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Q&A with Theater Notes reviewer Sid Simon

By Staff | Mar 6, 2009

Sid Simon is a retired college professor and the man behind the ever insightful Theater Notes review column for the Islander.

Where did you grow up?

Pittsburgh, Penn.

What was your

childhood like?

We were poor. My dad was a truck driver, and my mother ran a boarding house. I was eight-years-old and I did all of her grocery shopping. It’s a story.

There were no books, no music, not any intellectual stimulation. Just work.

And it was the 1930’s and the Great Depression.

What was your family life like?

I found a surrogate family down the street. One of my playmates, Alfie Watterson, had a mother who had been a kindergarten teacher before she had Alfie.

She was my salvation. She ran her house like a reading-readiness program. She read to us each day. And took Alfie and me to the Carnegie Library, where I could take out books. The first ones to enter our house. When I went off to school,

I just went in with the perfect head-start program named Ms. Watterson.

You are pretty much a staple on Sanibel – what brought you to the island?

I sensed the sheer magic the first time I crossed that causeway, back somewhere around 1974. I bought a house in 1976. I didn’t retire for 20 years, but all my kids and I and extended family used the house for all the winter vacations . We still went to the Adirondacks for the Summer, to the Ausable Forks area, where we owned an old farm.

What did you do for a career before retiring?

I was a teacher all my life, beginning in 1950. My last 20 years were spent at the University of Massachusetts. My field was Psychological, Affective and Humanistic Education.

Most folks know you as a man behind Theater Notes. Can you share with the readers what its like being a reviewer and what attracted you to writing reviews?

First off, Theater has been a part of my life forever. Way back in high school, I ushered one night a week at the downtown Pittsburgh legitimate theater where the traveling shows came to. Imagine being a one night a week usher at the Barbara Mann?

When I got to Penn State as an undergraduate I was in eight musical review shows. I started as a hoofer, and then got speaking roles and eventually, when I was a senior I wrote and directed skits and sketches. Later, I did plays in Community Theater over the years.

So being a reviewer just happened. I take it on with a lot of responsibility. I try to support our regional theaters, with a special fondness for the amateurs, the non-equity houses like Theatre Conspiracy and The Naples Players. I hate farce and I insist on plays that challenge the audience to think.

What is your favorite show or performance?

From dozens and dozens of plays from the last years, that’s a challenging question. I would cite these three: The play “Trying” by Joanna Glass about Frances Biddle’s last years. Biddle was F.D.R.’s Attorney General during World War II. He felt the guilt of the Japanese Internments, and then served as head Judge at Nuremberg after the war.

Then I would celebrate the one woman show, about South Africa, “Syringa”. And after sifting through dozens, I will, for this moment, say, “To Kill a Mockingbird” as my third choice. It has a nobility I cry about at every performance of it I have seen.

Aside from doing theater reviews what other interests or activities do you have or do?

I am active with other writers in the Sanibel Writers’ Group. Reminder, we have a big semi-annual read on March 12th. And I love the First Friday Stories for Grownups Programs at the Library. Hope to be the M.C. of that event for years to come.

You can find me on the bike trail almost every day. The computer allows to keep in sweet touch with my four kids and the five grand children.

Time flies around this Island. It’s hard to be bored.

OK, Sid inquiring minds want to know – you talk about peace and love and calmness – but do you ever get mad? And if so what gets your goat so to speak?

That’s easy. I fume over theater that goes over the top, uncontrolled ham.

But, on a personal note, I hate dinner parties where the only talk is restaurants and wine. And where husbands interrupt what their wives are talking about to try and talk to me. I can be nasty at those moments.

What is something most people would be surprised to learn about you?

How my life was shaped by people outside my family. My dad was yanked out of school after the third-grade (to go to work) and my mother only had a fourth-grade education (and went to work.) That I ended up with a doctorate and a career as a teacher would not have been predicted. Without some powerful mentors along the way and the miracle of the G.I. Bill, I would never have made it to Sanibel, that’s for sure.

Any long term or short term goals?

Yes, yes. I’m determined to get the book of my poems out, the ones about people growing older in a mythical condo on some un-named Island with “A View of the Gulf”.

After that project, I would like to get out another book made up of my love poems.

And, there is a play in me. I have half of it or more written. Isn’t it amazing how family, friends and love can get in the way?

What advice would you give for living a happy life?

I believe in something one of my most important mentors taught me:

Close the gap between your creeds and your deeds.

And this idea from Roberto Assagioli, “Of all the attitudes you can hold, the greatest of these is the attitude of gratitude.”

I, personally, believe that nothing destroys self esteem in children more than negative criticism.

I don’t believe there is much that is useful in “constructive criticism.” Once in a speech about one of my books, Negative Criticism and What to do About it, I wanted to say, constructive criticism and what came out of my mouth was a perfect spoonerism: “constrictive crudicism.”