Showbiz Cheat Sheet sat down with Tony-Award winning producer Ron Simons. He’s best known for Porgy and Bess, A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, and Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. Here’s what he told us about his fascinating career and vision for Broadway.
Ron Simons was caught between two passions
Early in his career, Simons juggled his passions for technology and the arts. Before becoming a Broadway sensation, he started out in the technology field. He wanted to be an actor but decided to pursue technology first so he could help support his family.
“Out of college I went on to become a software development engineer,” Simons told Showbiz Cheat Sheet. “That presented me with a challenge. My passion was acting, and in my heart, I wanted to be an actor. But I also very much-loved technology. In college, there were two things that could keep me up late at night. And that was reading a play or anything to do with theater and programming a computer.”
After college, Simons worked for Hewlett Packard. He later earned an MBA and went on to work for Microsoft. Simons says his passion for acting continued to stir within him. He answered the call, leaving technology and going after his dream of becoming an actor.
Ron Simons’ big break
Simons took the next step and went on auditions. “I left Microsoft, and I started taking classes here and there, and I started auditioning,” says Simons. He soon landed a role in a play. “Tom Holtz cast me in my first professional production called The Cider House Rules. I then enrolled in the University of Washington professional actor training program.”
Pursuing his passion
Simons hired an agent and continued acting. However, he says he became disenchanted with the roles he was getting. After performing in Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death, he decided it was time to move on and pursue something more meaningful. “My character was an overweight, depressed, alcoholic, lovelorn guy. In the middle of the performance, I was like, ‘There have to be other stories out there.’”
Simons took the reins and pursued a production career. “I was like, ‘You know what? I think I can make better stories happen,’” says Simons. “I literally just said, ‘I’m going to start producing.’ I had no idea what producers did. All I knew was that they were somehow involved in the genesis of the storytelling and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Simons thought his first project would be a play, but instead, he produced and starred in the 2010 film Night Catches Us. The movie also starred Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington. The following year, Simons produced the film Gun Hill Road, which addressed the topic of gender identity. “That was a story I wanted to tell because it was way ahead of its time,” says Simons. “But I thought it was a story that had to be told.”
After these movies, Simons began producing plays. His first production was Porgy and Bess, for which he earned his first Tony Award.
Ron Simons’ vision for Broadway
Simons has promoted diversity on Broadway through mentorship and workshops. He says his goal is to tell more stories about underrepresented communities. He’s determined to follow his company’s motto, “tell every story.”
“We need a major injection of diversity on Broadway, from the producer level all the way down,” says Simons. As of this writing, his upcoming projects include Thoughts of a Colored Man, For Colored Girls, Blue, and Turn Me Loose.
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