We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful David Simmons. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with David below.
Hi David, thanks for joining us today. Are you able to earn a full-time living from your creative work? If so, can you walk us through your journey and how you made it happen?
I’ve been blessed to combine my professional experience and training as a singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and teaching artist with my lived experience as a thriving survivor of my own suicide attempt, person in recovery with over 29 years sober and as former victim of bullying (often times at my own hand.) In a professional career spanning over 44 years my work has taken me to all 50 states, 19 countries and 4 continents. I’ve played for baristas in an empty bistro and for over 2,000 service people performing on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier the USS Kittyhawk.
Then, in the early spring of 2017, while driving across the Phoenix AZ valley to a recording session, I heard the following statistic on the radio: “The leading cause of death for children ages 10-14 in Arizona is suicide.” After a bit more research I learned that there were suicide statistics for children as young as 5 years old. Kindergartners are choosing to end their own lives.
I was galvanized!
I knew that, somehow, I had to combine my professional and lived experience to address these heart-wrenching statistics. Soon thereafter The UBU Project was born with the following mission, vision and values…
MISSION: The prevention of youth suicide, addiction and bullying through social/emotional arts integration residencies.
VISION: A world where every voice is heard and honored.
VALUES: A fun, safe, creative and nurturing educational environment where all are welcome/
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
I grew up in a family of artists, educators, advocates and activists. My father was a public school music teacher who then became a university music educator and administrator (serving both The Ohio State University and the University of Montana. My mother was an arts advocate and administrator, my sister is a recently retired English professor from The University of Washington and our brother is a film and television actor based in Los Angeles, CA.
We all grew up surrounded by the encouragement to follow our professional dreams.
I knew that I wanted to pursue a life in the arts when I saw the movie adaptation of Lionel Bart’s OLIVER! When I saw the actors portraying Oliver and the Artful Dodger I was mesmerized by the reality that someone my age could do this for a living.
My experience began in church choirs, then jr. high and high school rock bands, choirs, drama programs and, eventually, I graduated cum laude from the University of Montana School of Music.
My experience in everything from grand opera to heavy metal and musical theater (in combination with my lived experiences) has given me the unique perspective and ability to reach across cultural and socio-economic divides to connect with a diverse collection of audiences, colleagues and classrooms.
When a young 5th grader spoke of living with depression I was able connect with them at a personal and experiential level as I too live with multiple managed mental health diagnoses. Also, my time living in a locked psyche ward after my my March 31, 2009 breakdown and suicide attempt has given me equal footing to connect with youth in juvenile detention facilities as well.
I do not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. Rather, I use my wide variety of experiences to meet people where there are. To listen with a compassionate ear. And to share my experience, strength, talent, training and hope to the best of my abilities.
We’d love to hear a story of resilience from your journey.
When I was discharged from the psyche ward after my breakdown and attempt I was nearly non-verbal. This was more fear-based than anything else. However, I never gave up. And neither did the people closest to me. In fact, the producer/director of a national touring theater company hired me to not only perform a supporting role in a major tour; he also hired me to portray Theodore Roosevelt in the one-man show; “Bully!” While on the road living on tour buses and in hotel rooms I was able to go from a non-verbal, frightened survivor to a thriving, dedicated fully employed actor, musician, director, composer, educator, friend and family member. No matter what, even though I was unaware I was doing so at the time, I never ever gave up.
Can you tell us about a time you’ve had to pivot?
Every aspect of my career exemplifies some form of professional pivot. I began as a singer in a rock and roll band. Then I studied to become an opera singer and orchestra conductor. From there I began to diversify my career options with the simple phrase; “Sure, I can do that.” And I did. In pursuing every aspect of my skill set I have made a living as a musician, actor, director, educator, songwriter, recording artist, musical director, choreographer, scene designer, lighting designer, sound designer, production manager, contemporary worship leader, playwright, composer, keynote speaker, producer, business owner, and band leader.
A life/career in the arts, entertainment, and education is all about being able to pivot, adapt, improvise and always, always, always…. move forward.
On a more personal note, with the support of my family, friends, and mental health care professionals, I have also been able to “pivot” from a life of solitude and sadness after the passing of both my parents and my wife, to now being engaged to one of my dearest friends and respected colleagues. Just a reminder to all who may read this that you never know what wonders life may have in store for you. So stick around. “You ain’t done yet.”
- Website: https://ubuproject.org/
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ubuprojecthope/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theubuproject
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-simmons-2899151a6/