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Meet The Writers: Colin Simmons

In our "Meet The Writers" series, we're learning more about the participants of the CMTWC Writer's Workshop. The Writer's Workshop meets every two weeks in Toronto where, under the guidance of head teacher Leslie Arden, participants learn and practice the craft of composition and lyric-writing. Check back every Monday to meet a new writer!

What was your introduction to the theatre?

Musical theatre-wise, it was almost certainly Disney’s animated movies, with Ashman’s genius lyrics and Menken’s beautiful, catchy music. Regardless of my exact introduction, the catalyst for my decision to pursue a life in theatre was Theatre Orangeville. Performing in A Christmas Story at the age of eleven, Young Company every summer, after-school drama classes: that’s when the “bug” bit me. I found theatre––I find theatre––exciting, challenging, and wonderfully uniting.

When was the moment you decided to write for the theatre?

High school: I was in a Musical Theatre performance class and a Creative Writing class with a fast approaching deadline. Out of the blue, I realized I could marry my passion for music, theatre, and writing. I wrote a one-act musical for my writing class, workshopped songs in musical theatre, and directed peers as they performed it in drama class.

Who is someone's work you admire, and why do you admire it?

Of course: Sondheim. Sweeney Todd is perfect, in my opinion. Or “Could I Leave You,” which must be played a minimum of three times every listening session. It is so damn satisfying. One day I want to write as well as he does.

Leslie Arden. Musically, she can be as complex or simple as the situation requires. She crafts the most gorgeous melodies. Lyrically, she’s always active whilst using delightful and surprising perfect rhymes. Her work is layered, precise, and moving; her hooks are excellent; her sense of story and conflict is masterful. One day I want to write as well as she does.

Lin Manuel-Miranda. I wasn’t smitten with In The Heights, but, as everyone else seems to be, I am thoroughly taken with Hamilton. Despite a few near rhymes, it is brilliant on so many levels. Favourite moments: the “Helpless” and “Satisfied” sequence and “Dear Theodosia”. I could ramble for days about Miranda’s first-rate craft, but I’ll spare you the essay. One day I... you get my drift.

There are many more Canadian composers and lyricists that I admire!

How do you like to write? What is your process? Where do you find inspiration?

I write from an actor’s perspective, most of the time: I ramble in character and find a way in to the moment. I like finding the lyrical hook first, which almost always comes out of the rambling. Oftentimes, I walk aimlessly while talking to myself––I’m sure I look insane––perhaps it’s the rhythm of walking? I also find endless inspiration in the neighbourhoods around me. No matter how often I walk the streets, they’re always changing; I always notice a new detail I had never seen before. It’s an excellent reminder to take nothing for granted.

What do you want to see more of on stage?

Well-written musicals performed by performers who appreciate the art form and are skilled in thinking through music and movement, directed by directors who appreciate and understand the art form. More Canadian musicals and more new musicals.

If you had to pick one musical cast recording to be your "desert island record" which would it be?

Nope. Can’t pick. I mean, Sweeney. But, eventually, that organ might get deafening. And I'd miss "Could I Leave You". So I refuse to answer this.

Complete this sentence: "I write because...”

I write because something magical happens when you combine active, character-driven lyrics with music.

What's a tip you have about collaboration?

As a composer-lyricist, I have only collaborated a handful of times. Thus far, my accumulated wisdom: ego has no place in collaboration and one must be ready to change anything and everything in service of the story.

Why did you join the Writers Workshop?

I’m at the beginning of my writing journey and appreciate any and all feedback I can get as I hone my skills. I want to develop my craft and a deeper understanding of how musicals work, from the writing perspective.

What is your favourite thing about the Writers Workshop?

These are a few of my favourite things (did you really think I’d let that slide?):

1) Leslie Arden and the incredible guest artists we have in each class. Their constructive criticism is priceless.

2) Having a safe space to share and receive feedback on my works. It gets lonely, spending days inside my head on walks or at my computer or at the piano.

3) Likewise: having a class of passionate and talented peers to hear from and grow with. It gets lonely, spending days inside my head on walks or at my computer or at the piano. Oh wait, did I say that?

Colin Simmons is an actor, singer, and creator. This year Colin appeared in the Stratford Festival’s productions of Shakespeare in Love, directed by Declan Donnellan, and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, directed by Tim Carroll. He won Stratford’s Dora Mavor Moore Guthrie Award for outstanding contribution by a young artist. Other theatre credits include Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play (Outside the March); Caretaker in Brantwood: 1920-2020, Alfie Byrne in A Man of No Importance, and Leo Frank in Parade (Theatre Sheridan). Workshops include Valentine in Faust (Theatre by the Bay); Jimmy Valentine in The Gift of the Magi, Max in A Snow White Christmas (Theatre Orangeville); and Lonnie Wynn in Prom Queen! The Musical (Canadian Music Theatre Project). Colin was the recipient of Acting Up Stage Company’s 2015–2016 Banks Prize for Emerging Musical Theatre Artists. Colin was part of Theatre 20's Composium Lab in 2015. He is thrilled to be participating in CMTWC’s inaugural Writers Workshop. Currently, he’s writing a musical based on a Brothers Grimm fairy tale which is set to be workshopped in 2017. He is a proud graduate of the Bachelor of Music Theatre Performance program at Sheridan College.

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