In this latest episode of The Broadway Show with Tamsen Fadal, Simmonds sat down with Paul Wontorek to chat about her experiences as a Deaf actor on stage and screen.
The 20-year-old BAFTA-nominated actor never expected her career to take off so quickly. The shortage of Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in acting led to her desire to prove she was capable. “I didn’t see a lot of representation,” Simmonds said. “My first exposure [to] a Deaf actor was Nyle [DiMarco] on America’s Next Top Model, and I watched all of his videotapes, his YouTube, whatever he was in. But I didn’t think I would be able to succeed in the industry and Hollywood.”
“I’m very fortunate to be able to be where I am today,” she continued. “And it’s not only me. You’re seeing so much more deaf representation onstage, on the big screen, on television.”
Her role of Bernie in Grey House is another step in her effort to break down those boundaries, and the Broadway community has welcomed Simmonds with enthusiasm. “It’s such a strong community, this theater community, and I feel so welcome,” she said. The play, written by Levi Holloway and directed by Tony Award winner Joe Mantello, follows a couple seeking shelter from a storm in a cabin; the cabin is inhabited by five children and their caretaker, played by Laurie Metcalf. But things are not as they seem.
“It’s a psychological thriller,” she said. “It’s very nuanced. The audiences are trying to figure out what’s happening throughout the storyline. I think audiences leave with more questions than answers, and I like that kind of play, that kind of narrative. That’s why I said yes to this.”
For Simmonds, taking on the role also provided the opportunity to learn from the other members of the ensemble. “To work with Laurie Metcalf, it’s amazing. … On day one during rehearsals, she came ready. She had already memorized her lines, and we were all trying to catch up with her. She set the bar right away,” Simmonds said. “It’s been very inspiring for me.”
Simmonds bubbled with exhilaration describing her Broadway experience: “I feel so fortunate to see this time in history — this change where people, where things are more accessible, where we’re seeing more diverse representation.”