Interview: Bronwyn Sims
Edited by: 
Caroline Glazier

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you first became involved with the performing arts?

I was a competitive gymnast when I was a kid. I did ballet when I was three or four and then I went into gymnastics, and I guess you could say, though it's not like the performing arts, you're still performing essentially. I sort of ‘got the bug’ for performing.. And then when I stopped doing competitive gymnastics I went back to dance. Then I found theater. My first theater experience wasn't necessarily in high school. It was a little later than that. I was more dance oriented. I was also doing some stand up comedy for a friend’s fashion show event. And it was one of those moments where I thought, “Are people laughing at what I just did, like, am I funny?” Then I realized, “Wow, I really kind of like this.” And afterwards, you know, people were like, “You're really funny, you're really funny.” That's when I sort of went more into the theater world. Not that my movement background didn't stay with me because it has this entire time. I finally think I found the realm of theater and movement and dance as circus work as opposed to just straight theater or I should say traditional theatre. When I was little and performing in gymnastics competitions and dance competitions and little things like that, something just sort of struck me. I felt that common thread between audience, and performer, like “Wow, I can give them a gift.” And they are laughing, or they're crying, or whatever it is. I thought that was really cool. And that's always stuck with me.

Q: What inspires you, as an artist, and maybe other things that influence your artistry?

Well, I would say my environment. As in the woods and the trees and the birds and the animals. I find it inspiring, in terms of my work. Also, socio and political issues that I feel very strongly about inspire me to create work about ways to enlighten or educate the public: how you can change systems that may be corrupt or different ways to see perspectives. I guess there's a part of me that really wants to help people whose voices aren't heard. So, whether they're social outcasts or the homeless or prisoners or incarcerated individuals, let’s hear their perspectives. I get a lot of inspiration from the down and out and how to give them a voice in the world. Other things that inspire me are other artists, not just in my field but visual artists or woodworking artists. I find them inspiring in terms of how to find different ways to work. Science is also very inspiring for creating work that relates to different fields, and in the devised theater world, we're encouraged to problem solve. Architecture I think is inspiring: which shapes and forms and movement work in a certain space or environment? The space itself can give you inspiration for what choreography to create or what text to say. So it's sort of multidisciplinary. There are lots of things that I get sort of “juiced” or excited about. Physicality, athleticism, and sports I think directly relate to theatre. It’s that connection between the audience I mean. when somebody hits a home run is the same energy you get when you're on stage and you're like “the audience is completely with me.” Or maybe they’re not and they’re totally confused. It's the same thing when you watch a football or baseball game. You're totally there.

Q: What was the last project you worked on?  

The last project that was fully completed is called “Moment of Impact”. And it was a devised solo show about a young boy suicide that I witnessed when I was on a train. I didn't see him, exactly. But I was on an Amtrak train and this boy jumped in front of it. And because of that situation, I created a solo physical theater piece that involved circus and dance and text-based character work based on that experience because it was fairly traumatic. I felt a need to express those feelings and also see if I could educate the public about suicide.

Q: Can you talk just broadly about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as an artist?

So as of March 16 pretty much, I lost all of my work that I had at the time. I was very lucky because I had completed some big projects right before this happened, but I still had a ton of work lined up all the way through July that has since been canceled. Some of those jobs were teaching artists. I was supposed to direct the Sound of Music at the Putney Grammar School and that got canceled. We are still in communication about doing any online online work but the school is closed, so I've not been compensated for that. There was other work: one-off gigs and such also have since been cancelled. So, I was in a complete sort of panic because I did not, or rather I don't have the savings. Living pretty much hand to mouth since my partner is a carpenter. Thank God he’s not a performer. Really would have been a nightmare! So, he's still been able to work a little bit for certain clients. For me, I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. My first initial instinct was to contact those people that I would have worked with and see if they could write me a letter, just stating, “You were supposed to work these dates”, just in case. I started desperately looking to apply for financial aid and relief packages. And then I started to apply for unemployment and the small business loans because self employed individuals could apply for those. I think the whole first two or three weeks of the pandemic, I was just constantly at my computer, desperately applying for grants. I also worked for an elderly woman. I stopped going to see her, because we felt it wasn't appropriate. There's another woman I model for and she's in her 70s so we also had to stop. I still stay in touch with them to make sure they're okay because I keep worrying about them. I've offered my services in terms of helping them get groceries or whatever. In Vermont, I think we've had over 800 cases. I think we’ve only had 40 deaths, so it has not been too extreme here. I think it's because we live in a rural area and people are fairly spread out. I've kept in touch with my friends in New York. I have one friend that I was in a company with in the city who is younger than myself: a dancer acrobat. He's currently fighting for his life in a hospital in Brooklyn. It's the first person I know that's younger than me and is suffering. So it's not an old person disease for sure. I unfortunately had a friend of mine from grad school lose his mom. She died about two weeks ago. I guess it's just weird when you start to know people. And then it hits.

I feel very grateful for so much:  for myself at least my partner. Like things could be way different if we weren't living where we are right now, and Sean's able to work still. And finally I got my unemployment. So that’s good. But there's a lot of other people that are suffering in much greater ways and I think about those people. And I have such gratitude for myself and for my situation and that's why part of me wants to help. I've been teaching online yoga classes, since this started on Fridays. And that's sort of, I feel like, the way I can contribute. I mean I could make masks, but they might not look so great. But yeah, you know there's just a big need, I think, to want to do something.

Q: How have you seen the performing arts community reacting, and you can speak specifically about theater?

So, locally. There's been a community theater group here that started a writing group pretty quickly to get together online and write poetry or short stories, which has been great. First it started out writing about the health crisis and then we sort of moved a little bit away from that. So that's been wonderful. And other people have just reached out locally, like the Vermont Arts Council. Other local theater groups, I think, are getting together and talking about Zoom, how to move forward from this, and how to reinvent the theatrical world and the dance world. I was on a Zoom meeting with the network of ensemble theaters, and there is about 75 people on this meeting. And it was about how do we move forward; what does theater look like in this new era. And it was a really interesting meeting about what the word live means. A lot of people were like, “well what does live actually mean?” And somebody else was talking about, “well maybe we should talk about alive as opposed to live.” And so there's interesting conversation and some people really feeling like this online platform works and other people just not wanting to find something else. There’s very interesting discussions about how we can keep ourselves safe and how to keep your audience safe, and just the myriad of ways that people are trying to think outside the box. Some interesting things that people were talking about were like, “what about letter writing theater?” And, you know, “what about, like, pageant theater or concessional theater parade type outside your window, like performance art and Fluxus art,” which was back in the 60s. Fluxus art is actually my one, elderly friend who lives in Brattleboro: she was a Fluxus artist, so she totally knows about all that stuff. I think it's interesting just how people are trying to support and come together to find new ways to reinvent. I I think that's what art and artists are supposed to do, is figure out how we can help each other and support each other and then move forward safely. Last night I was on another zoom meeting where and that’s what it was about. We were talking about how we can support each other and how we can allow each other to feel safe, and everybody's idea of that is different. So, you know, I think it'll be interesting to see where we move from here.

I'm excited. And I'm also really, I think, worried and concerned. I don't know, really. It's weird. I went to school for devised theater and it's all about collaboration. It's all about touching; it's all about being in the same room together. And I'm like, wow! Gee! What’s this master's degree in something that I can't even do now?

I'm concerned about those things. I'm pretty malleable. I'm okay with moving or changing jobs and things, but it's sort of sad, and it's confusing. There's so many emotions that come with it. I mean I'm not willing to let go of it yet. I mean, artists are usually fighters. I mean I know I am I'm. No, okay. I'm gonna keep going until somebody says, “this isn't gonna work.”

Q: What would you like to see change after this pandemic is over and we are able to come back and, you know, it probably won't look the same, but what do you think, where, where would you like there to be a shift?

Oh, there's so many places I would love things to shift: systems that are in place that are not working or are corrupt. Smaller artists in smaller towns and organizations, sometimes get bypassed if you don't already have a big profile. That's one area I would love to shift a little bit so that people of all levels could get a little further into the world in terms of what they want to create. And I also feel like, for women in this industry, it's always been difficult to have our voices heard. And I guess there's some justice that I feel could be served in that area. I know it's changing a lot, but I still think that there's a long way to go. Not just in this country, but in many countries where they still don't even have what we have.

I also think that, you know, Broadway is Broadway. But it's wrapped up in all kinds of money and corporate support and I guess that, to me, isn't always the most interesting theater. Personally, I'm way more interested in the off off-Broadway: the dark, dungy, weird, avant garde stuff. And I would like to see more of that. I'd like to see more work that’s not mainstream. I'm also interested in artists creating work with other organizations. Something I've heard recently was that a big theatre company was partnering with Harvard public health to create a new theatre space for this new era of worrying about our health and the health crisis. Two fields that seemed kind of separate are going to come together and that really interests me. I'm really interested in how artists can work with other types of organizations: how we can help the community by also helping them. And I've heard a lot of things like this happening and things going in this direction.

Another thing that excites me about online things is that you can collaborate with people from anywhere. I've always felt that way. When you're out of sight, you’re out of mind sort of, but I've never really believed that. I always felt like you can collaborate with anybody. And now this really proves that's possible. I'm currently collaborating with a friend of mine in Mexico. He lives in Mexico City. So we're trying to create work like this. I don't know what the end product is gonna be, but I think that's really exciting! I think we could break down some of the barriers and stigmas we have about racial issues, etc. There's so many things I would like to see change from this health crisis. I worry that they won't, but I hope. I do have an optimistic view that things will change.

Transcription courtesy of