A Circuitous Path to Tony Award Winner
I’m an alum of Columbia College, ‘82, and Columbia Business School, ‘89. I’m a producer and an actor—I produce and act in films, Broadway shows, I produce off-Broadway shows, and now I’m moving into television.
I had a very circuitous process, because when I left Columbia I went and became a software development engineer, developing manufacturing systems, and then I became a knowledge engineer, so I used to develop A.I. software for Fortune 500 companies.
I then went back to grad school and got my MBA from Columbia, and then I moved back out to the West Coast and worked for Microsoft for a number of years as a marketing manager. I decided I wanted to go back to the acting which I had forgone for many years, so I ended up going back to University of Washington for the Professional Actor Training Program, where I got my MFA.
After I got my MFA, I moved to New York in 2001 and started acting. Then, in 2009, I decided that I wanted to start producing work, because I was a little disenchanted by what I was seeing. I produced four films, all of which premiered at Sundance—three of them in competition—and in between I started producing Broadway, with the first show being Porgy and Bess.
My first Tony Award was for the revival of Porgy and Bess. My second one was for a new play by Chris Durang called Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. And my most recent one was a couple years ago, for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which is currently out on tour.
Right now, I have a show on Broadway called Jitney, which is August Wilson’s first play written, but the last one to appear on Broadway. And I’m an investor in projects like Front Page; I’ve got money in Hello, Dolly, which broke the record for first-day sales; and also The Glass Menagerie. I’ve got two television projects that I’m developing—one may be a web series, but the other will be television—and I’m really excited about those because I have to learn all about television. Where I am right now, I only had to learn about stage and film, so my biggest challenge is life is to remain current in what’s happening in all these industries.
I’ve been involved with the Black Alumni Council, and I’m looking to volunteer for the Arts Access Committee. I’m not officially on that committee, but that’s the one that—given that I work in the arts—is the one that I would probably be more involved in.
I want to get involved with volunteering because I feel like we don’t have an opportunity as a group, as alums, to come together and share our experiences and network, and this is an opportunity for me to do that and give back as well—hopefully to both the current students and also alums.
Watch a video below of Ron Simons journey from Microsoft to Broadway.