Alum Gone W.I.L.D.

Simona is producing and starring in W.I.L.D., a web series that premiered on September 17, 2012, on youtube.  W.I.L.D., a parody of teenage rehabilitation probgrams, aims to shed light on the real life pressures manyu of today's teenagers face in a comedic way.  W.I.L.D. stands for the fictional "Wellness. Introspection. Learning. Detox Rehabilitation Program."  Simona graduated from Crossroads School, attended Vassar College, and now attends University of Southern California (USC.)  She is a theater major and film minor.

"The Willows inspired me to strive to be the best student I could."

What can you tell us about your new web series W.I.L.D.?  W.I.L.D. chronicles the lives of five adolescents as they embark upon a journey toward recovery and acceptance in a Wilderness Rehab program. Led by two trip leaders who have themselves overcome addictions and psychological issues, the youths grapple with their personal struggles, form quirky friendships, and ultimately begin to overcome their obstacles. The show is a parody of sorts, so it doesn’t purport to portray a wholly realistic rehabilitation experience. Ultimately, however, it’s grounded in truth and strives to exemplify both human connection and extreme isolation in a chaotic environment. We were inspired to create W.I.L.D. firstly for pragmatic reasons: we wanted to set our series in a location that required minimal funding. The idea of a wilderness rehab parody came from a desire to portray this subject matter in a different light and to explore the comedy that’s birthed from tragedy.
You star in W.I.L.D but are also involved in producing the show. How has it been taking on so many different roles? Which do you prefer?  It’s definitely a difficult job to balance the two roles, as they require such different mindsets and address completely different components of the show’s creation. It was a learning experience, and I found that staying mindful and present was the easiest way to drop concerns with my outside life, with producing, with whatever, in order to assume the character. And vice versa with producing.
How did you first become interested in the entertainment industry?  I’ve loved acting ever since I was little. My background lies in theater, as theater programs were more readily available both in and out of school. My interest in the entertainment industry was just a natural course of progression. I want to continue producing, but my main love is acting.

What memories do you have of your days at The Willows?  Mainly my memories are of my friends. Some of the best friends I have ever had were at The Willows. My best friend was Lily Solomon '06, and we’re still in touch now. The years sort of slip away when we see each other, and it’s like old times.
Were you involved with theatre and acting in high school or at The Willows?
I was only in one show at Willows (“Bye Bye Birdy,” directed by Lil Mingail in 6th grade), but I’ve been heavily involved in Crossroads theater even before I transferred to the school.

Did your experience at The Willows prepare you for high school or college? The Willows was a great precursor to Crossroads. It was structured very similarly and had a like-minded teaching method. So, the transition academically was really smooth. And I loved how much Willows integrated the arts and writing into our education. That’s always been important for me.
Do you have any other hobbies, interests etc?  I love theater and film, so I’m a big movie-watcher. I also love visual art. My mom’s an artist and an art teacher, so I’ve grown up immersed in art and love to draw and paint. I also love to travel (especially to Europe.)  I think I feel most alive when I’m in a foreign location, and have spent a lot of time exploring and examining how I travel, why I travel, where I travel, etc. It’s transportive in a psychological way as much as physical.
Do you have a mentor or someone you emulate?  I’ve always looked up to actors and fellow classmates who I admire, and have used them as a guide to shape my own acting-trajectory.
What advice would you give to this year’s graduates?  I would advise this year’s graduates to take every opportunity to explore and try new things. I found that I had a sort of unbalanced experience in high school: I dedicated myself essentially to academics and didn’t have a lot of time to devote to exploring my interests or developing relationships. Having a balance is key.
What book are you currently reading? What is your favorite book?  I’m currently reading A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. But my favorite book is the memoir Just Kids by Patti Smith.
Name your 3 favorite movies or television shows (besides W.I.L.D)?
My three favorite movies are: American Beauty, The Departed, and Girl, Interrupted.
Any special travel, internships or experiences you have had that you would like to share with us?  I took a year off school between attending Vassar and USC, and spent that year interning at a number of film and production companies. I also worked as the producer’s assistant for an independent film, “Hello Herman.” I interned at Warner Bros. for Berlanti Productions, at Yellow Brick Road (a television production company, which produces The Office, among other things,) and MPower Pictures (an independent film production company.) I’ve spent a good amount of time traveling in Europe, as well. I think that’s really where my heart lies.
If you could perform with or play a sport with one celebrity singer, actor, athlete etc., who would it be? And why?  I’d probably like to perform with Meryl Streep. I’d be willing to look bad compared to her for the experience alone – I’m sure she’d have an incredible amount to teach. And, she was an undergrad at Vassar, so I feel a little connection with her.
Any advice to fellow alums, especially those pursuing acting?  Just to take risks and put yourself out there. Part of acting demands transcending your comfort zone. You have to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Don’t let fear get in the way, and take all the opportunities you can get. That’s much easier said than done, but it’s what I tell myself.

Anything else that you would like to add?
            Jake Monkarsh '06, one of the writers, producers, and costume supervisors of W.I.L.D. also went to The Willows (in the same grade as me). Just thought I’d mention that…

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