Sam’s not a trained actor, although his accomplished career as a lawyer and public advocate speaks to his eloquence and smarts. “I learn by doing,” he says. “There’s no substitution for just stepping out onstage and doing it. That’s given me encouragement over time.”
The Actual Dance has indeed had time to grow, born of Susan’s and his experiences with cancer for over a decade now. “This play has become a real passion of mine,” Sam explains. “It’s born out of my own experience. Pieces of it have evolved over the years. But the telling of this story is always true to me. Honestly, I do it for self-development.”
How so? How does performing a show like this — candid, confiding, contemplative — change someone?
“I feel like I’m turning myself inside out. Every part of who I am on the inside is exposed. But I love it. I think this show has actually enabled me to put more of myself into my performances over time.”
And it’s not only he who changes, of course, when living with and sharing such a personal, vulnerable story.
Sam smiles. “People always come up to me after readings and performances, and they tell me that their lives have somehow been affected by this. So I really don’t think of this only as a theater piece. I like to think of it as a calling, making the show available to people. That’s why we do talkbacks after every show. We meet out front, or we go to a restaurant. There are just always people who want to talk more about the show, and I want to have those conversations.”
Sam has shared the play with groups of nursing school students — something he’d like to do more often. He’s interested in getting medical professionals to hear the story, since so much of The Actual Dance deals directly with Susan’s time in the hospital and in treatment. Not to mention rabbis, priests, cancer support groups, caregiving organizations… Already he’s got twenty more showings booked before the year is out.
“I’m discovering that there is a gift in the show that I didn’t know about,” he explains. “This show has an existence now outside of me. I keep learning more from what I’ve written. It’s incredible to go through that process.”
I ask him whether he remembers the moment of realizing that The Actual Dance could serve not only as a work of theatre but as a therapeutic tool. Was it clear from the outset?
Pretty much. “I knew by the first reading, which I did for friends. Their reactions surprised me. I was prepared for things like, ‘Great job Sam, I can’t wait for the next one.’ But conversations went deeper than that. We talked about how rare it is to hear a story about breast cancer from a male voice. One night, I had a guy come up to me after a show and pull me aside to tell me about his struggle with prostate cancer. He said: ‘I never understood how my wife reacted while I had it. And now I do. Thank you.’ I wouldn’t have imagined this show could have such an effect.”
by Sam Simon
at Fort Fringe — Bedroom
612 L Street NW
Details and tickets
“Like what it feels like to watch another man, even if he is a doctor, put his hands on your wife’s bare chest. Like putting voice to fears, anxieties. Thinking about things like: will she be less attractive in some way after going through all this? Hard questions. Ones people don’t always like to talk about.”
But which people do enjoy listening to. And there is, indeed, much participation on their parts as well. Sam’s site theactualdance.com hosts not only show information but poetry as well. “It’s a very creative community we live in. Life with cancer is never easy, but we have no many ways of deciding to address it.”
Sam practices what he preaches — this show is his life now. “I’ll be doing this full-time. This is what I do now. And I’ve been thinking about what’s next as well.”
But first, he must run off around the corner for an hour or so — the next performance of The Actual Dance is about to start.