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Stars Who Make a Difference, an Interview with Four-time Tony Award Winner Ron Simons

“While at the Tony Awards one year, I’d been forced to wear a tuxedo I’d commissioned which hadn’t been finished (the tailor was literally sewing on buttons while the car downstairs was waiting to take me to Radio City). When we won, I had to run to the stage holding my pants up so I wouldn’t drop trou! THEN the host, Hugh Jackman, told all of us on stage that we had to jump when we came back on the air. I did indeed jump but I held my pants so tight for fear I’d show my underwear on National TV that I ripped them. Can’t win for losing. Still a great night!”
I had the pleasure to interview Ron Simons. Ron is a three-time Tony Award-winning producer, four-time Sundance Film Festival selected producer and actor of stage, film and television. Ron is also the Founder and CEO of SimonSays Entertainment.
Ron is also involved in many philanthropic efforts in New York and Seattle including the Harlem Stage, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Hudson River Performing Arts Center, Technology Access Foundation and the University of Washington School of Drama to name a few.
Ron’s corporate experience includes positions as a Software Engineer at companies such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM and as a Marketing Executive at the Microsoft Corporation. Ron is a recipient of the Heritage Award from Columbia College’s Black Alumni Council, 150 Distinguished Alumni Award from University of Washington, and is a Johnson & Johnson Leadership Award Fellow, IFP Cannes’ Producer’s Network Fellow and a Sundance Producers’ Summit Fellow. He holds a BA from Columbia College, an MBA from Columbia Business School and an MFA from the University of Washington’s Professional Actor Training Program.

What is your “backstory”?

I am an actor and producer, who changed careers from a corporate America exec to an actor at age 41. Eventually, I also became a Tony Award winning producer of Broadway shows, film and most recently television.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

While at the Tony Awards one year, I’d been forced to wear a tuxedo I’d commissioned which hadn’t been finished (the tailor was literally sewing on buttons while the car downstairs was waiting to take me to Radio City). When we won, I had to run to the stage holding my pants up so I wouldn’t drop trou! THEN the host, Hugh Jackman, told all of us on stage that we had to jump when we came back on the air. I did indeed jump but I held my pants so tight for fear I’d show my underwear on National TV that I ripped them. Can’t win for losing. Still a great night!

Are you working on any meaningful non-profit projects? How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I sit on the boards of a number of not-for-profits such as Harlem Stage — which supports early career artists of color, University of Washington Foundation — which helps raise money for the state institution and HMI (Hetrick-Martin Institute) — which provides lifesaving services for LGBTQ youth. In fact, this year I’m co-chair of the most important fundraiser of the year for HMI: The Emery Awards which take place November 6.

Can you tell me a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Every year my foundation provides financial support for students of color attending my Alma Mater, Columbia College, students of color in the Professional Actor Training Program at University of Washington School of Drama, and finally one that provides tuition support for young men of color to attend the college prep high school, University of Detroit Jesuit High School.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. I wish someone had made it clear that producing is a many year commitment to a project. I would’ve taken on only 1 film project every 2 years. I grew a lot of gray hair with my first two films within the same year!
  2. I wish someone had told me that you must grow your rolodex to include potential investors of means to support independent film production. I’ve seen many producers who come from wealthy families or who’s family is in a network of wealthy individuals — they get their projects funded fast!
  3. It would’ve been nice to learn the many ways an actor can pursue to secure agency representation. I had to figure out that enlisting the support of a casting director for introduction to agencies greases the wheels upon introduction.
  4. It’s crucial to know what you know and know what you don’t know.
  5. Finally I wish someone had told me that not only does time go by faster the older you get but also that it continues to accelerate with each year’s passing. That one is self-explanatory.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

Hmmm… there would be two…

I’d like to meet Ray Dalio, a self-made billionaire who is committed to making a positive change in the world through charitable giving. He’s taken The Giving Pledge and plans to donate the majority of his wealth to charity. I’d choose him because I love his openness and ethics in his business having committed that everything he and his fund does is completely transparent to employees.

The other would be Larry Page, also a self-made businessman, who turned his tech savvy mind (I’m still a bit of a tech nerd) into corporate success but, more importantly, he cares about this planet and is a supporter of alternative energy sources. He’s a good corporate and Earth citizen and that’s my goal.