JK Simmons has won Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe and Academy awards, but his fondest memories are those spent with his brother, David.
“The things that stand out are things I did 40 years ago with my brother and other theater jobs I did in the meantime,” JK says.
“We did a wonderful production of ‘The Fantasticks,’ which is a great little musical. We toured Montana in an 11-passenger van. I played El Gallo and he played the boy’s father. That was one of the many times we got to be on stage together.”
The two will hit the stage again—the Third Street Theatre at the Phoenix Center for the Arts—on Monday, March 2, as part of UBU Project’s benefit concert “Light Your Corner of the World.” Proceeds benefit the project, which seeks to end youth suicide and prevent bullying and substance abuse through arts integration.
“It’s going to be a great event with an eclectic lineup of entertainment featuring David Simmons and the UBU band, and me and a bunch of kids who have been a part of the UBU Project,” JK says.
David, a Peoria resident, and JK will perform a Broadway duet, and then JK will perform alone.
“Getting up on stage for a benefit like this is pretty much the only live performing and singing I get to do these days,” JK says. “My wife and I have been living in LA for almost 20 years, after meeting in New York doing Broadway. We’re bicoastal now. I’m hoping I might end up on Broadway the next few years, maybe in a play or a musical.”
The UBU Project utilizes the arts to teach other subjects, says David, who teaches songwriting at Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Teen Center in Phoenix. Young performers—from fifth grade to high school—will perform their material during the rest of the show. Student performers include Cheyenne Newberry of Peoria; Danica Rollier of Paradise Valley; Isaiah Tilson of Phoenix and Phoebe Marlowe of Paradise Valley, singing to tracks and live drummer Colin McDonald.
“The three young ladies are all in my Alice Cooper Teen Center songwriting class,” David says. “Isaiah and Colin, I met through Solid Rock. The others took part in a UBU suicide prevention residency with Solid Rock. They have hearts as big as all outdoors.
“These kids have come up with the most amazing lyrics,” David says. “The kids work collaboratively. The kids talk about hope, resilience, self-compassion and empathy. We don’t talk about suicide, addiction or bullying, except for the first day.
“We go through a variety of styles. They always want to hear me rap, play jazz, country or rock. I’m a trained opera singer. They want to hear me sing that.”
“Light Your Corner of the World” is one of David’s songs, one that will end the show.
“My late wife (Marilyn Rice) taught me our job on the planet is to light our corner of the world,” David says. “If we all do that slowly, we’ll slowly get rid of the darkness. That’s how we can help one another have a fun, positive evening.”
He called Rice an amazing musician and a “force of nature of a woman.” Rice, who died of breast cancer in 2014, inspired David’s music and his project. So did his own attempts at suicide and then sobriety.
As he drove across the Valley to an AA meeting, David heard harrowing statistics about teen suicide. He was “galvanized into action.” He teamed up with his friend Walt Versen and JK, along with seed money from the likes of Hugh Jackman.
“Walt and I went to visit my brother in Los Angeles on the set of one of his TV shows and we were talking about the project,” he says.
“We finally came up with how the organization would be structured. We’re a 501(c)(3). It was born in JK’s trailer while we were sitting around eating protein bars and drinking water. We were just all on fire for the idea. We’ve had some lovely donations from some people in the entertainment industry; friends of my brothers.”
The first residency was in 2018, and in 16 months they have had direct impact of 3,500 kids and a 33.2% increase in student comprehension. He has worked with Pendergast Elementary School District in Phoenix and Cactus Shadows High School in Cave Creek.
“Every day I wake up and I know I’m part of that solution and teaching kids so they can be part of that solution within their own classroom culture,” David says.
David is looking forward to the show.
“I just can’t wait to hear the kids perform and be on stage with my brother again,” David says. “We haven’t done a show together for 11 years.
“At the last gig, we did a duet, a father-son duet. We started singing and, in a minute, we both started sobbing. We couldn’t get the notes out. It’s a testament to our parents. My brother and sister are two of my closest friends and colleagues.”
The UBU Project Presents: Light Your Corner of the World
Phoenix Center for the Arts, Third Street Theater, 1202 N. Third Street, Phoenix, ubuproject.org, 7 p.m. Monday, March 2, $35-$500.