Interview with Actress SiMon’ Emmett

Adam Martinez, Krysta Gonzales, SiMon’ Emmett and Lori Navarrete     Photo by Errich Petersen, courtesy of Teatro Vivo


Latin@Heritage month at #Teatrolatinegro blog is the time we take to recognize Latin@/o/x artists, plays and art forms in the world.  While we will mostly focus Afrolatina/o/@ art forms, we will feature many Latin artists from all walks of life.

       In April of 2016, The Stories of Us, a series of vignettes about Afrolatinidad, took the stage with Teatro Vivo.  It was then that I was introduced to a fantastic actress, by the name of SiMon’ Emmett.   I loved what she brought to stage; a sense of honesty and magic.  She looked as if she was enjoying every moment and like she believed in the story.  I recently caught up with the actress to chat about her experience working on Teatro Vivo’s production of The Stories of Us, her identity and time at the University of Texas at Austin. 

via SiMon Emmett


What identities do you carry?  
I cling tightly to several different forms of identity. Primarily, I identify with my title as an Afrolatina, a proud Mexicana and Tejana, having generations on my Mexican side living in the Texas region dating back before Texas even had an “x” in it. I am very proud to recite that great saying, “we didn’t cross the boarder, the boarder crossed us.” As many issues as we may have in the lone star state, I am proud to identify as a multi-generational Texan for that reason.  I am also an activist, a student, a educator, an artist, a sister, girlfriend, friend. I am proud of these things because they make me who I am.

What shows have you done and where?

Stories of Us with Teatro Vivo in Austin, TX was my first professional production. I’m still a college student, so a majority of the work I do is within the walls of a university. Those have varied, but they’re mostly works from the mainstream, often-produced playwrights that you often see on university stages.

Tell us about your latest project Antonia: a chicana hip hop antigone by Jose Casas?

Antonia: a chicana hip hop antigone is a bilingual play written by Jose Casas. Although not yet confirmed into the festival until this fall’s announcement, the play is shaping up to possibly be a  highlight of the Cohen New Works Festival in the Spring of 2017. When you mix the four elements of Hip Hop (Emcee, b-boy/b-girl, DJ and grafitti) with the urgency of the Antigone apologue and Jose’s stylized way of writing, you get one wildstyle of a show. Jose has also strictly indicated in the text that people of color make up a majority of the cast. This is exciting for us because we’re finally telling a story driven by strong and empowering Chicanx characters. For the past couple of years, the department has been producing great plays about Latinos, but they’ve primarily been immigrant stories. While these are still powerful and impactful perspectives, it isn’t the only stories Latin@s have to tell. Sometimes, we are actually badass Chicana characters who simply stand up for what we believe in, dance to a little old school hip hop, and defy superiority through the power of resistance. That’s the kind of story I’ll fight to tell. 

How was your expereince work on Jelisa Jay Robinson’s The Stories of Us?

 I still can’t believe it happened. I still can’t believe that there is a play out there that touches on the unanswered questions that ran through my head as a little girl…and I still can’t believe that I was a part of the whole thing coming to life. As a person who is half Mexican and half Black, I grew up with half-assed answers and plenty of confusion about my identity. Although I still carry much of that with me, confusion has evolved into curiosity, which has been reshaped into exploration, which has transformed me into an artist. Listening to the reaction of audience members and collaborators on this piece was eye-opening for me because it allowed for me to understand that there isn’t always a solid answer to the questions we have about who we are and the differences we have with one another, but there will ALWAYS be another person who is asking the same exact question. When you know you’re not alone in your confusion, it doesn’t feel like confusion at all anymore, it feels more like an exploration, a journey of sorts. You know, the kind where you’re on the highway and the AC is out, you think you missed your exit and it’s August in Texas…but your homegirl is in the passenger seat and you know that somehow you’ll get there. You’ll both get there. You’ll be OK.

What are you working on?

I’m co-producing a show for the Spring of 2017 through the Cohen New Works Festival at UT Austin. We’re in the very early stages of it, so we’re awaiting confirmation of it’s ability to be produced. Because of the fact that it is such an important piece for Latinx representation within the UT Theatre & Dance department, we’re doing a lot of planning this fall to prepare. I will also be instructing Latinx dance with a group of elementary students AND teaching hip-hop to middle school students for a few months this fall. Both of the programs are through Creative Action, where I’ve recently been hired. So that’s exciting!

What is your advice for Black, Brown and Afrolatino theatre artists?

Stay involved, stay connected, and keep meeting people! As a young and sprouting theatre artist/educator of color, I have found that the more I put myself out there (i.e. going to shows, keeping personal connections with local artists I’ve worked with, and YES, following up on those Facebook invites about events in the community), the more opportunities I come across. Not only that, by staying connected with other artists of color, you are feeding your artistic craving for work that is important and relative to you. The most meaningful artistic endeavor I’ve embarked on thus far has involved telling stories of my people, and I was only able to do that because someone remembered my name, because I stayed connected. 

Why is Afrolatino theatre important to you?

Any type of art or form of story-telling that involves experiences from two different cultures, two different worlds has moved me in such a powerful way because it reminds me that I’m not alone. I’m not the only one experiencing these curiosities, frustrations and fears. That’s such a beautiful and human thing.

 Who are your favorite actors, writers, etc.?

I’m all about mulitcultural females in the arts right now. Zadie Smith has easily become one of my favorite contemporary writers because of that and the way she portrays that experience in her writing. Esperanza Spalding is my girl!! My favorite actor is something I can never decide because I like so many in very different ways for very different reasons. I’ll get back to you on that one when I can choose…if I ever do.

How has your experience been at the University of Texas at Austin?  

I have just recently transferred into the Theatre and Dance program here. There have been so many feels this past year  merely for the reason of having changed schools right before my senior year, taking on theatre education as a new focus, and being around a completely new network of people. On top of that, there is so much more discussion around diversity and inclusion here. It’s debated that it hasn’t been implemented in the department as much as it should yet, and I’m proud to actively be a part of that conversation. I hope to be a part of the change within and outside of the university’s walls.

What is your goal? What do you want to do and why? Or what do you like to do?

My main goal is to bring theatre–or elements of theatre–to audiences and communities that don’t typically have access to them. I’ve seen so much magic happen through the arts, and I’m excited to share it with young people.

Thank you SiMon’ for sharing your story and keep up the great work!  You are inspiring us all!
❤ #Teatrolatinegro

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