Jim Sirianni interview with Samuel Simon
SAMUEL A. SIMON (Playwright/Performer) is the playwright and performer of The Actual Dance. He also is the Artistic Director of the company that has been formed to produce the show.
Sam describes The Actual Dance work as his “fourth age.” He comes to it after a career as a prominent member of America’s consumer movement. Trained as a lawyer, he started his career as one of the original member of Ralph Nader’s very first legal advocacy group in Washington, DC in 1970. Early in his career his leadership was recognized through a profile in the New York Times. (NY Times, Jan 29, 1971 p. B1). After a stint in the US Army as a JAG Captain, Sam returned to work for Ralph Nader and then start his own consulting firm. During that time Sam became a regular in the national news, appearing in program such as Face the Nation,, The Today Show, Good Morning America, CBS Morning News, The Nightly News, Phil Donahue Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show, among others.
In 2008 Sam began his “third age” following the sale of his consumer affairs firm in Washington and became a Senior Fellow with the then new non-profit, Intersections International, a social justice initiative of the Collegiate Church of New York. He has transitioned that work at Intersections to serve on its advisory board in 2013 as he began to devote himself full time to The Actual Dance.
Sam returned to theater as an avocation in the late 1990’s. He is new to play writing. He has been active in community theater in the Northern Virginia/Washington DC area for about 15 years. He has performed in Temple Rodef Shalom Players group, including roles in plays such as Last Night of Ballyhoo (Adolph), Neil Simon’s “Fools” (Doctor) and roles in annual hour long plays. He has performed with other companies in Washington, DC area including McLean Drama Company and Great Falls Players. He is also trained in improv starting with Sylvia Toone in Washington as a member of the S*T*A*R*S Troupe. He has worked with Artistic New Directions of New York through their acting and improv workshops and has attended ten AND Improv Retreats in the Catskills including three “master retreats”. He has taken Gary Austin, Rachael Hamilton, Scotty Watson and Michael Rock workshops. He was an acting student of Carol Fox Prescott for four years and continues as a student of On the Breath technique with Gabrielle Maisels. The Actual Dance is his first play.
Interview with Sam and Susan | Our Story
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Preview of The Actual Dance here!
“The Actual Dance”
By Ted Mills, News-Press Correspondent
August 29, 2014 12:14 AM
Samuel Simon calls it his “fourth career.” Now a playwright and performer in his late sixties, it took him a full career to find his calling. After decades of being a lawyer, advocate and businessman, it was his wife’s brush with breast cancer and mortality that pushed him in semi-retirement out from behind a desk and conference calls to standing alone on stage for “The Actual Dance,” coming to Center Stage Theater this Thursday. How did this happen?
“I’m an actor and a playwright,” he says. “And that is such an incredible thing to hear myself say.” Right out of law school he worked for Ralph Nader, then joined the Army, then worked in D.C. and at the Federal Trade Commission. He then created a public relations firm at the dawn of the Internet, which turned out to be nicely profitable, enough to retire. In 2000 Mr. Simon started to take improv classes in New York City for personal development, taught by veterans from The Second City and the Groundlings. Around the same time, his wife Susan was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
At first he didn’t bring those experiences into improv. These were major life decisions he was going through, having to figure out exactly how to help his wife, help himself, and how to face death, or as he says in his statement, “How to dance the last dance” with his wife, and how to create “the ultimate consummation of our love.”
But before that, characters came out in improv, among them a caricature of Susan’s doctor. People responded well, and by 2012, Mr. Simon had hired a dramaturge to help shape his writing and his characters into a play. In two months they had the full script, hosted a reading, and the reactions that told him to press forward.
“I had friends coming up to me,” he says, “like one man, he said, ‘I had prostate cancer and I never understood why my wife acted the way she did, and now I think I know.’ ” Others commended Mr. Simon on giving voice to the other half of the couple in a cancer-stricken relationship. Nobody, they told him, has told the man’s side of breast cancer.
“I know now this is what I need to do with my life,” says Mr. Simon. “It’s been like a gift. But it’s also been like walking off a cliff.”
Susan knew her husband was working on a play, but at first he didn’t want to read it to her. “I don’t know why I didn’t,” he says. When a visit with friends prompted a reading, he finally relented. “There were tears.
“I say things I learned that many people think but don’t say out loud because people may think you’re crazy,” he says. “I sat with my mother when she died, and I did feel her spirit leave her body. You think you’re crazy at the time.”
Now for the good news. Susan recovered and now is fitter than she was before her diagnosis, placing her in a very small percentile. She has walked 12 of her 14 years since the diagnosis in the Avon Breast Cancer Walk, and this performance coincides with the walk through Santa Barbara. (Mr. Simon’s been on four walks.)
“The Actual Dance” has played New York, D.C., Indianapolis, and in his home state of Virginia, and he hopes to bring it to more places after Santa Barbara.
“It’s a love story and it has a happy ending,” he says, summing it all up.