Conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe Class of 1992.
Hosted by Will Bachman.

Episode: 94

Jeanne Simpson, Actor/Choreographer/Director/Teacher

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Show notes

Jeanne Simpson moved to New York after graduating. She started doing day jobs in New York City to make ends meet while attending free dance classes, which allowed her to continue her training without having to pay for grad school. She eventually joined the American Isadora Dance Company, a modern company.


Beginning a Career in the Performing Arts

Jeanne began her acting career at HB Studios, where she was given a scholarship and studied under Austin Pendleton, a talented teacher who taught the advanced Acting Program at HB. She worked with other amazing actors and learned to choreograph scenes with them. This experience led her to work on original college shows and she choreographed for various shows. In addition to acting, she also taught at a dance studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn, before being offered her first professional choreography job where she choreographed a birthday cake song for a series on Nickelodeon and was subsequently hired for the series. This was her first professional choreography job which led to several others on films.


A Volunteer in Performing Arts Programs

Jeanne started volunteering at the 52nd Street Project in New York, which takes kids from Hell’s Kitchen and lets them experience the transformative power of theater. They take them out of town to enjoy nature and rehearse plays with the kids, then perform the plays in Hell’s Kitchen. This experience continues to inspire her belief that the performing arts can change lives, even if it doesn’t lead to acting or dance. Jeanne has continued to work with the 52nd Street Project. Her experiences in the performing arts have had a profound impact on her life and she continues to inspire others to pursue their passions in the performing arts.


Working in Television and Film

She worked on a show called Wishbone, which was shooting in Texas. After leaving Wishbone, she returned to New York where she ended up doing more choreography jobs, and acting jobs, and getting married. She and her husband moved from New York to Los Angeles and Jeanne jobs teaching dance and theater, and worked for Princeton Review and IV West. She auditioned for Tim Robbins Actors Gang, a theater company, she worked there and eventually choreographed for the Grand Guignol company. Then she started auditioning for television and found an agent with Avalon Artists Group. Jeanne earned parts on several TV shows, including Madman, Parks and Rec, and How to Get Away with Murder. The couple moved to Valley Village, where they still live today, and they had a second child, Vivian. 


Arts Programs and Community Theater

She started working with a community arts theater, an all-inclusive arts program that offers various classes and activities for children. She started a camp called Make Them Laugh classic comedy camp with her husband and another comedy writer, introducing classic comedy to a new generation of kids. She later taught at Berklee School, where she teaches improv and has directed at Harvard. She also teaches a dance class at Evolution Dance Studios called Big Shots. She is currently directing a production of Anything Gos with four or five and six-year-olds, and she has also choreographed a rock opera movie musical called The Promise. While she still auditions, Jeanne also tutors kids on their essays to get into schools, which has become an accidental side business. Their house is like Grand Central Station, filled with people of all ages, which they love. The journey has been a rollercoaster ride, but she is grateful for the opportunities it brings.


Pursuing Acting and Choreography

Jeanne discusses her experiences as an in-school ambassador for the National Young Arts Foundation and how she started dancing at age five and how her mother helped and inspired her. She talks about the different modes of acting, acting, dancing, teaching, and choreography. Acting and choreography are the two that bring the most happiness, as they allow them to be present and happy. Directing drives her insane, but as an actor and choreographer, she can let go and be present. Choreography is also fun because it allows her to share her vision with others, and learn from others, creating a collaborative experience.


A Choreographer’s Process

As a choreographer, Jeanne starts with the story, which is essential for their dances to convey something and then, of course, the music. She also considers the style of dance, the capabilities of her dancers, and their potential. She then develops steps that grow out of this story, making it easier to remember. Jeanne shares the example of her Saturday morning class routine. Jeanne also discusses her process and how choreographers keep their thoughts straight in their heads. She uses choreographers notation, which is mainly used as a step notation, but she also writes down the story when she does a piece. 


The Importance of Relationships in the Performing Arts

Jeanne shares her experiences with relationships in the performing arts industry, highlighting the importance of connections and connections in her life. She shares stories of various projects and connections, such as working on a Broadway musical project called Three, where she was hired to choreograph one of the shows and supervise all others. This experience led to her becoming part of a larger community of artists, which eventually led to other jobs or volunteer opportunities. She also mentions her involvement in a community theater that taught children at a public elementary school, where she taught and was recommended by a vocal coach for her kids.


Influential Harvard Professors and Courses

Jeanne credits James Davis, her sociology professor, for her interest in studying people and trends. Davis was supportive and kind, attending every play and dance concert she performed. She also mentions Arthur Holmberg and Jian Guo, who was a mentor, where she learned about professional theater companies. She also mentions Jane Nichols,  an adjunct professor and acting teacher who Jeanne is still in touch with.



10:07 Career, marriage, and TV show experiences

17:07 Career, family, and art

20:13 Career transitions and passions with a former Broadway performer

26:04 Art, dance, and theater with a passionate artist

31:16 Choreography process and creativity

34:05 Choreography and dance notation

40:06 Career connections and networking

45:18 The challenges of pursuing a career in the performing arts

47:19 Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and its hosts, Adam Felber and Paula Poundstone 

53:28 Arts career and education with a guest speaker





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  1. Jeanne Simpson


Will Bachman, Jeanne Simpson


Will Bachman  00:00

Say, Hello, and welcome to the 90 T report conversations with members of the Harvard and Radcliffe class of 92. And occasionally a dog in the background. I’m Will Bachman. And I’m so happy to be here today with my friend, Jeannie Simpson. Jeannie. Welcome to the show.


Jeanne Simpson  00:17

Hi, well, thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here and talk to you after all these years. And your show is so great. Thank you for doing it and connecting our amazing class, I feel so honored to be a part of of the 90 tours.


Will Bachman  00:34

Thank you. So tell me about your journey since graduating from Harvard.


Jeanne Simpson  00:39

Wow. After I graduated, I moved to New York. And I was a little bit naive, because, you know, I was at Harvard, I was primarily involved in theater and dance. And that was my whole world. And what I wanted to do, and the good news is that, you know, that’s exactly what I’ve done. But the journey was not quite what I expected it would be to get to get to the place where I get to make my living as an artist, because I sort of came to Harvard, I was maybe one of the few kids or maybe not that had never even visited Harvard when I arrived my first day, because I came from a family that was not very wealthy. And so I did not graduate with a ton of resources, or connections in the business I was going into. So I you know, had a stack of loan papers, I was totally like a, you know, scholarship and financial aid kid. And then I wanted to be an actor, and a dancer and a choreographer, and didn’t really have any connections in the that world, either. So I came to New York and literally, almost starved, you know, I think I thought that like it would be like the 40s. And I would go to like an open call and be discovered and a paper would spin, you know, on the subway and be like, Simpson arrives in New York City, you know, young Broadway star, and a hooker and I would, you know, tap dance outside someone’s door, and they would give me a job, you know, but that it turns out did not happen. But, but, but what happened was kind of better. So I went to New York City, and I miraculously got someone to give me an apartment, which was hilarious, and started doing tons of little day jobs. And then I started to, I knew I needed to continue my training, but I couldn’t really afford to go to grad school. So I came up with some kind of fun hacks, I guess, that I would recommend to, to younger folks today. If you want to take a dance class every day, but you can’t afford to go to dance class, it turns out that the auditions for dance companies and Broadway shows are in the form of dance classes. So what I would do is I would go through backstage, and I would see oh, there’s you know, an open call audition today 11, or whatever. So I would go to the open call. And even if I wasn’t good enough to make it all the way to the end to get cast, what they did is they would make cuts after the beginning of the class, the warm up cuts in the middle make cuts, you know, so I would make it I was I knew I was gonna have to make it pretty much at the end of class. So I would get a free dance class. So I would like chart my week and I would get backstage and I was like, Oh, great, well, okay, I can go to this modern dance company, you know, audition, and then a ballet company audition class, and then a Broadway that so I, I had all this amazing, you know, I get to take class with all these amazing people for free. And I would, you know, I wouldn’t get tapped out to the end. So I would be like, so happy. And then one day, I didn’t get tapped out. And I ended up in a modern company called the American Isidora Dance Company. And I


Will Bachman  03:52

was like, Oh my gosh, I just wanted to frequently want


Jeanne Simpson  03:56

to be in this company, like paid two cents a week and it was like really time consuming. But, but I was it was hilarious. So I did that for a little bit. And then I studied at HB studios. I had always been a big fan of Gouda Haagen, so I went to HP and I couldn’t really afford their program. But they gave me a scholarship, I auditioned and got into their advanced Acting Program with Austin Pendleton. And he was just the most amazing teacher and I would get him basically three meals during our class. That was my job. That’s how I paid for my acting class. Because our class went on for like four or five hours. It was this crazy, intense scene study. You know, he was like this guru and everybody rightly so worshipped Him. And I would get him a you know, soft boiled egg in the morning and I would get him. I knew his snack order and his lunch order and it was very specific and I had to deliver it right. And the moment I would leave class and go get it and it was just hilarious, but I’m so grateful because I got to study with him. And there were just all these other amazing actors in the class and I got to watch them. Working, do scenes with them. So that was really cool and fun. And then I saw another ad in backstage for a choreography job at Princeton University for the triangle club to choreograph their show, which was kind of like their Hasty Pudding. And I applied and I ended up getting that. And then that led to the mask and wig club. And so I became an expert at choreographing all male Ivy League drag kick lines, which which I know is gonna come back someday and help me I’m still waiting. But, but it was really fun at the time, it was so fun. And the the kids at the schools were just so great and sweet. And it was so fun to work on those original, you know, college shows, and choreograph those shows. And then my, I think, my my sister’s boyfriend, ex boyfriend, did the music for a show called Blue’s Clues. They were starting up on Nickelodeon. And he called me out of the blue one day and was like I, we really need to query I prefer to do this birthday cake song. And I know you’ve taught little kids because one of my, my immediate day jobs was teaching at a dance studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn. And I was like, Oh, that would be great. So I like I literally, like threw all my clothes and ran over to the Viacom building back then. And they were like, Okay, make up a birthday cake song, you know. And I was like, Okay, and so they ended up hiring me for the birthday cake song. And then for this series, which was really fun. And I had so much fun. And that was my first big professional choreography job. And it was great, because I choreograph the human, who was Steve burns at the time. And then Donovan Pat later, who actually lives in my neighborhood, and these kids go to school with my kids, which is really fun. But at the time, I don’t know if you know, the show, it was like a 2d animation show. And so they would have me dance like dance like a salt shaker dance, like a side table drawer dancing. So they actually would film me dancing as every character in the, the song or the scene. And then the I worked with the animators, it was really fun on a green screen, then they would take me and then they would turn me into, you know, a shovel and a pail. So it was really cool. It was so fun. And then as a joke at some of the like, cast, you know, parties, they would show me and then show that, you know, whatever, Michelle. Okay, so it was really, it was really fun. It was a great group of people. And that led to some more choreography work. A movie called dumped in a movie called man of the century, and I started volunteering at a great place called the 52nd Street project in New York, that basically takes kids from Hell’s Kitchen, and gives them a chance to write plays, and be in plays and experience sort of the transformative power of theater. They, they take the kids out of town, and because a lot of the kids in, in this neighborhood have just grown up in sort of an urban environment. And they’ve never been, you know, outside really to play at all. And they’ve never seen like swim in a lake, or they’ve never gotten to like climb a tree. And so they take the kids out for a whole week to these beautiful locations in Pennsylvania and upstate New York, and let them like, enjoy nature. And at the same time, every day, you rehearse the play with the kids, and then you come back and perform it in Hell’s Kitchen. And so I started doing that, probably, pretty soon once I moved to New York and kept doing that, just as a volunteer thing, but it was so great. And it really sort of led to an amazing community. And it was just wonderful to see that something that I still believe today and that I still watch happen all the time, which is that the performing arts really do, you know, change lives. Even if it’s not, you know, even if someone isn’t going to become an actor or a writer, dancer, just the the experience of being in a play is just it has sort of a magical effects on especially on on kids, you know, and helps them in all sorts of aspects of their life. So that was really transformative was getting to work with a 52nd Street project and I’m still in touch with them, which is awesome. And then I was in I was in a production of tough nights, which actually had a bunch of AR T kids so not are not Harvard kids. But the the year that we graduated, my my sister was graduating from AR T, which was awesome. And so a lot she wasn’t in the show, but a lot of her contemporaries were in the show and got me an audition, and I played festy the clown and the only reason why that’s important is because my husband came to see the show in New York. So some friends Instead of invited Adam Felber, who I ended up marrying eight years later to see this show. And he came and we just connected immediately after the show it was. So it was one of those like love at first sight, crazy things. And then I left the next day to go do a show called wishbone, which my sister had created. And they were shooting it in Texas, which is where I’m from Oklahoma and Texas. And so I left and I was so sad because I had met this amazing person. And now, you know, I was convinced that I would never find him again. So I got in touch with my friend. And this was before, you know, the internet and texting and all that stuff. And said, you know, you invited this great guy, what was his name, and his name is Adam Felber. But I wrote him an actual letter as Adam Ferber because I miss her the name, but I got his home address. And so he gets this just like random letter from me in the mail that he’s doing this person who I met once. But he obviously felt the same way. And he wrote back, and then we just wrote these long letters, which we still have, like, you know, just pages and pages of handwriting, back and forth while I was doing wishbone in Texas. And he was in New York, and he’s a comedy writer. And at the time, he was doing a bunch of improv comedy and sketch comedy, and trying to get writing jobs and all that. So it was, I’m so grateful that I got to do that. Production of tough night, even though it was not a great production. But it but it led me Dad, I’m so I’m so grateful. And then. So we wrote letters, and I came to do wishbone. And wishbone was so much fun, because we got to introduce classic works of literature to kids all over the world, you know, through this dog, because the concept of the show, it was for kids on PBS, and it was a dog who imagined himself as the hero of different classic works of literature. And my sister who’s a genius, my older sister, Stephanie, created the show. And that’s how I got an audition for the show. And I got to be Juliet and Joan of Arc, and all these just, you know, dreamy characters as an actor. And but of course, I’m playing an opposite of a Jack Russell Terrier, who’s in a costume. So it was, it was a wild experience. And the dog, you know, who was the star of the show was hilarious. His name was soccer and he was a dog from LA that got you know, flown back to LA to go to the dentist and got like, it was totally pampered had three trailers, he had a stunt dog named spike who would like go in water and fly because he didn’t want to do get his paws wet, messy. And he was just such a sweet dog. But he it was so funny, because we did the show, it probably took two years, I guess to film more than 40 episodes. And he, every time he hit his mark, he got a treat. So he started getting bigger and bigger. And it was like a Marlon Brando situation like the costumes wouldn’t fit him. And like it was hilarious. And so finally, they were like, we have to take a break, you know, for a month and just slim him down. And it was just so funny. It’s just like things you never think of you know, and like the the trainer was under my skirt up on the balcony, like to just get him to look at me the whole time when we were supposedly doing, you know, the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. So anyway, it was just, you know, so many silly and fun things. But that was a great experience. And then that was over. And because I didn’t have an agent when I got that job or anything. And it was in Texas, it wasn’t in New York or LA. I came back to New York, and it was kind of like, you know, starting over again. So, but I but now I, you know, had met Adam and our relationship took off. And that was super awesome. And so I ended up doing more choreography, jobs and more little acting jobs. And then he and we got married in in Times Square at the Firebird, which was a restaurant on 46th Street that was owned by the Russian Tea Room, folks. And we saved up for like eight years. And also I made him do like a 10 minute dance. So people who came to our wedding were like, Oh, now we see why you’re engaged for eight years because Adam had to learn that dance. It was like insane. I made him like really, you know, lift me over my head, his head and all this stuff. But he was he’s such an amazing man. I’m so just grateful that he’s been on this journey with me the whole time and he started to get more jobs. He still does a show called wait wait, don’t tell me on NPR, which has been a big part of our life. All these years.


Will Bachman  14:41

He’s on wait, wait. Oh my gosh.


Jeanne Simpson  14:44

He’s been on Wait Wait since the beginning. So like Carl Cassell married us who, you know used to. Yeah, before he passed away. He was just a really big part of our life so sweet and like a grandfather to us and then Peter Siegel’s daughters were our flower girls that are. So yeah, so he’s been on Wait, wait for years. And then he got a job writing for realtime with Omar. So we moved from New York where we, he grew up there. And I had been there since college except for the little wishbone detour to Texas and we moved to Los Angeles. So we started out in West Hollywood, and in mo rock is apartment. Mo, I forgot to say that in New York, Mo lived across the street from my sister and myself for many years, and we would actually pool our resources to get groceries. So we would go to Christie’s together and shop every week, and then we would split up the food and it was hilarious. These were the very early days. So we Moe had an apartment in LA that he had been subletting and he kicked out a subletter so that Adam and I could live there, which was so nice. So we, when we moved here, we moved into that apartment, and sort of started a new chapter in Los Angeles. And as soon as soon as we got here, actually, that he didn’t come out to write for real time, he came out to write for a show on Spike TV, which was a network that has gone away since but John Henson had a show on Spike TV and he was supposed to be the head writer, we were so excited. We moved our whole life out here. And, and then this, like, probably the second day, we were here, the show got canceled. And we’re like, Okay, now we’re, we’re trapped here in LA with our cat and our life and we can’t go there was one uh, yeah, it was a little bit, you know, scary. But we’re like, okay, you know, let’s, let’s regroup. We’ll make it happen. So, yeah, so I had all kinds of little jobs. I taught dance again, I taught theater to kids, I did work for Princeton Review and IV West. And you know, and we just built stuff back up. And then eventually, he got the job on real time, which was a real game changer for our family. It was so great. And we moved to a bigger apartment and we had health insurance and I got pregnant with my son bass, who is turning 16 today. This is his birthday. He’s sleeping right now. So, so exciting. But yeah, so we were excited to start a family and then the the, the day that basically we moved into our new fancy apartment and I was pregnant and everything, the first writer strike happened so he couldn’t go to work real time. So this is just part of my cautionary tale for artists, but you can survive it is what I’m saying you can and you will. So it was a little bit more freaked out. But we survived that which was awesome. I had started working, I had auditioned for the actors gang, Tim Robbins actors gang, which is a theatre company that’s out here in Los Angeles, and had started working with them a little bit and that led to choreographing for a company called the Grand Guignol, which is a really neat company that does an Italian tradition of comedy horror, sort of like comedy del arte, but there’s a horror aspect to it. And so I had started choreographing for them. And then I started auditioning, and for TV stuff, which I had only done wishbone as far as TV. But I was very lucky. I got an agent, small agent, who I’m still with who I love, called Avalon artists group. And I got a little part on madman got to do like three or four episodes. And same with Parks and Rec and got to be in huntin Cleveland, How to Get Away with Murder. So a lot of fun shows, just as you know, I got to be in like three or four episodes of madmen and Parks and Rec and the rest. It was just, you know, lots of of one time appearances, but just so much fun and getting to learn so much and meet so many, you know, really brilliant performers and actors. And the strike ended and Adam went back to work. And yeah, and so we had bass, which was so exciting. And then we moved into a new neighborhood called Valley village, which is where we still live today. And we knew we wanted to have a second child. So then I got pregnant and had Vivian so we have a boy and a girl. Vivian is 11 now and as a 16. And they’re both just we just got really lucky because they’re just awesome. Easy, you know, sweet, fun kids. And we said to them, like no drugs, no motorcycles, no, you know, performing arts and of course they’re both going to be actors and writers and singer so at least two out of three. I mean, one out of 31 and three we got so far. But yeah, and I started working with the theater in the community called village aren’t See, which is an a community art center here in the neighborhood that we live in. And it’s really fun and it just has an all inclusive arts program no kid has ever turned away. And they do play. So I’ll direct plays for them. They have, you know, classes in dance classes in acting, comedy, sketch writing. They have painting, ceramics, you know, everything. It’s just so lovely. And it’s right here in our community. And through them, I started a thing called make them laugh classic comedy camp with my husband and another comedy writer that he met on a show. And that has been really fun because we’ve gotten to introduce sort of classic comedy to a new generation of kids. So we show them you know, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, we teach them how to put a pie in each other’s faces, how to do spit takes and pratfalls and you know, it’s really fun. And so that’s been a joy. And then I got a job teaching recently at the Berklee School. So I’m teaching full time it’s a private high school here and running their middle school theater department and teaching improv and their upper school and I’m directing your good man Charlie Brown right now there which is so fun. And I directed at Harvard with with Mo Rocca and Mary Dixie Carter, who’s been on your show and faith say Lee and Richard Claflin and Zara year and Glen Kaiser and Adam Guyer. I think that was our cast. And I so I choreographed it in Elliott House courtyard, and now I’m directing it with my Buckley kids. So come, it’s all come full circle. And yeah, so I’m still doing like, all the same things. I teach a dance class at evolution dance studios on Saturday morning, for it’s called Big shots a we call ourselves because it’s a bunch of people who used to make their living as dancers, many of them on Broadway that are moms that are retired, and we just miss dancing. And so I started this class, and it’s become just a wonderful outlet for all of us. And it’s a Broadway dance class. Anyone in LA is welcome to come Saturdays nine to 1030. At evolution, dance studios, you don’t need to be a professional dancer. It’s just fun. Every week we do choreography from a different show. And it’s, it’s, it’s a real joy. So I do that I am currently directing a production of anything goes with four or five and six year olds, because that’s the village arts, I’m still connected with them. So my week, like for example, last week, I’ll have rehearsal with my little babies doing anything goes which is hilarious. In and of itself. I’ll have my you know, dance class with my grownups. I have my middle school and high school kids and Buckley and their rehearsals. And then I choreographed last week I had another job I choreographed a rock opera movie musical, called the promise by this, this band called Globus. They do a lot of music for trailers, whenever you see a trailer for a movie, and there’s like an overwrought, amazing score that like makes your heart pound, that’s them. But they actually have their own fee look on Wikipedia, they have their own songs, and they want to put out an album. And so they wanted to do something really fun to release it, which was to create this sort of movie musical rock opera, sort of in the, you know, style of Queen and a bunch of very, you know, dramatic storytelling songs. And so they did it, which is amazing. And they call it they hired me, to choreograph it. So I was like, last week, I would go to school and work and then I would at seven to 1130 or 12 Go and and choreograph this rock opera. And so that’s just kind of, you know, and then I still audition, I got an audition last week for a show called shrinking. And so I’ll still take time off from teaching to go and do you know, an acting job. Here are there and I do a lot of I’ve done some plays in LA, which has been really fun. They actually have a pretty thriving theatre community, which was really fun to discover. So and I also tutor kids for S on their essays to get into schools, which is just it was sort of an accidental side business. I just volunteered to do it for a friend and she told another friend and now I’ve got, you know, like 20 kids a year that I’ll help. So it’s that’s really fun. Because Harvard was such a great experience for me and so I love helping kids, you know, find their, their collegiate home. So that is, that’s kind of the journey. So we have we live in Valley village. We have two kids. Adam is still a comedy writer. Now he’s written novels and film and TV and does the radio show still. And we have two cats, a dog and my parents, both my parents lived with me. Starting two years ago, my dad passed away. So now I just have my mom and her care worker. And we’re, yeah, and we’re all here together. And so it’s a, it’s our house is kind of like Grand Central Station, because we have just tons of crazy people in and out of all ages, which is exactly what we, what we love, you know. And the whole, I would say the journey has kind of been and continues to be just sort of like, you know, monkey bars just like swinging from one from one, you know, experience to the next. And I never thought that’s what it would be. But I’m actually I love it. You know, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I just, you know, I don’t I just I hope that the monkey bars never end. We’ll just keep going. So yeah, so that’s kind of the that’s been my journey. So far.


Will Bachman  26:05

If I recall correctly, you were a presidential scholar of the arts in. And so yes, this has been a, like driving theme and force in your life since an early age.


Jeanne Simpson  26:25

Yes, absolutely. And in fact, I got to work for the National Young Arts Foundation, which is the, the the arts part of presidential scholar, as an in school ambassador. Before COVID, I would go into schools and give presentations to kids and encourage them and help them to apply especially in sort of public schools that didn’t know about the program and didn’t know about the possibilities. Because I’m so the Yeah, I started, I was so lucky. So my mom was a theater teacher herself. So I’m kind of carrying on her legacy. And I started doing plays with her when I was three years old. And then started dancing when I was five. And there was no good dance studio in our little town, Oklahoma. So my mom drove me to Oklahoma City to study with this amazing ballerina called Yvonne Shoto, who had retired in Oklahoma, she is one of the five Native American ballerinas with Maria Tallchief. And it’s, she’s, you know, a Nash, she’s been named a National Treasure, which is neat, and I got to start my dance journey with her. So I’ve, and through the years, my mom’s students, just cuz she taught same as me, she taught, you know, elementary, all the way through college, will find me on Facebook and say, your mom, you know, changed my life. And I was in this player, I was in this class, or this and that, and it’s just been so amazing to get to, you know, pass those messages on to my mom, and some of these kids, she doesn’t even remember, you know, because she’s taught so many through the years and directed so many productions, both at colleges, communities, and high schools, middle schools, in Oklahoma. And so I just have seen, you know, that theater can really help, you know, people reach their potential, and, and be better humans. And, also, of course, be artists, if that’s what they want to be. And so I just am so glad that I’ve gotten to, you know, sort of do the same thing with my life. And I mean, you know, hopefully, I’ll just get to keep doing it.


Will Bachman  28:36

So you have so many different modes, you’re, you’re directing, you’re acting, you’re dancing, you’re teaching, you’re doing choreography, or is there one of those that makes you come alive more than the others? Or do they make you come alive in different ways? You


Jeanne Simpson  28:57

said, that’s such a good question. It’s such a great question. Yeah, they definitely use different parts of my brain and my soul. So I really, really, it’s so funny. Acting is probably the thing that acting and and choreographing those two are probably the things that made me the happiest, and when I feel the most present and alive, and everything else falls away. Those two things, directing drives me insane, which is why I will never be just a director because I can’t ever stop thinking about how to make it better. You know, I just I’m like, oh, gosh, I should have done this. I need to do that, if I help that, or if I can fix that. And so I just, I’m not the type of personality that should be doing, you know, a lot of beyond. Because I can’t like I can’t sleep in. I’m thinking of how I need to fix it and make it better, but as an actor and somehow as a choreographer, even though choreography is very close to directing I’m able to let that go and just be present. And it just makes me so happy. And the choreography piece is so fun because all I get to, you know, envision something in my head and then put it on other people and watch them just make it so much better, you know. And then there’s that dialogue that goes back and forth, because I’ll discover movement or something that I didn’t even think of when I see it on the dancers. And so then it becomes this great sort of back and forth experience collaborative experience.


Will Bachman  30:33

I curious about choreography. So acting, I can at least imagine what an actor would do. I mean, I not an actor, but I can imagine it right. Like, okay, you sort of try to put yourself in the mode of that person. And, you know, but choreography, talk to me a little bit about what goes on in your brain when you’re doing that, is it kind of this very intuitive thing where it’s just, or is it very formal and methodical, like, Okay, I’m going to use this sort of, you know, approach and this technique, and it’s going to be more belay, or more jazz or more modern. And so talk about what’s going on in your brain as your look,


Jeanne Simpson  31:12

the coolest thing about it is that there, there are all these moving parts. So you start with, I start with two things, one is always the story. Because I’m, I’m always storytelling with my dance, so I can’t really do a dance unless there’s a story to be told or, or a character that needs to, you know, convey something. So I can’t do just abstract dance, that’s just that doesn’t work. For me. Even if the audience doesn’t know the story that I’m telling, by watching the piece, I have to know you know what story it is. And then after I have that, and then the piece of music is the music is everything, then sort of, I start by just listening to the music so much that I could you know, hum it, sing it in my sleep, drive my family crazy by hearing, you know, this music over and over. And so you try to just live inside the music, and then bring that story to live inside that music. And then you get like, well, what style of dance, you know, is it going to be? And what are the sort of the capabilities that my dancers do they have certain either tricks that I know they can do that I need them to do. They bring a certain emotional import to their movements or musicality that I can exploit, you know, that I can use. And so it goes story music, people, you know, who is going to be in this piece and what, what is their potential, and then, and then it gets very practical, because it then it turns into steps, you know, that grow out of that, but I never I’m not a dancer who starts with steps. And I don’t respond to choreography, that is just steps. For me, it doesn’t do anything, I even find it hard to remember. And one nice thing is I’ve had dancers so your choreography is so easy to remember because I’ll tell them the story of it first, and then I’ll teach you know, then the steps and who’s doing what, where and the the image that we’re trying to create. And that really helps. Okay,


Will Bachman  33:20

I got to interrupt, pretend, pretend that I’m one of your dancers. For any one of the things you’ve choreographed, like talk to tell us now as if you’re telling the story for one of your dances.


Jeanne Simpson  33:34

So this is one that I just did with my Saturday morning class, because what I do is I’ll take Broadway numbers and music and I’ll record a graphic for you know, the my class. And so, for example, I took the number from Chicago, razzle dazzle and I reimagined it I started with the story. So for me the story was, and this is what I tell my class. Someone goes into an old theater, probably in the Catskills, and they turn on the lights. And they discovered this old Marionette puppet theater that’s like covered in dust. And the puppets are really scary. And they’re like really overdone women with like little, you know, circles on their cheeks of bright red and like really short little outfits to like, almost like two twos or, you know, but sort of 62 twos and they’re they’re marionettes and they’re all slumped over and then they they flick a little light in this puppet theater and it turns out it’s an animatronic Marionette situation, and it comes to life and the the fuzzy puppets come to life. And there’s they haven’t been turned on in years. And so they do this very mechanical. You A Marionette slash fossi movement that they have clearly been programmed to do, you know, there’s no puppeteer up there. But they do have strings and everything. It’s it’s completely mechanized. And then when it’s time to return, you know, for their big finished pose, they decide they’re not going back into their little, little box. And so they kill themselves, each one in a sort of funny, fun, dark puppet Fossey way, all over the stage. And that’s the end of the number. So and this has been to razzle dazzle, which is, you know, a number from Chicago. That’s very well done. And sort of funny, because it’s a very dark, sardonic, look at how, you know, happy and razzle dazzle we are, but it’s, you know, also in the show, it’s about escaping being convicted for murder. So you know, it works. So that’s like the example. So I would explain that to you. And then I would explain that, you know, my class is very familiar with Fossey. But if they wouldn’t, if they weren’t, I would have them watch, you know, God, bless YouTube, a lot of Fossey movement to see that. And then we’re adding the not only are they puppets, but they’re old puppets that haven’t, you know, dancer been used in a long time, and that they’re angry. And so we talked about, like, how sort of mad they are, that they’ve been completely, you know, ignored all these years. To talk about the emotion of the movement that you’re, you know, and so that’s the, that’s like the speech I would give to you before we even began, you know,


Will Bachman  36:39

that was wonderful. I, that helped me understand so much better.


Jeanne Simpson  36:44

You’re ready to do the dance? Well, let’s do it. Let’s do about,


Will Bachman  36:49

I know, I can imagine having that context would help if you know, rather than just okay, here’s all the steps. Right.


Jeanne Simpson  36:56

Right, exactly. It’s just like, okay, so you start leaning over, and then your, your head goes first, and then your right elbow, and you know, yeah, so I, I have to lay it out that way for myself and for the people I work with to get the what I want, you know, to happen.


Will Bachman  37:11

Now, I can imagine writing a story. And I can imagine, it’s a little hard harder for me imagine like imagine writing music? No, you read the notes. Yeah, I used to play an instrument. How is the choreographer, you have all these, you know, this action activity? What? How do you keep that straight in your head? How do you document what your thoughts are? And is there a kind of a format for writing down so there’s,


Jeanne Simpson  37:39

there’s something called choreographers notation, I never learned it, and I’ve never used it. And a lot of choreographers do not use it. If you do, that’s great, because that probably makes it a lot easier. But that’s mainly as a step notation. So, but what I do is I will write like the story I just told you, down when I do a piece. And then what’s interesting is I will film each number now. And it’s a lot easier now with your phone. Because then you just have, I’ll even film myself doing parts of it. Before I teach it if I need to, if it’s a very long complicated thing with a lot of different people doing different things on stage, so that I can remember to show them. But for years, I would and this is something that I would. And I still do this when I teach but I would teach myself as if I were teaching myself every part before I would ever teach someone else. So I would be very comfortable like doing every single part and teaching to myself every every part before I would get to the studio or on stage or anything with with dancers. So to this day, I still for some reason, it’s like a part of your brain that activates. I remember the steps like if a song goes on that I choreographed, I can just jump go into that, like Manchurian Candidate mode, I just flip in, and I can do all those steps like I run, or at least I remember what they were supposed to do, even if I can’t do what I used to do when I was young. So it’s really just sort of a strange part of your brain that activates it’s kind of like remembering lines from an old show that you did, except it never goes away. They’re kind of just they’re stuck inside of you somewhere. And it’s it’s it’s weird. So we have like with this new class that I’m doing the Broadway class, I mean, we’ve been dancing together for I say knew, but like five or six years. And we’re going to do a little show in September. So we have like 12 dances that I have choreographed just for them that are based on Broadway shows. And we were just sort of going back through our, our dances. And we it’s like you just it’s so interesting. You hear that music and those steps just come back. You know, it’s just a very bizarre thing that happens when you’re a dancer requiring for but now that you can document with video, it’s a lot easier, you know, especially because you have your phone and every class. In the old days, like I would write down, I would teach myself I would do it a million times so that it was in my muscle memory. And then sometimes it would get videoed, and sometimes it wouldn’t, you know, so I just had to have it in my, in my sort of my muscle memory bank,


Will Bachman  40:21

you’ve already you’ve already shared one example of meeting Adam, that was through a mutual connection. I’d love to hear I’m just fascinated by how relationships including, you know, weak ties, people that we’ve connected with, ended up leading to opportunities in life. And I’m curious if you could share any other any other stories of, you know, times where you got connected to a show or a project


Jeanne Simpson  40:50

for Oh, my God, it’s, it’s, it’s not just a show, it’s every show, and it’s basically every project that you do, or that I’ve done, I’ve met someone and connected with them, and then they become part of this sort of larger community. And then that will lead to another job or a volunteer opportunity or, you know, something in in the world that that I live in. And it’s it’s probably it’s probably the most important thing for her has been in my life as far as getting work and being able to make a living as an artist. So like, you know, the Blue’s Clues thing was my sister’s ex boyfriend. And I ended up doing choreography for a project called Three that how Prince curated three new Broadway musicals and they came to the Ahmanson and they went to the prince Theatre in Pennsylvania, and they were set to go to Broadway right before 911. And then we didn’t make it and there were, I got that job through through Harvard people. Brad Rouse, who is younger than I was, became an apprentice assistant. And he hired me to choreograph one of the three shows and then to dance, supervise all of the shows, because the three choreographers couldn’t make it to like LA to the Ahmanson, or to go to Pennsylvania, but I was younger than all of them. So I ended up dance supervising all three of the new many musicals that were created for that. And, you know, headed, and I think they probably would have gone to Broadway If 911 hadn’t happened. And so that was and then, like Larry O’Keefe, and now Benjamin were on that, that show that was the first time they wrote, you know, something that was headed for, you know, Broadway together, which is so neat. So they wrote one of those three men musical. So that was another Harvard Connection, which is really cool. And then like for the, when I went to Princeton to do the triangle club, I met the director there who also directed the masquerade club. So then he invited me to come, you know, to mask and wig. When I auditioned for Mad Men, it turned out one of the assistant casting directors had gone to the school in high school, the same area that I had gone to high school, and he had come to see me in a play when we were in high school. And so anyway, that was, you know, just these these sort of crazy connections and for village arts, this community theater that I work in now, they did the the elementary school, the public elementary school, where both my kids have gone, which is just down the street. We walked to school every day. They were doing a play inside the school for those years. And so I met them and I said, Oh, can I help and they didn’t know that I, you know, taught kids and they were like, you can bring snacks and I was like, Okay, great. So, so I brought snacks and then over the couple of years, they were like, Oh, wow, you can do more than bring snacks. Great, you can help us. And then I became one of their, you know, one of their teaching artists, which was really fun. So it’s just, ya know, right. You just never ended like even for this rock opera. The reason that I got the opportunity like even last week was because one of the stars of the rock opera is a vocal coach for my kids. They study with her she’s an amazing and she was going to star in this and they needed a choreographer and so she recommended me so it’s still happening. never it never ever goes away. The reason I got the job, you know, teaching at Buckley is because there’s a playwright in Los Angeles, who is a woman. She’s also an amazing actor. I did a play with her when I first moved here, and we play by Craig Lucas called reckless. And we became really good friends. This is before we even had kids or anything and then she from transition more into writing and wrote a couple, two or three plays that have done really well out here and she He always puts me in her play so sweet. No matter what she writes, she always writes a little part for me and so her kids ended up going to Buckley which is the school that I teach at. And when their theater teacher retired, she called me was like, we have to get you in there, you know. So, it’s, it’s like, they recommended me for that job. So it just, it never ends, you know. And it’s, it’s, it’s a good, but it’s a wonderful thing, because it means that throughout your life, it just sort of becomes this giant family of people that you meet, and get to work with and work with again. And then I get to do that for other people, you know, which is really fun and wonderful, because I’ll get to bring someone on a project or recommend someone to teach or to, you know, actor dance, and that is just, you know, that’s the best feeling in the world, when you get to give someone a job, because it’s really hard in this business. I mean, even if you come out of Harvard and or you come out of a performing arts school, you know, and you are fully connected, and you have tons of money to you know, wait for that big job to happen and get your headshots and get your training. It’s still really hard. You know, it’s not like you get to, there’s no track in America, for being an artist, a performing artist, really. It’s not theirs, even though they’re graduate schools, there’s no you know, it’s not like you go to law school, and you pass the bar and you get a job at a firm, you know, or you go to med school and you do your residency, it doesn’t matter if you can, you know, cry on cue, and if you can do it a triple time step and, you know, it’s like, no, nobody cares. It doesn’t guarantee you ever. It’s, it’s pretty, it’s pretty daunting, you know? But, but if you love doing it, and you believe, you know, in it, and and you I mean, I can’t, I can’t imagine doing anything else ever. So you just you just follow that passion, and you find a way and you you definitely rely on the kindness of strangers. You rely on everyone you meet, and they rely on you to just help each other get jobs, you know, continually. And it’s happened with my husband too, which is so neat. Even for Wait, wait, don’t tell me what happened was Peter Sehgal started out as a panelist, they had another host. And they fired the host who just wasn’t working out. And so they said, Peter, do you want to come audition to be the host? And he said yes. And they said, We don’t have anyone to be the panelist that week. And he was like, Oh, my friend Adam Felber would be great. And he had just met Adam, because he came to an improv show that Adam was in, and they had gone out afterwards and connected. And so it’s, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s so important. It’s probably the most important thing if you are in the performing artists world. Your two year journey is just connecting with other people.


Will Bachman  48:03

My family is going to be so excited that I spoke with Adam Fowler’s wife. We’re big fans of Waitwait. And


Jeanne Simpson  48:12

oh, I’m so glad that’s so cool. Well, next time they do a live show,


Will Bachman  48:16

we actually get your ticket. Oh, that’s even better. We went to the live show when they when they were in New York last year ago. And


Jeanne Simpson  48:25

it’s so fun. It’s so fun. It’s like who wants to listen, you know, see a radio show live. But it’s so much fun, right? It’s the coolest thing. It’s so good. And you get to see all the stuff that gets edited out.


Will Bachman  48:35

Right. That’s that’s the great part. You get to see the commercial breaks.


Jeanne Simpson  48:39

Yes, exactly. Exactly. You’re like, wait, I remember there was more to that joke. I saw it. Yeah. Yeah. It’s so cool. It’s the coolest show. I love Wait, wait so much.


Will Bachman  48:51

Talk to me about any course. And


Jeanne Simpson  48:54

actually, Adam. Adam, is the one who got mo Rocca on Waitwait. So it’s the same thing as the same thing is like, you know, it’s like for everyone. It’s so interesting. So yeah, so Adam was on Wait, wait for years before Mo and then they said to Adam, who can you recommend? And he was like, How about my friend mo rock. And then of course, Mo turned out to be an amazing host and then worked and went on to do more of that kind of stuff for CBS and just you know, can grow into a giant star or so.


Will Bachman  49:23

Yeah. And Paula Poundstone is the co founder. And


Jeanne Simpson  49:26

you know, Adam and Paula have a podcast they do called nobody listens to Paula Poundstone. It’s just Adam. This is my husband and Paula. And they’re so funny. And it’s a great podcast to discover. It’s really hilarious. Adam


Will Bachman  49:40

fly to Chicago isn’t where they film it usually. Yeah.


Jeanne Simpson  49:43

So Adam flies to Chicago for waitwait they do it live there. Yep. Unless it’s a show, you know, that’s happening somewhere else in the country that week, but usually it’s in at the chase auditorium, even though they have a new theater I forget. In Chicago. He was there last week. I can’t remember it’s Call. But yeah, so he goes to Chicago, but Paula lives here in Los Angeles. So he and Paula do their podcast here.


Will Bachman  50:09

Tell me about courses or professors at Harvard that continue to resonate.


Jeanne Simpson  50:14

Yes. So I’ve got I’ve got three. One is James Davis was my sociology professor. And he was head of the sociology department when I was there. And he was so incredibly supportive. He, when I was a freshman, I took a class with him, which is why I wanted to become a sociology major, because I loved sort of studying people are learning about, you know, groups of people and trends. And, you know, I just I became fascinated with sociology, I didn’t think I was going to be a sociology major, I thought I was going to be an English major. And so, I took this class with him, and it was just the intro to sociology. And I went up and talked to him a few times, you know, ask him questions, and I invited him to come see me in the seagull. I was playing Nina in the seagull, and in the x, and he came, he and his wife came, and they ended up coming to every single play and dance concert that I ever did. And I remember he graded my paper and I got like, I don’t know, an A minus, or b plus or something. And he said, Not bad for a Russian girl who’s being destroyed by you know, a writer. And when he put the like, plot of the seagull on there, which was so sweet. And so he would always he was just always my champion for that, and just so supportive and kind and would show up at any show with his wife, and they were just so loving. And so I was so grateful to him for that, that support. And then I took at, at a party I worked there, that was my work study job. So I worked in pretty much every office at a party I worked for Jan Guyot for years, and Jan did casting and who did publicity. And so that was she was a real mentor for me, because I got to see sort of the inner workings of professional theatre company and I worked for Bob Brustein and I worked for the literary director there who there was Arthur Homburg at first and then Bob Scanlon, Arthur homebirths. class was life changing for me it was he taught several classes, one was theater from 1940s, kitchen sink drama, and it was just like, you know, come back Little Sheba, and Death of a Salesman and all these plays. And he just, he was such a brilliant teacher and writer. He’s gone on, I think he’s at Brandeis now. But he hired me, he was the first person who hired me for the work study job to read scripts that were sent to him, because he would get all these unsolicited manuscripts of playwrights that that wanted to be performed at the American Repertory Theater, and he didn’t have time to read them. So I would come and pick them up every week and read them and write coverage on them. Even That’s so ridiculous that I was first doing that. And then I would give them back to him. And then he would meet with some of those playwrights. And based on that sometimes, and he was just a wonderful teacher. And then Jane Nichols was an incredible acting teacher that I had at a party. She was an adjunct professor. And she were I’m still in touch with her. And she was and she ended up directing a couple of undergraduate plays as well as like a guest director. And so I got to be in a production that she directed, Dangerous Liaisons. And she was just a great human and theater educator and scholar and a great actor herself. And, you know, and I saw her as a role model. She was a mom and a teacher and an actor. And yeah, and she’s still doing that as well, which is really neat. She taught at Juilliard a little bit, she’s taught at all so many schools around. So


Will Bachman  54:13

do you need for listeners who are interested in following your career and what you’re working on? Where can they find you online?


Jeanne Simpson  54:19

So I am the worst person ever, for promoting myself. So this is what I want to tell anyone who’s listening who has a kid who is going to go into the arts, they have to be better than me promoting themselves. Not it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing to promote yourself. So I’m really bad at the social media thing. I’m gonna I’m gonna get there. I’m going to be like the 80 year old who has like whatever the social media accounts are, then I’m gonna, I’m gonna get there, but right now. They can look me up on IMDb. They can follow me I have one Instagram account. It’s called G The Simpsons gotta dance productions. I’m on Facebook, just as my name Teenie Simpson, and I’m with Avalon artists group and GTA is my dancing choreography agent. Those are two separate. But I think I think my I ended up doing a podcast about Jane Austen. Because wishbone, we did a big Jane Austen section for wishbone. And so these people who had grown up watching wishbone, and now they have a Jane Austen podcast, and they had me on to talk about, you know, working with the dog in the Jane Austen versions that we did. And they said, they literally found my phone number on the internet, which is kind of scary. So. So, but I would love to hear from anyone from our class, or if anyone’s kids are interested in going to the, you know, into the arts, and I can help them in any way. Please, please reach out to me. I would love that. And Adam is a little bit better than I am. You can always find me through Adam too. Because he is. He’s on Instagram. Adam sober. I’m trying to think I think that’s about that’s it? Like we don’t have any. Sadly, I don’t have any. I don’t have a website or anything like that. So some day, well, someone might have it. So I’ll call you back. We’ll talk again, and I’ll share all my maybe


Will Bachman  56:30

maybe a listener will offer to create one for you.


Jeanne Simpson  56:35

That would be awesome. Oh my god, that would be so great. So yeah,


Will Bachman  56:38

consider an open casting call for webcasts


Jeanne Simpson  56:43

to help me. That would be so cool. I would be very grateful. That’d be fun. Yeah.


Will Bachman  56:51

So Jeannie, thank you so much. This was amazing, amazing to hear about your journey. And congratulations. It’s not easy. And one needs to sacrifice but it sounds like you’ve made a thriving career in the arts. And it’s, it’s wonderful.


Jeanne Simpson  57:04

Thank you will I feel so lucky. And I just feel so lucky that I got to, you know, start are part of it. It didn’t really start at Harvard, but that Harvard was a big piece of it. And, and I’m just so glad I got to meet people like you. Yay. And I know you’re one of a couple of your children are in the arts. Is this true?


Will Bachman  57:26

My son Samuel is a film major at School of Visual Arts. So


Jeanne Simpson  57:33

that’s so cool. I love it. I love it. And my son is goes to the art school here called it’s the public big public art school that is really awesome. Called Napa, the visual and performing arts school. So we have to we have to lift up the next generation will. It’s all on our


Will Bachman  57:53

next generation. Right? That’s right. Thank you so much. All right.