“My theatre goals are to come out of my shell more and continue to explore all of the opportunities and paths that theatre can lead me to,” says Simone, a senior at Pioneer High School. “Personally, making the switch from only doing technical theatre to trying my hand at acting took a lot of time and effort to become more confident in this new journey. I’ve struggled with stage fright most of my life, and I still do at times.”
Simone, the daughter of Dena and Kevin Leath, will step on the stage this weekend as part of the Pioneer Theatre Guild’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which opens Thursday and continues with shows on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
She has been dealing with any anxiety by leaning on her “very supportive” cast mates, director and friends.
“I am lucky to have such encouraging cast mates, a director such as Alex Leydenfrost, and an amazing support team; they have all really helped,” she says. “Being a stage manager, I had to be ‘assertive’ and self assured in the directions and instructions I gave, but it never required me to be on a stage.
“For this to be my first show acting rather than doing tech, I am eternally grateful for the cast and crew who have helped bring this show together and make it such an unforgettable experience.”
Simone is not only new to the stage, but she’s new to Pioneer High School. She moved from Detroit where she attended Detroit School of Arts. Joining the Pioneer Theatre Guild certainly helped with the transition.
“Being a part of Pioneer Theatre Guild has been phenomenal,” she says. “I moved to Ann Arbor right before my senior year began, so it felt a bit overwhelming trying to immerse myself into different clubs or friend groups. When I look back at the year so far, I realize theatre is where I made my first friends in Ann Arbor. PTG genuinely has such caring people and it’s a great environment to make meaningful and lasting relationships.”
Simone has stage managed for productions such as “Snow White Variety Show” (Detroit School of Arts) and “Animal Farm” and “Northern Lights 1966” (Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit). She also has assistant stage managed for a host of other shows through Mosaic, as well as did makeup crew for PTG’s “Willy Wonka” this past fall.
Last summer, Simone had the “amazing opportunity” to be a production intern at the Public Theatre in New York, working on the Shakespeare In The Park production of “Twelfth Night”.
In PTG’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Simone will play Snug the Joiner, one of the actors in the play that’s within the play.
“Eventually, Snug is cast to play the lion, which creates some comedic content for the show,” she says. “Snug is very timid and anxious, which a lot of teens, or anyone for that matter, can relate to. The contrast between Snug’s personality versus the tough lion she’s supposed to be is comical. I like Snug’s relatability and the comedic energy she brings, but also how Snug is still different enough from me that I don’t feel as if I’m portraying myself.”
Simone believes the audience will enjoy the “twist” they took on the play and how it really represents important underlying messages.
“It’s all of your favorite fairies, lovers, and mechanicals, just set in a different period of time,” she says. “I think, especially now, the themes we are conveying are extremely important and you won’t want to miss it. It’s been a long time since Pioneer Theatre Guild has done a work from Shakespeare, so that’s also something to celebrate. Who doesn’t love a great Shakespeare comedy?”
After high school, Simone says she hopes “to find a place where I feel passionate and motivated and love what I do every single day.
“Throughout my career endeavors, I aspire to pave the way for young girls, and children of color, who need positive representation in a society that so clearly lacks it. I really want to help tell great stories, especially the ones that are often looked over.
“This past year, seeing people such as Hailey Kilgore and Taylor Iman Jones on Broadway with extraordinary levels of black girl magic has given me extreme hope and I can’t wait to be that person for a child in the future.”
By Terry Jacoby