A few weeks ago, Atlanta Film and TV had the pleasure of having a virtual conversation with TV Producer, Author, Playwright, and Entrepreneur, Aubrey-Simone Williams. Ms. Williams has an extensive resume which includes, one of two founding theater directors at Charles R. Drew Charter Schoool, serving as a professional stage manager, lighting designer, acting coach, and director. Currently, Aubrey-Simone is the founder of TheACTivists Theater Company and currently serves as a Senior Producer at Fox Digital (Fox Soul).
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you tell us who Aubrey-Simone Williams is, and what it is you do in the Atlanta Film and Television industry?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: I am the founder of a theater production company called
TheACTivists, LLC, which is a production company for social justice issues. It is a safe space for all creatives to share their stories and educate those around them.
I am also the senior producer for Fox Digital (Fox Soul ) TV. Fox Soul is a niche network developed by James Dubose and is a talk show platform where we have raw, unfiltered, and uncensored discussions about taboos within the black community.
Atlanta Film and TV: You have an extensive theater background. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got your start to where you are now? How did your journey lead you to where you are now?
"I began writing stage plays at eight-years-old. My mother was an entrepreneur, and her friends owned daycare centers. I was a child that glued everyone in the center with some art form since I was always writing, creating, or coming up with dances. I would gather all the kids together and tell them that we were going to put on a play that I wrote." - Aubrey Simone Williams
Later, I attended a performing arts high school and studied theater. I tried acting until I realized that it wasn't my strongest suit. I do, however, enjoy acting, but I am also a black woman with a mental illness, not always seeing myself as the characters I portrayed. But I knew I had to learn how to portray a character in order for me to know how to direct actors.
From there, I ended up transferring to a regular public school and graduated at the age of sixteen. I went to Clark-Atlanta University my freshman year and was declared a theater major. While at Clark Atlanta, I did a few stage-management gigs. Eventually, I transferred to Georgia State University and was declared a theater major, and while there I did a lot of outside internships and volunteered with several of the surrounding theaters, and I also did a few pop-up mini productions.
Once I graduated, I pursued a few professional opportunities in theatre - but of course, in theater, you don’t get paid a lot if you don’t have the experience. I worked for smaller theatre companies and was doing a lot of freelance work, such as production and stage management. I realized I was a good micromanager, and detail-oriented, and that I was great at organizing. Though I may not have everything together with myself, I know how to keep it together while working on a production.
Later, I decided to pursue a graduate degree in African-American Studies. At the time, I was interested in identity and wanted to know why I never studied about Amiri Baraka, August Wilson, or Lynn Nottage and all the playwrights that looked like me. So, I began to dig into the Black Arts Movement, and that is when I declared my major in Africana Studies at Georgia State University.
"Once I told my professors that I was going to write a theater thesis, they looked at me and asked, 'you're going to do what?' I repeated myself and their response was, 'I don't know how you expect us to help you with that, but we're going to try and figure it out.' I was dead set on writing a theatre thesis, and I think for a while my professors loved my determination but didn't think I would really pull it off. One of my professors on my research committee helped to merge everything when it came to the creative and the logical aspects of my thesis. In the end, I was able to have the first-ever performance-based thesis in the history of the department. Now, the department models every artistic thesis after my work." - Aubrey-Simone Williams
After graduating, I taught at Charles R. Drew Charter School in Atlanta. Once I got to Drew Charter School, I made sure all my students knew that I was there to build a theatre program and that it was not just going to be your "typical" theatre class. I let them know they would be acting and producing shows as if they were professionals. I wanted to give them hands-on experience. The kids were taught everything, down to lighting design. My goal was to teach my students life skills and made sure that we put on at least one performance a year. I also took them to study abroad in the United Kingdom, where I also studied. It showed my students how theater shaped me, and I believe what I did for my students had an impact on a lot of them. I recently had two students text me the other day to let me know they changed their major to theatre or film and television.
I started my theater company while I taught at Drew Charter School. At first, I was reluctant to step out on faith because I was comfortable with teaching. That was until Ms. Erica Respress saw what I was doing with my production, Black Matter, and told me that I had more potential than just teaching, and pushed me to start my business. Eventually, I got my LLC, created a logo. We started the theater company with a few students and my best friend Nana who had his own dance company called Adinkra Dance. We eventually partnered with Cyd from The Tiny Theater Company. Now, we’re one big entity. Together, where we have toured shows, and have done theater festivals such as the Atlanta Black Theater Festival and the Rochester Fringe Fest. It has been a blessing in terms of where I started versus where I am now.
My production Black Matter got the attention of one of the executives at Fox. They were interested in what I was doing, and before I knew it, I moved to LA in 2018 to work for Fox Soul, and now we are turning Black Matter into a documentary that we are going to pitch!
Atlanta Film and TV: Most people know what they want to do as a child. Was this the case for you? If so, what were some of the things you did as a child for you to gain your interest in theater and or television?
"I always knew I was going to be in some form of art. But, it wasn’t until I was about seven or eight-years-old. I wasn’t sure if that would be theater because I thought I would be a poet or a dancer, or even an actor. But, I knew whatever artform I chose, I was going to pair that with teaching."
Atlanta Film and TV: Can you speak on any of the theatre productions you’ve worked on or theatre companies you’ve worked for?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: Shadows and Light was a theater production I did stage management and lighting for, with Out of the Box Theater in Marietta. That was one I truly enjoyed because it was so intimate I love Joni Mitchell. I’ve worked on Shout! - The Improv Series as a producer with this niche theatre company in Buckhead. I also did a few productions with Georgia State University after I graduated, such as Trouble in Mind, and Carnival Medea - as an assistant stage manager. I also got to volunteer for my favorite series Sh*t faced Shakespeare at The Village Theater, and, I was the education liaison for the Act Like a Lady program, at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theater.
Atlanta Film and TV: You’ve worked as an Arts Educator teaching students in grades 6-12 at Charles Drew Charter School. What was that experience like for you, and would you ever consider going back to the classroom?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: Now that I have the worldly experience of producing my shows, which led me to me being a Senior Executive Producer at a major production company, I only ever foresee myself teaching at the collegiate level. The only obstacle to teaching at a level like that is the pressure of having to produce academic articles, research, or books. I believe having experience in the field holds a lot more weight, than being an academic who has read a lot of books.
Atlanta Film and TV: I’ve also read that you’re an author. Can you speak on some of the things you have written?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: While pursuing my Master's Degree, one of my professors gave me the assignment to write on the Last Poets. I did, however, thought what I was submitting was a “regular” homework assignment and wound up getting an A on it. Then, this particular professor announced that I was going to be one of the students selected to have my work published in the Black Power Encyclopedia.
The next book I wrote was called Black Matter, which is an adaptation of the play. What I did was, I removed the monologues and poems from the play, and inserted excerpts from my life, as well as some of the things I learned on my journey while writing the play.
The last book I just finished writing is called Pitching to Producers for Theatre and Television. What inspired me to write this book sparked conversations with my friends who are also producers. Within our conversations, I noticed that a lot of publicists and managers make a lot of “common knowledge mistakes” that prevent their clients from getting booked. Such as not researching the platform, and making sure that their client aligns with our brand. Lastly, I included what to expect after you pitch to a platform because most people don’t know.
Atlanta Film and TV: How did you get your start working in film and television and how did you get your start as a television producer?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: I was fortunate enough to begin as an Associate Producer, whereas most people start as a Production Assistant. I was able to work around veterans, and I worked hard to prove myself. I wanted to show them that even though I wasn’t necessarily in my lane, which was primarily theatre, I did have the skills related to the job. Eventually, I was promoted from being an Associate Producer to a Producer within a year, and then I became a Senior Producer.
Atlanta Film and TV: For someone who may not know, what does your job as a Senior Producer consist of?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: The role of a Senior Producer varies depending on where and who you work for. During my time as the Senior Producer for The Mike and Donny Show, I oversaw the content and what topics they talked about every night. Since the show is a very manly and raw talk show, my Associate Producer and I spend a lot of time going through pitches of guests to best see who would fit our platform. I meet with the hosts, guests, managers, and other producers so we can put together a show that is conducive to the network. I also make sure the topics are something that not only the hosts are comfortable with, but also the guests since the Mike and Donny Show is a male-dominated show.
Usually, a typical day for me was 12-15 hours long, six days a week. I’m on the East Coast, and everyone else is L.A, which makes my job a little harder because I am three hours ahead.
Atlanta Film and TV: What is a "Day in the Life" of Aubrey-Simone Williams? And, how has your day changed since the pandemic?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: Before the pandemic, my day was pretty much the same except I worked in the studio out in LA., and my hours were from 1 -10 pm. Now everything is online, and I have more meetings because more communication has to happen over email and phone. Whereas before, I could walk over to a specific office and ask a question. Other than that, I try to carve out time to dedicate to my other creative endeavors, such as my theatre projects.
Atlanta Film and TV: How do you balance working as a Senior Producer, Author, Playwright, and Entrepreneur?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: It’s easy for me to balance all of these roles because it’s not a good idea for me to be idle. I could use a little bit more of family and fun time, but in terms of wearing my business hat, I think I can pretty much juggle those things pretty well.
Atlanta Film and TV: What would be a piece of advice for someone who desires a career as a film and television producer?
"Be prepared for a lot of changes. And, if you’re a person that loves to have structure, you will have to let go of that just a little if you want to venture into film and television. And, lastly, be sure that you’re prepared to work in a fast-paced environment." -Aubrey-Simone Williams
Atlanta Film and TV: What are a few things that you have upcoming?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: I now work in the short films department for FOX SOUL TV, which is exciting that I get to use my film degree on a professional level. My Play Black Matter is currently showing in Atlanta from February 27 - 28th at the Windmill Arts Center in East Point. Be on the lookout for some of the Fox Soul short films and for Black Matter to hopefully become one of the Fox Soul original pieces!
Atlanta Film and TV: How can people connect with you?
Aubrey-Simone Williams: If you want to submit your short film to Fox Soul, my email is email@example.com . And, my personal IG is @_masterofthehearts and my theater company is @TheACTivists