Student Spotlight – Raven Simmons Acts with Empathy

student_spotlightJunior theatre major Raven Simmons is always passionate about performing, whether dancing, working behind the scenes, or, especially, performing in front of an audience in a play.

She recently took the stage in “Jane Eyre” as Bertha, the insane, unknown wife of Mr. Rochester. Bertha is a complicated character, who is very different in nature from Simmons.

She credits forensics during her senior year of high school to leading her into theatre. After competing in humorous acting, she decided she enjoyed theatre. After getting involved with Cedarville’s production of “The Taming of the Shrew,” she was sold.

Even though she decided to take acting more seriously when she became a high school senior, Simmons grew up with the arts as a part of her life and family.

“I was always encouraged by the family to be in, like, band, musical, that kind of stuff,” Simmons said. “And in middle school through high school, I did my church’s annual teen play, so that was always fun. I liked acting, and I always got encouraged to do that.”

Simmons has been highly involved with a number of plays at Cedarville during her three years here, both onstage and behind the scenes. However, like any actor, she has favorites of those. Her favorite and first to come to mind was “Fiddler on the Roof,” in which she played the matchmaker Yente.

“It was just so much fun, with the cast all being together, and like the mixture of song and dance,” she said. “The script is hilarious, and like, touching, so that was a lot of fun.”

She also spoke highly of the “Taming of the Shrew,” which she was not in. It was performed her first year at Cedarville, and all fall shows are cast the spring before. Simmons was on the props crew, however, and thoroughly enjoyed getting to see the cast backstage out of costume, and seeing how they fit into their characters.
Simmons also has a dream role of getting to play Gatsby from “The Great Gatsby,” possibly as a gender-swapped role.

With the characters she has played, like any actor, Simmons has learned how to really get into her characters and become them. She said it was about looking for things in common with the character, even when there seems to be little possibility of her being able to relate to the roles she plays. One instance she mentioned in particular was the role of Mrs. Muller in the play “Doubt.”

“[Muller is] a forty-plus woman, who is dealing with her son, with this priest, and I was like, ‘There is no way I have anything in common with this woman,’ but I totally do,” she said. “Even the smallest things, like, she works hard for her son to make it through school, my dad does the same thing. So no matter what character you play, you need to dive into that and figure out, ‘Well, I’m like her in this way,’ and you find more things, and you start to relate more.”

As much as she loves acting, Simmons said she does not want to limit her artistic spirit to theatre. She has been in symphonic band and at one time played clarinet, and, though new to it, she enjoys singing. Creative writing, though at one time limited to her mind, is being tried out thanks to an intro to creative writing class. Her real passions, though, outside of acting, are photography and dancing, particularly hip-hop. She is the leader of the hip-hop crew on campus, the Elements.

Simmons said she feels more deeply as a theatre person. She talked about a number of people who helped support her through that. She said they also helped her navigate what truth and beauty is. Simmons mentioned Professor Dan Estes, her freshman year Spiritual Formation teacher, was a great help to her.

“I have learned how to be graceful from him. Not like, you know, ballet graceful, but giving graceful. An incredible teacher, great professor.”

In addition to teachers, Simmons also said there were several fellow students who have been an inspiration and support to her.

“Raven has this innate knowledge and skill of acting that I haven’t seen, like, in anybody else here, and I think that comes from her extremely empathetic view of other people,” Megan Howell said. “Like, she can relate to people so easily, and she talks to people with such ease, and she can empathize with people. So, I think that really comes through in her acting, that she has such a range because she has so many interactions with different kinds of people. I think that really speaks to her skill. She’s friends with everyone, she knows everyone.”

Simmons’ caring attitude and ease with talking with others are important qualities, especially in her possible post-college acting career.

“God has given me this passion for dance as well. I want to help people through theatre, so whether that be through being in a show and giving them that escape, or whether that be through, like, being a psychologist and doing theatre therapy, like drama therapy, that kind of thing,” she said. “I’m not super positive what that’s going to look like yet, but I do know that I will be performing in some kind of way. So whether like dancing somewhere, or some kind of theatre thing. I’m not sure yet. We don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.”

Shelby Ahlborg is a sophomore theatre major and A&E writer for Cedars. She enjoys drawing, listening to movie scores and writing fiction stories.

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