‘This Is Happening’: Penn State Alum Makes Broadway Debut
Penn State alum Jake Pedersen made his Broadway debut on March 16, playing Frankie Epps on the opening night of the award-winning, revived musical “Parade.”
“It’s finally like a moment where we all get to really recognize the work that we’ve all done and put in and just get to put a nice, pretty bow on it,” Pedersen said before his inaugural performance.
“There was this big moment where we entered the stage altogether as a company in silence and the audience is just laughing, clapping, all the things. It’s this loud event,” Pedersen continued. “That was a moment of like ‘oh my God, this is happening.'”
Amidst the jubilant chaos associated with reaching the pinnacle of any theatre kid’s dream, Pedersen reported feeling largely comfortable inside the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre — certainly excited, but never quite out of place.
“This is why I feel like a crazy person sometimes,” Pedersen said. “I haven’t felt like I can’t move, can’t breathe, nervous, and I think that’s a testament to the environment that the company has made around each other and the creative team has created in the room.”
Despite his current success, Pedersen’s path to New York wasn’t straightforward. Before making it to Broadway, the Nittany Lion was only accepted into just one musical theatre program as a high school senior.
And it wasn’t Penn State.
“I literally love Penn State so much,” Pedersen said. “But my journey there was crazy.”
Though the typical audience member might expect a Broadway actor’s training to begin from birth (or close to it), Pedersen’s most impactful moment in youth theatre came in sixth grade as he joined a high school production of “Les Misérables.”
“At that time, I was like ‘this type of production is Broadway,” Pedersen said.
Hooked, Pedersen found himself frequently working with the staff at Jeter Backyard Theater — a community theatre program in Pennsylvania. It was there that Pedersen connected with director Christie Jeter, who has had a lasting impact on the young artist.
“She kinda showed me the ropes for a lot of things and just opened my mind to what is possible in this world,” Pedersen said. “I kinda took it from there and went to school.”
After considering a foray into business or computer science like his twin brother, Pedersen was set on auditioning for theatre programs. Pedersen applied to six schools, with Penn State’s prestigious program right at the top.
“We always like to say over there that it’s harder to get in the musical theater program than it is on the football team,” Pedersen said. “I don’t know how true that is, but it might be a little true because there are only around 12 people per class usually.”
Ultimately, the initial news was not what he hoped for.
“I fully got waitlisted, had the waiting game,” Pedersen said. “I got completely confirmed and accepted on scholarship [to] a different school that was near to my hometown.”
“I don’t know if you’ve ever gotten one of those letters from Penn State, but it’s…you never feel great after those,” Pedersen continued.
Shortly after the initial disappointment, Pedersen received an email from John Simpkins, the head of Penn State’s musical theater program.
“I’d love to entertain putting Penn State back on your list,” the message read.
“I did a whole experience day, met [Simpkins] again… and I was offered acceptance then and there in person,” Pedersen said. “And I was like, ‘I have to go here.’ It’s a beautiful campus. It’s a beautiful program.”
Given Pedersen’s complex path to his alma mater, it’s no surprise his path to “Parade” was similarly interesting.
While on the second national tour of smash hit “Wicked,” Pedersen’s agent booked him an appointment with Parade’s creative team in New York. The only catch: Pedersen was currently set to perform a show date in Washington, D.C.
Still, Pedersen took a 4 a.m. train to New York and made his way to the work session.
“It was a wild experience because I was also a little sleep-deprived,” Pedersen said. “I did that whole work session. I then went on my train that same day and made it in time back to DC for the 7:00 show.”
The rest is history.
Since joining the show, it has been non-stop and hectic. For the first two weeks, Pedersen worked from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily before shifting into a steady slate of daily rehearsals and nightly performances.
“Now, we’re just in show mode,” Pedersen said. “It feels a little weird. I’m still getting used to the schedule and what that means.”
The Broadway production of “Parade” is currently scheduled to run through August 6.
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