Friday, August 19, 2016

Spotlight On...Ilana Simons

Name: Ilana Simons

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY

Education: PhD in Psychology, The New School; PhD in Modernist Literature, NYU

Why theater?: Performing has meant a lot of things to me. I grew up around close cousins who are incredibly charismatic storytellers. My father comes from a family of teachers, and his favorite mode of talk is probably speech giving. I grew up with some sense that “holding court” in conversation is a vital self expression. I became a professor of literature for a while—that was a great way to feel the presence of my voice in a room. But when I changed careers and became a clinical psychologist—more listening than speaking—I found myself hungry for a different public voice. I started posting small videos online—mostly on Facebook—telling stories into my iPhone and animating them ( Those found an audience. I founded a blog at Tin House magazine for the videopoem—the “videopoem” being what I thought of as small lyrical online performance. About two years ago, I was getting a divorce, feeling a new need to hurl my body into public space, and I had just moved into a new neighborhood in Brooklyn. I was doing a long run in some beautiful weather around this neighborhood, and my sense of ownership was bursting, strong. I decided to bring these videos onto a stage and make a play, which I had never done before.

Tell us about All Together Now: All Together Now is a one-woman show in which a small audience of 20 lies in a tent, under a projected dreamscape of animated movies. I embed myself alongside the audience to tell the story of growing up in a family of charismatic men.  I made the tent and animated the movies.  A lot of the footage comes from interviews with my family members in which I asked them, bluntly, what they think of me, and about our gender roles.

What inspired you to write All Together Now?: I started All Together Now after my divorce, as I was trying to heal that wound. I initially wanted to make a play about love, and started with something more scholarly—I was going to read Freud’s love letters on stage and almost lecture about theories of love. But I quickly saw that the “teaching” voice wasn’t working and I ended up making a work that has left almost everyone who’s seen it saying, “that was intensely personal.”

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: At the moment I am most inspired by Kae Burke and Anya Sapozhnikova at The House of Yes in Bushwick. That’s because I knew them as two girls in their twenties with this insane ambition of building a venue with mosaics all over, with showers by the bar, handmade everything, grand aerialist constructions, to host outsized art every night. They are the most potent dreamers I know—for how quickly and competently they convert dream to reality. I also love Cynthia Hopkins for her raw narrative and immediacy, and Sybil Kempson for her imagination and risks.  I like artists who seem to take down that wall of convention that separates imagination from what we say. Novelists like Haruki Murakami and Virginia Woolf do that for me.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Louis CK

What show have you recommended to your friends?: All of Sybil Kempson. The Alcoholic Movie Musical, by Cynthia Hopkins

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: "The Triumphant Fetus".  I don’t know who would play me but my friend Christy Meyer has given me the gift of reminding me that I actually am in this movie, all the time.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: I would have watched Virginia Woolf disguise herself as an Abyssinian prince to get onto the Dreadnought, a ship in Britain’s royal navy, in 1910. She used the flag of Zanzibar because she couldn’t find an Abyssinian one, painted her face brown, and received high honors on the ship.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: A bit of liquor.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I don’t do my art professionally.  I paint, animate, make short movies, and am now putting on a play, but I work as a psychologist. I work out of my home, which allows me to work half-days seven days a week and then devote a lot of my free time to art making.

What’s up next?: I’m taking off work from November to March to travel in the southwest—to Taos, Santa Fe, Joshua Tree.…  I want to make a documentary film but don’t have a topic yet.  It might be about broken hearts but I would like this project to develop into something more politically relevant than what I’ve done in the past.

For more on All Together Now, visit