“I saw this production of To Kill a Mockingbird and there were kids in the show, and I knew I had to do this” recalls Robbie Simpson of what first got him interested in the performing arts. He soon found out you could make a career out of acting and have health insurance and have a life in theatre without necessarily being famous – “then it was an obvious choice.”
Pre-COVID, Robbie starred in the original Off-Broadway cast of Paradise Lost, which closed on March 1st, 2020. “It was so nice to close on our own terms and say goodbye” but the effects of the pandemic were creeping into the production even in February. At the beginning of the month there were no backstage tours allowed. A week later stage dooring and the signing of playbills were forbidden. Then hand sanitizer started showing up everywhere and things got progressively worse until the show closed. COVID also delayed the opening of the Los Angeles production of Afterglow, for which Robbie was an Associate Director, after he starred in the original Off-Broadway cast in 2017.
“Acting in the original production of Afterglow is what gave me the directing bug.” The process was very collaborative, and everyone involved was working on the show together. At first, they performed a two-act version at night while condensing and editing it into a 90-minute one-act version during the day. And then one day, the creative team and actors decided to just switch over to the one-act version, which is attributable to the show’s success, spurring productions all over the US and the world. Soon Robbie got involved with more directing opportunities including the National Tour of Chicago and A Christmas Story.
The Breakdown with Robbie, an industry-leading podcast, launched in spring 2020, but some episodes were recorded almost two-and-a-half years ago. After Robbie left Afterglow, he was often a reader in auditions and realized it was a really “interesting psychological and artistic and business study” because when the actors leave the room, the readers get to hear what the casting and artistic directors are saying and how someone may not be right for a part and why that is. “I wished everyone could hear these conversations. If actors could know x and understand y it would make a world of difference AND if they could hear it from the most important people working in the industry today… so much of what we learn in school isn’t up-to-date information. We need to hear from the people who are in and out of these audition rooms every day.” And so, the podcast was born.
But what is The Breakdown? “A free resource to hear candid and engaging conversations with some of today’s top casting directors, managers, agents, and producers. Not just for actors but for everyone. For the theatre professors who want to figure out how to relay the latest information to students, for parents who want to hear what kids are going through, or for fans who want to learn more.”
“My main focus is that I want the podcast to be the highest quality that I can do in the moment.” The most important step is curating the guests – not just Robbie’s friends but a diversified group of guests. On top of that, Robbie does all the social media, website, and editing himself, usually making close to 100 cuts per episode and shaping the narrative and dialogue. “There is an artistic element to it, similar to editing a play. Even though it is an interview, I still like to think I am telling a story; so sometimes the editing process involved heavy cutting and rearranging parts of the conversation. Plus, there’s always the inevitable dog barking and losing power mid interview to contend with.”
But for Robbie, it’s not only how he can use his voice, but also how he can amplify the voices of others. He’s learning right along with all of his listeners as he listens to the stories of his podcast guests. “Information is power and currency. The first step to getting more representation in every way [in the theatre industry] is to level the playing field to gaining that information.”
Leveling the socioeconomic playing field is important to Robbie, as he also launches My Audition Appointment, an affordable, online, four-week intensive class that combines an audition class with business and industry insights and knowledge, culminating in an opportunity to meet, discuss, and network with former podcast guests. It’s an opportunity to improve audition skills, learn how to work more efficiently with our time (e.g. should we wait eight hours to get seen for an audition or should we wait tables and use that money to meet a casting director?), and get those questions answered that we may not know where or who to ask.
What’s been on Robbie’s mind lately? Something reminiscent of an Oprah quote, “I think that the road to success and the road to a better world and personal happiness and all of those things is not a straight line, it’s not linear, and it’s not going to move forward every day. It zigzags and goes back and forth. Sometimes there are major setbacks, but it doesn’t mean we are permanently moving backwards. Whether politically, socially, or with your career. Because of the pandemic it feels like so much is lost. But it’s not lost, we are still moving forward. We are getting better, we are learning, and the world is educating itself.” •
@TheBreakdownWithRobbie on instagram and https://www.thebreakdownpodcast.com/
A native of West Springfield, Massachusetts, Robbie Simpson (He/Him/His) is the host of The Breakdown with Robbie, a popular industry podcast featuring conversations with television and theater’s top directors, casting directors, agents, managers, producers, writers, high-profile actors, and more. As an actor, Robbie performed on Broadway in The Gypsy of the Year benefit at the New Amsterdam Theater, as well as with the original Off-Broadway casts of both Paradise Lost and Afterglow. Regionally he has played leading roles at some of the nation’s most reputable and historic institutions including The Old Globe, St Louis Rep, Syracuse Stage, The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, Berkshire Theater Festival, and the Cape Playhouse, and has amassed several television credits including Dietland (AMC) and The Path (Hulu). Recent directing credits include Deathtrap at the Majestic Theater and associate directing credits include the Broadway National Tour of Chicago, the 2018 and 2019 National Tours of A Christmas Story, and the Los Angeles production of Afterglow. Robbie is currently the Assistant Artistic Director of the Cape Playhouse. Stay connected @mrrobbiesimpson on Instagram and http://www.robbiesimpsonactor.com/.