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Meet David Simmons of The UBU Project

Today we’d like to introduce you to David Simmons.

David, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve been working in the world of the performing arts, entertainment, and education my entire adult life. In fact, I was born into a family of musicians, performers, educators, and arts administrators. You might say that it’s the family business.

The UBU Project is the logical extension of my own forty plus years as a professional teaching artist, education director, actor, musician, director, music director, band leader, tour manager, producer, songwriter, playwright, and recording artist.

It also the perfect extension of my experience as a 26 year recovering alcoholic and survivor of my own failed suicide attempts. You see, on March 31st of 2009, I made my final suicide attempt. From the moment my life was saved I knew that it was for a very special reason. Then, in early 2017 I heard the following statistic: The leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 in Arizona is suicide. I was galvanized. This is why my life was saved.

I immediately began combining my years of experience in the arts, gathered the support of what is now the UBU Board of Advisors (film and television actor J.K. Simmons, University of Washington English Professor Dr. Elizabeth Simmons-O’Neill, Childhood Trauma Specialist Charlie Atkinson and Music Industry Professional Walt Versen) and created The UBU Project.

We specialize in Arts Integration; supporting core curriculum teachers through student-led, project-based, goal-oriented, arts-infused residencies. We also utilize these interactive, performing arts residencies to lead suicide prevention, substance abuse prevention and anti-bullying residencies, Most recently I was honored to work with the students, faculty and counseling staff of Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek, AZ.

Over the course of five weeks, I guided the students in creating four original songs of highly diverse styles and a 30-minute original script. All combined this material will become a student-led, peer-mentoring substance abuse prevention outreach program for the students, by the students, in their own voice, their stories, their fears and their hopes for the future plus action steps to get there.

What is most inspiring is that the vast majority of these teens are dealing with their own substance and mental health issues and very few of them have any experience in the arts. Their willingness to step forward in courageous vulnerability and share their stories and work to find hope for themselves and their peers has been life-altering. This is but one example of many.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
The road to creating any business from the ground up is fraught with numerous potential pitfalls and detours. However, my years of experience combined with the assistance of my board of advisors, friends, and colleagues has helped smooth over every twist and turn along the way.

Please tell us about The UBU Project.
What sets The UBU Project apart from any other arts education outreach programs (and there are many wonderful outreach organizations throughout the Phoenix Valley) is that I am able to speak from deep experience especially when leading the suicide prevention, substance abuse prevention and anti-bullying residencies. I am a thriving survivor of my own suicide attempts, 26 years sober in recovery and a former victim of grade school, middle school, and high school bullying.

Also, all UBU Project residencies are completely interactive and student-led. When there is a performance, it is created by and for the students thereby increasing their meta-cognition of the subject matter at hand. As a creative performing artist and educator I bring decades of experience and training in opera, musical theater, rock, pop, blues, jazz, funk, folk, country and soul music as well as creative dramatics, Shakespeare, movement and technical theater (I am an honors graduate of the University of Montana School of Music).

The students always create 100% of the lyrics in UBU songwriting residencies. I then take their suggestions and input as to what style of music we will use. In one residency I worked with all 150 fourth grade students at Estrella Mountain Elementary School in the Liberty School District, Goodyear, AZ. They were studying native tribes of the desert southwest. I helped them create their spring performance piece with each class focusing on two tribes.

Each classroom chose a style of music for their songs (one per tribe), and these songs became the centerpieces of their performance. Everything from blues, pop, and hip-hop to rock, funk, country and, their favorite: opera. Combined with a script that was also student-created they were able to present a curriculum-based performance for their friends, families, and classmates as their final class project in the spring.

In the substance abuse prevention workshop I’m just finishing at Cactus Shadows High School in Cavecreek we created four hope-filled songs in alt-country, jazz/blues, reggae, and symphonic heavy metal. In fact, I will be arranging the symphonic metal tune (entitled “Break That Cycle”) for the Cactus Shadows High School concert band and choir.

Again, I am deeply grateful that absolutely every aspect of my professional training and experience comes into play with every UBU residency in addition to my experience as a thriving survivor.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
My plans and goals for The UBU Project are to work in every Arizona school district as well as other states and regions. I have already presented suicide prevention workshops in Missoula, Montana and am in negotiations with school districts in Seattle, Washington, and LA, California. I am also looking at broadening our focus to include community groups, veterans organizations and faith communities. The sky is really the limit.

As the program grows, I’ll begin identifying and training other, like-minded teaching artists in The UBU Project approach to Arts Integration which is, again, student-led, goal-oriented, project-based and arts-infused.

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