Jobs They Love: Creative Producer
Updated: Apr 4, 2021
Lucky are they who look forward to Mondays with joy in their hearts! Meet the folks whose talents and passions are happily matched to the jobs they have.
New York City theater manager Aaron Simms has an impressive list of credits on his resume. He’s helped raise the curtain on scores of successful Broadway and Off-Broadway productions over the past 12 years. As anyone in theater can tell you, that’s a lot of long days and nights of hard work, managing ever-shifting schedules and promotions, paying the bills, keeping hordes of actors and directors and crew from strangling each other and creatively solving a million unexpected glitches on the fly.
When he does get to finally go home for the night, Aaron takes the subway to Manhattan’s northernmost neighborhood, Inwood, peacefully hidden away from the hubbub of Times Square and the Village. That is where Aaron eventually undertook his biggest production of all, Inwood Art Works, an organization that promotes the works of the many creatives who live in his own back yard.
Since 2017, Inwood Art Works has organized and produced art exhibitions, stage shows, musical performances, and digital media that showcase the works of the neighborhood’s artists and performers. Signature events include Film Works Alfresco summer evening film showings in the park and the annual Inwood Film Festival, a three-day screening event of films made about Inwood or by filmmakers who live there.
With all the projects you’re involved in all over town, no matter what, you always appear happy, well-rested and full of enthusiasm. How can this be?
I love what I do. That makes me happy and gives me enthusiasm for my work. I’m not so sure about being “well-rested” but as Fernando used to say on Fernando’s Hideaway on SNL: “It is better to look marvelous, than feel marvelous.”
Why do so many creative people live in your little corner of NYC? Shouldn’t they all be in the Village?
Inwood, itself, has a village or “small town” feel to it. I think that may be because not only does it harbor so many artists but also it seems to also have many arts enthusiasts who appreciate the cultural diversity of NYC. It also is (perhaps, was) one of the more affordable neighborhoods in Manhattan where artists could afford to live while pursuing their craft. They may go downtown and perform or exhibit in the Village, Lower East Side, or Midtown. But if you ride the A train late nights heading back uptown, you are destined to ride with a great variety of stage-hands, administrators, technicians, visual artists, filmmakers, and performing artists of all stripes. It’s great to know you’re in good company in this neighborhood with so many talented people.
In 2020, after the COVID-19 pandemic brought the city to a standstill, you organized the New York City Quarantine Film Festival – films of 3-minutes or less, shot on smartphones. What was the response like? Were you surprised?
I did not know what to expect from creating the NYC Quarantine Film Festival. All I wanted to do was keep people positive and encourage creativity during a dark time in our history. I kept the submission window short, and I was shocked that by the end of it we had 108 films to present. It made me happy that it was a worthwhile activity for so many New Yorkers – many who made their very first film! As far as the response from viewers, I couldn’t have been more satisfied. The YouTube playlist has over 21,000 views the last time I looked. Feel free to look yourself: NYC Quarantine Film Festival.
It seems like movies and theater productions need to be huge blockbuster affairs in order to survive as mainstream entertainment these days. Is there really hope out there for small, community theater-type plays and handmade or experimental films?
I believe the future weighs heavily in investing in local communities. Hyper-local programming that champions local artists, in turn, cultivates a local arts-going community. This benefits the local economy and, eventually, perhaps you have less people going down to the Village to perform and experience things because they will have everything they need by taking a short walk down the block from them. To make this happen though, the community needs to want it and support it.
Were you always the organizer in your group of friends growing up?
I remember being creative and using my imagination to dream up fun things to do as a kid, but I would not say I was in charge. I just loved to play. I think the organizer in me came later on in college when I was writing, directing, acting, building, sewing, designing, and producing plays. A liberal arts education goes a long way!