BWW Interview: Samuel A. Simon of THE ACTUAL DANCE at Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center
Actor/Playwright Samuel A. Simon takes us on a journey through battles of cancer through his uplifting piece THE ACTUAL DANCE. The story comes from Samuel's point of view as he, and his wonderful wife Susan, travelled through her battle with Breast Cancer. Showing the audience, that what really matters, come hell or high water, is that we continue to love. I was bestowed the honor of speaking with Samuel Simon after his performance at the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center. Discussing the inspiration, purpose, and process on his own true story of him and his wife.
I read in your bio that you've done a lot of work in the D.C. area, but watching your show, and discovering you and your wife are from Texas, what made you choose to come back and perform here in the Houston area?
Samuel A. Simon: I've been wanting to do it in Houston for a long time, and Susan's family's here. So last night her brother (and sister-in-law) Melvin and Rose, who are in the play got to see it ,they hadn't seen it. I first developed it in New York: Kate Holland (director), Gabrielle Maisels (dramaturg), Eli Zoller wrote the music, and I have been so fortunate to have a wonderful team around that me that has enabled me to find...and it [the show] found me, and therefore I found it.
I noticed your Director's Statement describes THE ACTUAL DANCE as your "fourth age". Could you care to go into further detail as to why exactly this phrase?
Samuel A. Simon: Part of it is that it found me. "Third age" is often called retirement. My main thing was I was a lawyer, I worked for Ralph Nader. I had a high profile in Washington for a while: I did News Years Eve 1984, I was Good Morning America about the break up of phone companies, and wrote two books there. I later sold my company, got out of that, and started social justice work in New York for a non-profit. So I call this my "fourth age" because it was during that work, and doing my theatre work and improv, I loved improve work. I'd go to Artistic New Directions of New York, and they should get credit. Every summer they held these improv retreats in the Catskills and I'd go to them. There I met Gary Austin, Michael Rock, Carol Fox Prescott, and Gabrielle my Dramaturg. I call it the "fourth age" because it's what I do now. Everything in my life, was done in order to enable me to do this.
This wonderful creation you have made uses the allusion of "The Dance". What made you decide to use the reference of the dance for this performance piece?
Samuel A. Simon: Because that's what really happened. Everything in that show was real, and happened to me. I love the metaphor, and I now come to understand that there is... when you are confronted with an existential moment-life and death, I believe that your soulmate and you eventually become one soul. It may sound odd to you because there are a lot of variations of expression and what love really means. Yes it's also about breast cancer, it's also about care giving, but it's really about what love really means. You and the person, and so then what is the biggest gift you can give someone you love? It's holding their hand as they take their last breathe, so that they know they're loved. It only happened because she got sick, and only because she was supposed to die. There's this idea-you don't want her to get breast cancer, you don't want anyone to get sick, but look what good thing happened as a result. It's a contradiction, it's a tension, and theatre is full of that. That's what makes theatre. First criticism of the show was, "Beauty. Dignity. What about the shop owner laying on the streets, shot in the neck, gurgling blood, where's the beauty and dignity in that?" I had to confront, because it happens more than once: what about the sudden moment when you can't be there? When the phone rings... I've learned through performance and writing that there is still a dance, still a choice. It still happens, its just done differently. My expression is of how it happened once, but an invitation for people to understand that their ultimate act of love, is to be with them somehow. Even when it happens that way, that the soul and the essence of the one you've loved is still loved.
For the most part, a lot of people I think when it comes to stories of battling cancer, you see so many shows that deal with the person themselves. Most of the world, we avoid such serious topics like this, or if they are brought up we tend to hide the hurt, or if you're a performer you Take That hurt and extend it. You extend it to the point, that at the end of the show, the audience is emotionally exhausted. What do you believe is your job/purpose as a creator with this performance?
Samuel A. Simon: My mission for the show, is that everybody who needs to see this show has an opportunity to do so. It's a very complexed question, I didn't come onto this with "I'm gonna go do this, or fix people, or give them this." I was telling a story...that was inside me, that I didn't know was inside me. My teacher Gary Austin saw it in LA ,and afterwards he hugged and cried and said he loved me. That's the depth of the impact of the show on people, and I didn't know that. There's a gift in the show that I wrote that I didn't know. It's having found that, and having that found me. I'm trying to give expression to that gift, I'm trying to find the best way to do it over and over again. And how I perform, it doesn't change the words, but it changes how I present the words over time.
For people who are getting into a performing world, or who are part of this world already. If there was any advice, especially with a extremely personal piece like this, any advice or words you could tell these people, what would they be?
Samuel A. Simon: Hmmm.....I'm a Mamet fan. In this regard, and that is basically- it's funny because Mamet says Just deliver the words. He's not a character actor kind if, your job is to deliver the words. I love story telling in this regard. I encourage people to find the stories in their lives that have important lessons, and then use theatre as a way of-not talking about themselves-but expressing what they learned. I think it's a huge gift to people, and to the world to have those lessons that are available to be delivered. And for an actor, I think you have to almost release and be as honest to yourself, and the words as your own playwright. Letting everything go, not trying, don't push.
You can find more information on Samuel and his show THE ACTUAL DANCE on their website at www.theactualdance.com regarding next performances and other information.