Cultural Quarterly
Summer 2008
Volume XXI, Number 3
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Committee Member Profile
Richard J Simon

Richard Jay Simon
Shaping Our Cultural Landscape

By Leon M. Rubin

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Richard Jay Simon has witnessed remarkable growth in Broward County’s cultural community since he graduated from American Heritage School in the early 1990s.  He has also played a significant role in that process as the founder and executive/artistic director of Mosaic Theatre, which just completed its acclaimed seventh season.   

“When I left this area for college, the arts were somewhat laughed upon,” Simon recalls.  “I remember specifically telling some colleagues in Chicago that I was going to return to South Florida to begin Mosaic Theatre and I was met with harsh skepticism.” 

But times have changed.  “In the eight years I have been back, the arts have flourished,” he says.  “Broward County has rich culture.  It’s diverse.  It’s unique.  And it’s growing.  There are several emerging theater companies like Promethean, the Women’s Theatre Project and Inside Out doing outstanding work.  I’m proud to call Broward County home.”

Mosaic Theatre

Although he admittedly “lives, eats and sleeps Mosaic Theatre,” Simon also has made time to make a broader impact on the cultural landscape as the current chair of the Broward Cultural Council’s Cultural Executives Committee (CEC).  By virtue of that role, he also serves as a member of the Broward Cultural Council and its Executive Committee.

“I truly wish I had more time,” he acknowledges.  “But as CEC Vice Chair Janet Erlick, executive director of Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theatre, says, ‘Busy people only get busier!’  This experience has definitely taught me a greater appreciation of all arts, not just the theater.  I now have a much broader spectrum on visual arts, dance, opera - and so I think my tunnel vision toward theater has been widened significantly.”

Simon has presided over a shift in the way the CEC operates.  “Instead of inviting various speakers to lecture to cultural executives,” Simon explains, “we really focus on creating a safe environment to share ideas and discuss what is or what isn’t working for us and why.  I find this structure much more advantageous to the cultural organizations. 

“While we have conducted workshops in marketing and development, which are fundamental to providing cultural leaders with as many tools as possible, advocacy has been our number one priority – and working to create a mechanism for alerting cultural executives about what they can do specifically, and then call upon certain actions.  I do feel like I’ve made a difference,” he says.

Despite the additional time commitment that it requires, Simon relishes his role on the Cultural Council.  “Thank God for the Broward Cultural Council - and I’m not really a religious individual,” he quips.  “This group of mensches meets at least once a month to strategize about how to improve the cultural landscape in Broward County.  These are the individuals constantly speaking to commissioners, fighting with everything they have for the arts.”

It’s the same sort of determination that has served Simon well during his career.  He caught the theater bug early while growing up in Hollywood and earned a degree in theater in 1997 from Ithaca College with an emphasis in directing and writing.  He also studied at Boston University, Hangar Theatre Lab Company and Merry-Go-Round Playhouse. 

He has worked at Court Theatre, Chicago Dramatists and Bailiwick Repertory in Chicago; and with Atlantic Theatre Company, Kitchen Theatre, Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, Hangar Theatre and Clark Theatre in New York.  His writing credits include Scared Silent, Divine Intervention, Third Degree Burning, Razor's Edge and Dark Truth.  He serves on the Advisory Board of the Theatre League of South Florida.

Not surprisingly, Simon launched Mosaic Theatre with very high expectations - making its success exceptionally satisfying.

“Mosaic Theatre has seen tremendous growth in the past four years,” Simon says.  “This season was a landmark year.  We earned 12 Carbonell Award nominations and won four awards.  It was the first time in more than 25 years that a Broward County theater earned double-digit nominations.  Our subscription base continues to increase and we are beginning to leverage a national identity with the outstanding quality of the works we present.”

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Paul Tei as Barry Champlain in TALK RADIO by
eric Bogosian directed by Richard Jay Simon

That’s not enough for him, of course.  “As an executive/artistic director, I always try to attain the unattainable.  Therefore, happiness is fairly elusive as I try to shape this company into one of the most prestigious theaters in the country,” he notes.  “Artistically, I have reached the goals I set out for the company, but we need help on the development end.  It’s called ‘Show Business’ for a reason - but being in a recession presents financial challenges.  The climate for giving has decreased and people are more cautious of spending their entertainment dollar.”

But Simon is undeterred.  “We’ve just announced our eighth anniversary season, which I’m very excited about,” he says.  “This year we embark on an incredible journey as we open our season by celebrating August Wilson's final masterpiece, Radio Golf, the 2007 Tony Award nominee for best play.  The Seafarer, which just closed on Broadway, will make its Southeastern premiere, to be followed with the comedy A Life in the Theater, a modern classic by one of my favorite playwrights, David Mamet. 

“We are also proud to be premiering a work by Winter Miller, In Darfur, which is a brilliant, provocative new play that received a workshop production at the Public Theatre in New York.  The season will conclude with In a Dark Dark Room, the latest from master playwright Neil LaBute, in what I view as his best play to date.”

Enthusiastic, energetic and creative, Richard Jay Simon is - above all - sold on Broward County.  “I said when I started Mosaic that South Florida is stuck with me for better or for worse,” he states.  “This community sparked my passion for the arts and I made the decision long ago to dedicate my life to doing whatever I can to improve the arts for all our residents and visitors to enjoy.”

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