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Life and Work with Dawn M. Simmons

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dawn M. Simmons.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Like many young people, my mother enrolled me in dance classes when I was a child. I’ve always loved live performance. As I grew up, I desperately wanted to be a writer and discovered that I had a good voice for writing dialogue. I studied playwrighting and I took every theatre job I could get between my hometown of Buffalo and here in my new home (15 years) of Boston. The more I worked on shows, the more I wanted to direct. After working as an assistant director for anyone who would have me, a few small and fringe theatre companies started hiring me to direct. I made contacts and friends with everyone I could, it hasnt’ hurt that I’ve worked for companies like StageSource and Boston Center for the Arts and have made incredible connections through those companies.

My first business partner A. Nora Long and I met while working at StageSource. We started a company called New Exhibition Room, producing original, cheeky political theatre. A few years later our good friend and her boss, Spiro Veloudos gave me my first large-scale directing gig on a show called “Saturday Night Sunday Morning”.

On opening night over cocktails, of course, one of the city’s premier actors, Maurice Emmanuel Parent and I talked about the city’s need for a theatre company run by artists of color telling the stories of people of color on a full-time basis. That was the catalyst for my new company The Front Porch Arts Collective, a black-led theatre company committed to advancing racial equity in Boston through theater. We’ve been on the grind ever since and will produce our first full season of shows this year!

Has it been a smooth road?
Everyone’s journey is unique, right. I’ve had more bumps than some and less than others. I’m like a rowdy girl scout, I’m pretty nice, really optimistic, and a huge goofball so it’s hard for people to take me seriously sometimes, which leads me to this advice when you figure out who you are and what your purpose is, go at it 100%.

Until then…
Try everything.
Fail, fail big and fail often.
Feel your feelings, but don’t indulge in them for too long.
Own your mistakes and flaws but don’t beat yourself up over them for too long. You will hurt friends, you will anger colleagues, you will let someone down, and people you care about, love and trust, will do the same to you. How you carry on after that is the measure of the person.
Celebrate yourself.
Treat others as you wish to be treated.
Stop apologizing for being.

This life is the only one we have, enjoy it when you can. Wear your sparkly shoes to work, use your fancy dishes every day, get the Frosty at Wendy’s, don’t save the good stuff for special occasions. The impact those choices can have on your worldview and your work is immeasurable.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with The Front Porch Arts Collective – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I’m known for directing fun, irreverent, imaginative, vibrant theatre! I’m super proud of “Zombie Double Feature” and “Smile “which I produced with New Exhibition Room, “The Embryos” that I directed for Fresh Ink Theatre.

I’m incredibly proud of this entire last season of work! I got to direct shows for SpeakEasy Stage Company, Greater Boston Stage Company, and Lyric Stage Company. It was an incredible season with a huge amount of variety between genres, the work tested my creativity and my stamina.

And, of course, the support and energy going into The Front Porch Arts Collective. The city is poised for a company like this and all signs point to it being an incredible success. We have such a wonderful group of theatre professionals volunteering their time for the company and with theatres like Central Square Theater, Lyric Stage and Greater Boston Stage Company helping to get us off the ground by co-producing with us this year, we are set up to change the landscape of Boston theatre by infusing more opportunities for people of color to tell their stories and call the shots!

Were there people and/or experiences you had in your childhood that you feel laid the foundation for your success?
Absolutely! My mother is a lover of art. She wanted well-rounded children. She took us to concerts, museums, theatre, dance performances, she made sure we had great books to read. She was “Turner Classic Movies” before there was a “Turner Classic Movies”. My father was a lover of life and fine food and he encouraged us to think critically about the world around us. They were a mischievous and formidable pair as far as parents go. Both of them instilled in me an insane work ethic, my father was a workaholic and I have definitely inherited that from him, but I hope I’ve also inherited some of his joie de vivre. He worked hard so that we could enjoy life. I try to do that as much as possible and I use those experiences to fuel my work. Also, l family was/is everything to them, so in everything I do, I think, “would they be proud”, ” would this push their boundaries”, “would we all sit at the dinner table and have a great conversation around the work I’ve done”? Thier love and support… those are the shoulders I stand on.

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Image Credit:

Nile Scott Shots, Maggie Hall Photography, Mark S. Howard

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