Simon Woods’ newfound perspective on theater

Woods, who plays Derek in “Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls,” speaks on the generosity of performance.

Brooklyn native Simon Woods, playing Derek, understands grappling with adulthood, as do many in the crowd of SUNY New Paltz students. Photo by Olivia Perez.

Simon Woods, a SUNY New Paltz senior from Schenectady, New York, fully embraces the world of theater. He’s been heavily involved in productions, on and off the stage, since a young age. Woods has experienced the theater world before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. This drastic change in the world around him has resulted in a renewed perspective about multiple aspects of the craft. Since moving to New Paltz one year before the pandemic, Woods considers the artful town to be a second home. Woods plays Derek, a main character in SUNY New Paltz’s production, “Aloha, Say the Pretty Girls.” 

What do you find most challenging about the theater? 

Any performance is going to come with its hiccups and roadblocks. People have been through a lot in the last few years. Theater, and art in general, is catching up to where people’s tolerances and emotional thresholds are presently. A big challenge that I and a lot of my fellow theater artists have faced is figuring out where to draw limits for yourself. It’s a physically, emotionally and vocally demanding art.

Who or what are your biggest artistic influences?

One of my earliest inspirations was a gentleman by the name of Scott Payne, who ran some theater workshops at a local day camp I attended as a kid. He was a great inspiration for getting me into the theater bug early on. I also had some really great teachers in high school that allowed me to branch out and explore beyond what a lot of high schoolers are exposed to. How I operate at this point is a culmination of the influences that I’ve had over the years, from my mentors as a kid all the way up through my education here at SUNY New Paltz.

What are a couple of standout memories you have from your acting experiences?

In my senior year of high school, some friends and I put together an independent production of the play “The Glass Menagerie” as a charity project. It was all student performers, directors, technicians and everything. It was a pretty rousing success. At the age of 16, being able to cohesively put together a piece of theater with friends was something that stuck with me. Also, this past spring in New Paltz I did the musical “Bat Boy,” in which I played the title role. Having a role that was large and integral to the show was an opportunity to stretch myself physically and vocally. My vocal range required a fair amount of athleticism for the role that I hadn’t necessarily had to employ before. That was a really gratifying experience.

As a main character of the show, Derek, played by Simon Woods, is a frustrated writer with all the pressures of finding success. Photo by Julie Marasco.

Are there any dream roles you’ve wanted to experience?

I would love to be in Sweeney Todd in some capacity. There are a few roles that I could play really well and it’s a wonderfully fun show. Martin McDonagh’s play, The Pillowman is a dark and challenging comedy I’ve been very fond of for years that I would love to perform. Ultimately, a lot of theater is about rolling with the punches. Not every project is going to be your absolute favorite or something you connect with the most personally. A lot of theater is being able to adapt and bring out yourself in the opportunities that you’re given. But at the same time, I think everyone who’s a performer does have those roles where we’re like, “we’ll get there someday.”

What’s a detail of theater that gets overlooked a lot?

Theater is all about bodily control and using your body in expressionistic ways to convey emotion to an audience that sometimes might be very far away from you. It’s a deeply physical and athletic art, and you have to use your body as a tool or machine in the way than an athlete would. 

What’s some advice that you would give to people wanting to get into theater?

I think the biggest thing for people to remember is that theater is about being physically, vocally and emotionally generous and conveying to an audience with your whole being what it is that you have to say. That vulnerability can be a little intimidating, particularly if one doesn’t have a lot of experience. Ultimately, it’s a medium that’s designed for this dialogue of acceptance between the actors and the technicians and the audience.

Michael Erkan

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