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Center Stage

Center StageMaking her recent Broadway debut alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Charles S. Dutton, Tufts graduate Heather Alicia Simms is carving her own path across stage and screen. New York City.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.12.03] For Heather Alicia Simms, 2003 is shaping up to be a good year. The 1992 Tufts graduate made her Broadway debut alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Charles S. Dutton in February and is featured in the new Chris Rock film slated for release in March. While Simms is part of a long line of award-winning actors from Tufts, the energetic actress is carving her own unique path, and having a great time doing it.

"You know what makes me happy? The realization that it's possible to work as an actor, to be on Broadway, to have the career you want," Simms told Backstage.

Simms plays the role of Dussie Mae in "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" for the show's 21-week run at the Royale Theatre. The play - written by August Wilson and produced by Goldberg - has ranked among Broadway's top ten money makers. While the role is Simms' first on Broadway, she's no stranger to the theater. She studied drama while at Tufts, and co-founded the University's first black theatre company in 1989.

"When I co-founded the Tufts Black Theatre Company with [fellow Tufts graduate and award-winning playwright] Robert O'Hara, one of our goals was to create a place where the Tufts community could see alternate representations of people in the African Diaspora as well as allowing for the emergence of new voices," Simms said in an interview with Tufts E-News. "We decided to take an active role in how we were going to spend our time in the arts community on Tufts' campus."

The Tufts graduate said that working towards equality in the arts is an important goal - one that is both difficult and rewarding.

"In the working world, the task may seem a bit more daunting although not less important," Simms said. "However, each of us has to decide for ourselves what our task will be. I believe that we have a responsibility as a society to look at what is going on around us and start from there."

A double major in History and English with a minor in African-American studies at Tufts, Simms told E-News that she envisions her career in the arts including more than just acting.

"I am in the process of finishing my first screenplay," said Simms. "I would love to direct and produce some of my own projects in the future as well."

The young graduate hopes that her career will follow in the footsteps of her mentor Whoopi Goldberg, with whom she stars in Ma Rainey. Working with the well respected actress, Simms said, is a dream come true.

"[Goldberg] is everything that I hoped that she would be: down to earth, intelligent, warm, and fiercely funny," Simms said.

Part of a broad community of stage and screen performers from Tufts - including William Hurt, Hank Azaria, Peter Gallagher and Oliver Platt - Simms encourages aspiring actors to pursue their dreams, but remember to lead a full life outside their careers.

"Remember to live," Simms said. "Lead a full, rich life and try not to take things for granted. Read as much as possible and listen to as much as you can. Most actors, from the famous to the not so famous, live so much of their lives not acting that it is important to be able to live happily as a whole and enriched person during those spaces."

Simms - who has also made notable appearances on TV's "Homicide", "Law & Order" and "As the World Turns" - said that she has fond memories of her alma mater.

"My favorite professor would have to be my history professor and advisor Gerald Gill," Simms told E-News. "He has made a lasting impression on my life. He is a man of excellence and definitely challenged [me] in the best way while I was at Tufts."

She added, "He still remembers the grades I received on my seminar papers. But please don't ask him."

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