A new off-broadway play exploring the unknown story behind the Apollo moon landing features the performing and media arts department’s very own Prof. Godfrey Simmons.
The Winning Side premieres Oct. 3 and is produced by Epic Theatre Ensemble in New York. The play tells the story of Wernher von Braun, a Nazi engineer who built event rockets that were shot into the U.K. and France during World War II. He is credited as the father of the U.S. space program. Simmons plays Major Taggert, who he said represents the American interest.
Outside of teaching, Simmons remains active in the theater community. He said he co-founded the Civic Ensemble in Ithaca, which believes that “theater is everyone’s birthright.”
Simmons found that The Winning Side explores complex themes he thought were interesting.
“[The Winning Side] asked important questions about responsibility in terms of what are we willing to sacrifice to move forward,” Simmons said.
Ron Russell, director of The Winning Side, has worked with Simmons many times in the past and said that Simmons is one of his favorite actors.
“He is just so fascinating to watch — bold choices, always real, always awake and aware — but also so phenomenal to work with,” Russell told The Sun in an email.
Russell pointed to Simmons’ leadership in theater casts, regardless of the actual role he plays, as one reason why Russell requested Simmons to act in the new play.
“The ‘lead’ was always going to be someone new to Epic [Theatre Ensemble], and I needed someone in the room who could be the cast’s emotional and spiritual leader,” Russell told The Sun.
Simmons brings his experiences in the ensemble back to Ithaca and Cornell. Civic Ensemble’s creation was inspired by Epic Theatre Ensemble. To Simmons, theater plays a crucial role in a community.
“Theater’s job is to be the place where society gets to deal with issues, ask questions,” Simmons said. “In almost every society, theaters were a place where political questions were dealt with.”
Simmons thinks theater needs to be “conscious of the community” for it to continue to stay relevant in today’s times.
He said that balancing performing in a play in New York City, running a theater company and teaching at Cornell at the same time is done “with much difficulty.” Despite his busy schedule, Simmons values his teaching responsibilities.
“There are some amazing students who are with us and as a teacher I always end up learning much more from my students than my students are gonna learn from me,” he said.