online at MarinSummerTheater.org and at the San Marin High School front office.  Performance times for Songs for A New World are 8pm on July 7, 8 & 9 and at 2pm on July 10.  All performances are at the at the Emily Gates Student Center at San Marin High School in Novato.

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About Marin Summer Theater

Marin Summer Theater (MST) is an award winning non-profit theater company for students of performing arts between the ages of 13 and 23. The MST company prepares and presents three fully-staged productions in a six-week summer season. MST's mission is threefold: To present exciting, professional quality drama, musical theater and musical revue productions; to keep tuition as low as possible so that cost is not a barrier to participation; to create a diverse company of college and high school students.

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