A most unlikely journey for me, yet a journey that has transformed my life. I have been fortunate in my career and my personal life to be involved in some extraordinary projects with exceptional people. First of all, I am trained as a lawyer, not an actor nor a playwright. I started my career with Ralph Nader, still a friend and mentor in so many ways, in 1970 with a small group of lawyers to launch what was known then as The Public Interest Research Group. I got to work with people like Ralph, Joan Claybrook, Donald K Ross , Mark Green and Tom Stanton and about 9 others back when we were just 20-something years old. Ralph, now 80, was only 36. It was heady times. I can remember when Tom Stanton and I stayed up all night writing and research so we could sue President Nixon the next morning!
For nearly 45 years it has been an explosive life filled with opportunities and activities all aimed at “changing the world.” In that time I have had the chance to meet Ted Turner and participate in CNN’s launch (Trivia question: what was the first debate ever on CNN and who participated? Answer: It was CNN’s first week and it was on the issue of the “fairness doctrine” and the guests were Sam Simon and Shaun Sheehan). What a hoot to be the one who introduced Ralph Nader and Ted Turner. And then there was the dream of bringing people together in Washington by forming a public affairs firm that operated on the theory that there can always be common ground between different interests. Our job was to facilitate that common ground. I worked in what one newspaper called “the messy middle.” In that process we were able to broker deals that have survive even today. Just this week the Federal Communications Commission renewed and revamped a program that has brought billions and billions of dollars for technology to schools. A program that was launched only after a deal between interests was negotiated in our offices.
Along the way, our firm launched the first internet campaigns for corporations and non-profit groups. Thanks to the talented staff lead by Ken Deutsch, by then Vice-President and youngsters like Kenita Earl, we put both Bell Atlantic (now Verizon) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People`` (NAACP) on the Internet!
My personal life journey has been equally exceptional. I am blessed with a fabulous family. I grew up in El Paso, Texas in the late 40’s early 50’s as a member of a very large family that squeaked by in life. Somehow I went to law school and live a very comfortable life even in my “fourth age” in McLean, Virginia. My son, Marcus Simon, also a lawyer, was recently elected to the Virginia House of Delegates and my daughter, Rachael, is a partner in a thriving pediatric dental practice in Maryland. They both live near us, each with two amazing children (our grandchildren). I am not mentioning Susan, my wife of now of 48 years because she is the center of the story – the details of which require you to see The Actual Dance.
Bragging? Maybe, a little, more like feeling really fortunate. At my age and comfort in life most people I think would say “Dayenu” -- or that would be enough. I offer these stories to paint a picture of just how big a shift this acting business is for me. I have been interested in acting and theater. I did a little bit in high school and college, and beginning in 2001 I started training in improv through Artistic New Directions (AND) in New York. With their generous encouragement I attended their summer Catskill retreats with teachers like Gary Austin, Kristine Niven, Jeffery Sweet, Michael Gellman and the amazing Carol Fox Prescott. My work at the time was for personal development I saw (and see) theater and improv in particular as highly valuable personal development tools. Bring “yes and” into your daily life and see how the world will change for you.
Perhaps these early “ah ha!” moments from improv were precursors to the current journey. The Actual Dance is auto-biographical. It came out of encouragement from the acting teachers at AND to improvise a story, write it down and perform it.
The story that was in my head became the story of my heart. Along the way of my incredible life story of doing things and thinking things there has been an unspoken part of feeling and believing. Spiritual moments that I did not – or was afraid to – acknowledge. In the retrospect of nearly 70 years, it feels to me like everything that has happened to me has happened for a reason. The reason is to have written and perform and to being The Actual Dance to everyone who needs to see it
The show is the story of my heart and soul as I have had to engage in the existential moments of the people I love as they have faced their own mortality. The impact of the expression and the art of the show – The Actual Dane -- has taken me by surprise. It never occurred to me as I was writing it that when people see it performed -- I like to say “experience the show” -- they are transformed in their own lives. Yet it happens over and over again.
Most recently after a performance in the Indianapolis Fringe Festival while standing outside between shows a man in his late 40’s or early 50’s and his wife walked up to me. They said they had seem my show on the opening night and they wanted to thank me. The husband said that “how I support my wife and how we relate to each other has been changed forever and I wanted to thank you.”
I now live for those moments. It is what I do and hope to do for as long as I can. After now over sixty performances I also am changed by each experience. “I now know why my wife reacted to my cancer.” “My entire family and I are able now to reframe our experience with our loss. Thank you.” Ways I cannot imagine and with love expressed so deeply the audiences for The Actual Dance give me an incredible gift.
When asked today “what do you do” I no longer say I am a lawyer or a businessman or an advocate nor “retired.” I say I am an actor and performer. Who would have thought?!
So, New York, come join me on this journey. Take a chance that your life will be transformed and enjoy a night of theater just off Broadway this January. Join us opening night or at any of week-end performances. Then during our discussion, held after each show, tell me how your life is changed. www.theatrerow.org