For Devario D. Simmons, the road to Broadway began in a 2010 costume-technology class taught by Kendra Johnson, Clemson Associate Professor of Theatre.
Simmons, then a communications major, turned out to be such a natural at creating costumes that Johnson asked him to assist her on a production of the play “A Lesson Before Dying” in Greenville.
He followed that experience by changing his major to performing arts and designing costumes for several Clemson University productions, including Euripides’ “Medea.”
“I just kept designing,” Simmons said. “The opportunities kept coming, so I never stopped.”
Flash forward to today: Simmons, 30, is bound for Broadway.
Simmons will be co-costume designer with Toni-Leslie James for Keenan Scott II’s play “Thoughts of a Colored Man,” which uses spoken word, slam poetry and music to highlight the experiences of seven Black men living in Brooklyn.
“It’s a huge opportunity for me, but I also like to think of it as a ‘start’ – to keep growing,” Simmons said.
The play will run at Broadway’s Shubert Theatre, although due to uncertainties surrounding COVID-19, an exact opening date has not been scheduled.
Simmons’ Broadway debut follows several years of working in U.S. regional theatres. After graduating from Clemson in 2013, Simmons earned his MFA in theatre pedagogy with an emphasis in costume design at Virginia Commonwealth University. He worked for more than a year as a resident costume designer at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.
Now based in New York, Simmons also has served as the associate costume designer for the U.S. and international productions of the Tony Award-winning “Come From Away,” about how a Canadian town pulled together to help displaced Americans after 9/11. The musical carried Simmons to productions in Ireland, Australia and Britain – as well as several U.S. states.
Simmons’ costume work ranges from contemporary dramas to classic musicals and plays such as “Man of La Mancha” and “The Merchant of Venice.”
“I don’t really have a favorite genre,” Simmons said. “What I enjoy is the creation, no matter what period. Seeing something I’ve created come to life is what’s so enjoyable.”
Johnson said Simmons’ talent immediately stood out in her class 10 years ago.
“Devario was an exceptional student,” she said. “In my 20 years of teaching, I never had a student like Devario, with a rare combination of talent, skill, and maturity. I am not surprised that he is doing so well at such a young age. Remember his name. He will be successful at anything he chooses to do.”
When the coronavirus struck, Simmons was working as associate designer for “The Visitor,” starring David Hyde Pierce at New York’s Public Theatre.
COVID-19 postponed that show and several other projects Simmons had in the works, but he turned that setback into an opportunity, choosing to visit with family and friends in his hometown of Greenville.
“I’ve been so busy over the past two or three years that it’s great to be able to spend some time with family,” Simmons said.
He also accepted an offer to become an assistant professor, teaching costume design, at Ithaca College, a private liberal arts college in Ithaca, New York. Simmons also is contracted to host a new podcast about costume design for the Costume Industry Coalition.
“I’ve just been overly blessed to have opportunities come my way,” Simmons said.
He hopes to be a mentor to future theater professionals as he was mentored by Johnson.
“When I was offered the teaching position, I called Kendra right away to thank her,” Simmons said. “She is definitely part of what I am today, and she remains a great mentor. Clemson gave me a strong foundation, and she gave me real-life experience. I hope to pass on that knowledge to my students.”
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