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civic Simmons as Mr. Myalatya My Children My Africa 2016Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. as Mr. Myalatya My Children My Africa 2016
Civic Ensemble Artistic Director and co-founder Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr. has announced that he will be stepping down from his position at Civic Ensemble, an ensemble-based, community driven theater company founded in 2012. After seven years with Civic Ensemble, Simmons will depart in December to become Artistic Director of HartBeat Ensemble in Hartford, CT. HartBeat is one of Hartford’s most important cultural institutions, dedicated to creating provocative theater that connects to the community beyond the traditional barriers of class, race, geography and gender.

During his tenure at Civic Ensemble, Simmons shepherded new plays by and about women and people of color, and leveraged his relationships with nationally recognized playwrights to bring excellent new plays to Ithaca. In 2018, Simmons launched a new play festival, Civic Acts: New Plays Toward the Beloved Community. Civic Acts featured the first full production of Judy Tate’s Fast Blood as well as commissioning internationally renowned playwright Saviana Stanescu to expand a monologue she had written into a full play, Bee Trapped Inside the Window, which Simmons also produced.

Over the past seven years, Simmons performed in, produced, and facilitated readings and productions of several new and under-produced plays. As a producer, director, actor, and playwright, Simmons brought to life an immense body of work with Civic Ensemble. Slashes of Light, also by Emmy award winning writer Judy Tate, was produced as a reading by Civic Ensemble and then given a full production in 2015 in collaboration with Kitchen Theatre Company. The Katrina Plays, performed in 2015 at Cinemapolis, was a trio of plays about Hurricane Katrina by Jason Maghanoy. In summer 2016, Simmons starred in Athol Fugard’s My Children, My Africa, with Jelani Pitcher and Briana Ford. This production was remounted in the winter of 2017 at The Kitchen Theatre Company. Simmons directed Eugene O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings in an Off-Off-Broadway production for Civic Ensemble at the Brooklyn performing arts center JACK NY. Simmons’ production was then given a co-production with Cornell’s Department of Performing and Media Arts, featuring college students.

Simmons produced, directed, acted, wrote original plays, and facilitated Civic’s community-engaged and education programs. Simmons was integral in building the foundational education and engagement programs including the Community-based Play, and work at Ithaca High School, Lehman Alternative Community School, and BOCES Pathways to Technology. In 2015 Simmons and fellow Artistic Director Sarah K. Chalmers, co-wrote On the Corner in collaboration with community members, and performed in first run and remount productions.

“There is no doubt that Godfrey’s departure leaves a big hole in the company and in the larger Ithaca theater community.” says company member Sage Clemenco, “We are taking this opportunity to reaffirm our mission and look toward the future with optimism and possibility. There is still a lot of good work to be done here, and we are so grateful for the strong foundation that Godfrey and Sarah have built over the last 7 years.”

Sarah K. Chalmers, will continue to serve as Artistic Director through the academic year allowing the company to maintain their ongoing educational and community based projects while also exploring new possibilities for organizational structure, leadership, and strategic planning for the future. “I’m looking forward to working with company members Sage Clemenco and Julia Taylor this year as we navigate this transition,” Chalmers noted.

In the 2019-20 Season, Civic Ensemble will be co-producing The Next Storm with Cornell’s Department of Performing and Media Arts in November, a remount of Streets Like This next Spring, and a new play about mental health from The ReEntry Theatre Program in the fall of 2020. Civic Ensemble will continue work this year on anti-racism with teachers at Lehman Alternative Community School, and SUNY Cortland.

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