New Works In Progress: NEXT THING YOU KNOW

An interview with John Simpkins, Artistic Director, of TriArts Sharon Playhouse as they prepare to produce Next Thing You Know, by Fest Alumni Joshua Salzman and Ryan Cunningham (both, Fest ’05-I Love You Because). Next Thing You Know was developed at CAP21 thanks to a Project Development Grant from our National Fund for New Musicals.
Next Thing You Know is the story of fourNew Yorkers as they laugh, love and drink their way through the big questions that face all young dreamers who wake up in the city that never sleeps. Does marrying a really nice guy mean you’re settling down or just settling? Does taking a nine-to-five equal giving up or growing up? Does a decade in the city break you down or break you in?

Sharon Playhouse has recently embarked on presenting new musicals. Why do you think it is important for your theatre to present pre-existing shows alongside new musicals during your summer season? 
Part of our mission at the Sharon Playhouse is to celebrate and nurture emerging as well as established artists. We are excited to add writers and new musicals to this focus. It is our hope that we can begin commissioning new works in addition to presenting new musicals that have already been in development and might be looking for further development and/or productions.

You have a long history with Next Thing You Know starting with directing the first workshop of it back in 2007. How has the show changed since that first presentation at NYU Steinhardt? 
We did the first workshop presentation of the show in October 2007, with some of my students at NYU Steinhardt. At the time, it was a collection of songs without a specific book—all centered around the time in one’s life where the dreams and plans you make as a young 20-something aren’t necessarily turning out the way you thought. The show always felt like it was wanting a stronger and more specific structure to these songs that seemed to really speak to people. Ryan and Josh went back and began to add a book to surround the songs. All three of us were initially suspicious of this exercise—thinking it might feel ultimately

“tacked on”—but as we worked and had other developmental opportunities (AMTP at Northwestern, Ars Nova, Cap 21, Berkshire Theatre Festival), we realized that we were on to something that was really working for the piece. We found that these four cast members could function as a microcosm of any number of other people going through these same basic problems—and, like any show, the more specific we got with our four characters, the more universal the thematic applications would become.

You worked with the writers on putting together a cast album of the show. Why was it important to you and the writers to get this show on the record and out in to the world? 
Ryan Cunningham and Joshua Salzman’s terrific songs were always the origin of this piece—and they seemed to speak to everyone that heard them. We started hearing young singers use them for auditions, concert nights, cabarets, etc., and we were very excited about the chance to record the album as a way of preserving the work. As a quirky “off the beaten path” kind of show, we also felt it was important to get a well-produced album together in order to continue to seek out developmental opportunities and have other theatres get excited about producing the show. It’s a terrific calling card for the piece.

Are there any planned changes for your upcoming production?
Definitely—I think there is always a chance to make a show better and this is no exception. A theatre company in London just did a production this spring, and we learned quite a bit from that experience. None of us was directly involved in the production—so we were able to see it with fresh eyes and are working on some changes for the Sharon production.

Why is Next Thing You Know a great match for your theatre at this time? 
Next Thing You Know will be our first musical in a brand newperformance space we are dedicating this summer. It’s an intimate theatre (99 seats compared to our mainstage space that seats 365) and will be perfect for chamber-type musicals like this one. I also think our audiences will respond to the nostalgic aspect of the show–of a particular time in life where people are struggling with how to modify the dreams of youth. And, as with any Ryan Cunningham book, it is hilariously funny and dares to verbalize things that usually remain unsaid! The physical production will be perfect for our new space and I can’t think of a better way to dedicate our new theatre than with a show I’ve been proud to work on for many years.

Why should people head up to Sharon, CT this summer to catch Next Thing You Know?
There is something very special happening at the Sharon Playhouse. We are a growing company with a firm commitment to the artists that we choose to surround ourselves with. We would love very much to begin to share our new works with the larger theatre community. Next Thing You Know features a cast of four talented performers accompanied by a three-piece band. This is a perfect show for any theatre’s small performance slot or second space production opportunity. We’d love to have you see our production and think about a way it might be programmed at other NAMT theatres in coming seasons.

For more information about Next Thing You Know, please visit or

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