Day 25: After an unbearable loss, she’s a lighthouse in a sea of grief
2019 would have been a remarkable stage year for actor Faith Angelise Goins-Simmons even if she weren’t also endlessly negotiating the choppy waters of grief three years after the sudden death of her first-born child, Syer, at 13 months.
But Goins’ journey has become much more than a comeback story. After having survived the single worst thing any parent could ever endure, Goins has, through her example, become something of a lighthouse in the storm for anyone who has ever wrestled with grief. Through her example, her attitude and her work ethic.
“I am honoring my son through my art,” Goins said simply last August while performing an evening of showtunes, church hymns and hip-hop with her husband, music producer Andre “Dre Future” Simmons, in the lobby of the Vintage Theatre while their second son, Ma’Syah, scurried around them.
Goins spoke openly about how her life had been ruined and resurrected. She thanked Ma’Syah “for giving me a second chance at motherhood.” And just before the intermission, Goins revealed to cheers that her third child, due next month, is a girl.
A few weeks later, Aurora Fox audiences got a conspicuous look at this next member of the Goins-Simmons family when a very pregnant Faith and five friends performed “The Blackest Kids in Town,” a parody song hilariously spun from the score of Hairspray, at The Denver Actors Fund’s annual Miscast benefit concert.
“Faith is just an amazingly incredible mother,” said Goins’ friend and fellow actor, Anna Maria High. “It takes a lot to bring other children into the world after you’ve lost one, and she does it with grace and effervescence. The utter strength that she carries just astonishes me.”
This is a woman who turned the funeral of her child into a toy drive for other area children. It was all Goins, the daughter of two pastors, knew to do with her grief at the time.
On October 13, what should have been Syer’s 3rd birthday, Goins posted a Facebook video message to anyone in mourning: “There is no rule book to grief; I’m learning that now,” she told them. ”You just do whatever works for you. I take it one breath, one moment, at a time.”
Faith and Andre had moved into their new house in Centennial just the month before Syer Peace Simmons died. One day, their otherwise healthy child began to exhibit the first signs of a cold – and later that night, he died at the hospital. The police immediately shut down the house for fear of a toxin in the air. Instead, months later, a coroner finally determined that Syer died of pneumonia caused by a staph infection. “In his case, he contracted it through a person,” Goins said. “Someone was sick and didn’t know they had this staph infection.”
Goins was performing in the Aurora Fox’s milestone production of Porgy and Bess at the time. Just 10 days after Syer’s death, she rejoined the cast for what turned out to be a wrenching display of music’s power to, if not fully heal, then at least be a salve. Every performance was group therapy, especially when the cast backed High as she sang “My Man’s Gone Now” playing a woman who has just lost her husband, with Goins by her side. The story also includes a baby whose parents both die, making all of it just fraught for triggering.
But instead, “It was very therapeutic for everyone,” High said. “We all got to mourn Syer with Faith every night.”
Music and theatre have continued to empower Goins throughout what has been a remarkable 2019 on area stages. It began with Goins playing a young woman named Ella in Life Sucks, Aaron Posner’s modern nod to Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, at the Aurora Fox. “How many of you would just … pretty much like to have sex with me?” Goins playfully asked audience members while playing a sexpot based on Chekhov’s Yelena, a beautiful woman who has grown sick of unwanted male attention. Goins followed that fun with Local Theatre Company’s world-premiere folklore musical Discount Ghost Stories, which was fully staged on the outdoor patio bar of Trident Booksellers and Cafe in Boulder.
Discount Ghost Stories is tales of singular figures from 19th century Colorado. Goins played the ghost of Clara Brown, who has been referred to as Colorado’s first African American woman. And here, too, art imitated life. In 1835, at age 35, Brown, her husband and three living children were split up and sold off to different slave owners. After Brown was freed in 1856, she moved to Central City and spent the next 26 years searching for her family members. Finally, at age 82, she was reunited with daughter Eliza after 47 years apart. Goins, said Local Theater Company Artistic Director Pesha Rudnick, “disarmed audiences with her authenticity.”
Bringing Discount Ghost Stories to its fully realized life came with its own labor pains but Rudnick, who helped with the book, was happy to have Goins along as a midwife.
“Faith is the kind of performer you want in the room during new-play development,” said Rudnick. “She’s wildly talented, and her range is astounding. The first time in rehearsal we saw Faith jump straight from a campy vaudeville song to a soulful ballad, the room just stood still. We were all in tears.
“And as a parent myself, I’m inspired by Faith’s devotion to her family and artistry. All three of her children show up in her work. She’s got that rare combination of bravery and vulnerability that makes her shine.”
It’s incredibly difficult for Goins to talk about the death of her son, “but I can’t dishonor him by pretending he didn’t exist,” she said. “So instead I share my story, speak my truth and pray to help someone along the way.” And that, High said, is all you need to know to know Faith Angelise Goins-Simmons.
“Even though her loss is massive, she cares so much about other people,” High said. “And part of the way she heals is she takes care of other people.”
Faith Angelise Goins-Simmons/At a glance
Faith Angelise Goins-Simmons is a graduate of Aurora Central High School and the University of Denver, where she was the first person of color to graduate from the Lamont School of Music. She later returned to DU to coach gymnastics. In addition to her many stage credits with companies including the Arvada Center (Hairspray) and the Town Hall Arts Center (Hair), she was a member of the Denver Nuggets’ Super Mascot Rocky Squad. She teaches gospel and praise dance at local churches. Her 2019 credits:
- Ella in Life Sucks, Aurora Fox
- Clara Brown in Discount Ghost Stories, Local Theater Company
- Faith Angelise LIVE, cabaret concert at Vintage Theatre
- Ella and Roz understudy in Trav’lin – The 1930s Harlem Musical, Arvada Center
- Miscast, benefit performance at Aurora Fox
Photos from Faith Angelise LIVE
Photos by John Moore.
About The True West Awards: ’30 Days, 30 Bouquets’
The True West Awards, now in their 19th year, began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from 2019 over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S. by American Theatre magazine in 2011. His daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org