TALKS: Actress Heather Alicia Simms on Barbecue at The Public

Heather Alicia SimmsBarbecue is the highly anticipated new Robert O’Hara play now in previews downtown at The Public Theater. The show boasts a bevy of distinguished performers and is set to open October 8th. Arts in Color had the privilege of interviewing a Public regular, actress Heather Alicia Simms. 

AIC:  What was the casting process like in Barbecue?

Heather: A few years ago Robert told me that he wrote a role for me in his latest play.  I was thrilled when I received a straight offer for this production. So there was not much process in the casting part for me (thank goodness).

AIC: How did you prepare for the rehearsal process?

Heather: Well this has been an interesting moment in my life.  I was in production for another show during the first two weeks of rehearsal.  In the last show I was playing a nun on trial for atrocities during the Rwandan genocide.  So I would go from hilarity in the day to horrific at night.  I must say that I love my job.

AIC: You’ve done several shows with The Public in the past. What makes The Public Theater so special?

Heather: There is so much energy in and around The Public.  You always get the sense that something new and exciting is about to come into full bloom right around you. It gives you the energy to do your best work.

Constance Shulman and Arden Myrin/Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

AIC:  How do you think The Public promotes #DiversityOnStage?

Heather: I have seen so many shows at The Public and what’s great is the fact that you can see artists and stories that speak to a multiplicity of identities.  One of the best experiences that I have had was watching a recent Public Works production of The Odyssey at The Delacorte which enlisted the talents of trained professionals and talents from the community.  Not only were the artists on stage ethnically diverse but I had a true appreciation for the spectrum of experience levels that were given the opportunity to work together.

AIC: You have worked with Robert O’ Hara in the past as well. What has surprised you most about working with him on Barbecue?

Heather: I have never worked on one of Robert’s plays that he hadn’t directed.  He has been so wonderfully gracious about not imposing his directorial instincts into the equation.  It’s surprising how easily he seemed to be able to compartmentalize his playwright-self and his director-self.

Heather Alicia Simms, Benja Kay Thomas, Kim Wayans, and Marc Damon Johnson Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Heather Alicia Simms, Benja Kay Thomas, Kim Wayans, and Marc Damon Johnson
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

AIC: You’ve worked in TV & film as well as theater. Which do you prefer and why?

Heather: I love them all. They feel like different muscles that you’re able to work, because who wants to do the same workout all the time?  I can be big and loud in a very different way in theater than I can on TV and film.  In television and film the challenge is in the compression of the work.  Those are mediums where I am challenged to figure out how to make my performance smaller without making it small.  Plus, I can pay my bills much easier in TV and film but who needs money?

AIC: Our site is called “Arts in Color.” What does it mean to you to be an artist of color?

Heather: I remember when I first heard the term color commentator.  I was like “um, what’s that?” When I looked it up, one of the definitions was a person who provided levity and insight.  That’s what we do as artists of color.  Our stories must be told by us and through us.  Our mere presence offers another perspective and oftentimes another layer to the story that is being told.  I love seeing and hearing the diversity in our own experiences; seeing where they diverge and converge at the same time.

AIC: What advice do you have for aspiring actors, particularly artists of color?

Heather: Good credit.  Pay your bills.  You don’t want to walk into that audition knowing that the lady from your student loan company is going to blow up your phone in the middle of your monologue (although your phone should be off) because you didn’t pay your bill. You don’t want to go into the room anxious about getting the job because you have to pay said bills. In addition to that study, study, study and try to find good mentors.

Benja Kay Thomas and Heather Alicia Simms in BARBECUE Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Benja Kay Thomas and Heather Alicia Simms in BARBECUE
Photo credit: Joan Marcus

AIC: Why should people, especially diverse audiences, come to see Barbecue?

Heather: There are so many reasons!  First, the talent on that stage is enormous.  Secondly, Robert wrote a play that will keep you guessing.  Thirdly, Kent allowed ten actors to go for broke.  Lastly, it is HILARIOUS!!!! So if you don’t like to laugh then this is not the play for you!

AIC: What is next for you? How can our readers stay up to date with you?

Heather: I am going to be voicing a character on a video game in the next few weeks and I hope to do a little traveling soon, maybe to visit a dear friend in Dubai!  I am working on an idea for reality television cooking show. And since I believe that words have wings, I hope to be a series regular on television show very soon.  I will start working on that idea right…NOW!

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