Some actors seem to hit it big overnight. But most have careers like Arlington Heights resident Gary Simmers careers that build slowly.
"I have been in town for 20 years," Simmers says, and then lists half a dozen theater companies, some long closed, that he has acted for.
He can now add to that list Steppenwolf Theatre, where he is currently starring as Boo Radley in "To Kill a Mockingbird."
Over the years, Simmers has paid his dues over and over and over.
All along, his dream was to work in Chicago. He came to the city in 1990, right after graduating with a degree in theater, and began working almost immediately.
Twenty years later, all his hard work is paying off. In 2009 Simmers got hired to understudy for Steppenwolf's production of "Art." "I got to go on a couple of times," Simmers says.
He did well enough in "Art" that he was asked to understudy for several more productions, most notably for William Petersen's role in Samuel Beckett's "Endgame."
"They saw I didn't actually break the play, when I went on," Simmers says. "Basically they want an understudy who guarantees that no one gets hurt as a result of your being out there."
Now, however, he's not waiting around for a chance to fill another actor's shoes. He has two roles in "To Kill a Mockingbird:" Boo Radley and Mr. Gilmore, the prosecuting attorney.
The play, an adaptation of Harper Lee's best-selling novel, unfolds over the course of a summer when the narrator, Scout, was just a child.
"The play is also about an African-American, Tom Robinson, who has been wrongly accused of raping a white girl. And the ensuing trial that takes place. And how it shakes up this small Alabama town in Depression America," Simmers says. "And there is one person, Atticus Finch, Scout's father, who tries to rise above it all. It is an interesting study of Depression-era America."
Both of Simmers' roles are small, but key to the story. He's just glad to have the chance to work for the acclaimed theater company.
"This is the dream job," Simmers says, "working at the Steppenwolf."
• "To Kill a Mockingbird" opens in previews Oct. 12 and runs through Nov. 14, at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago. For tickets call (312) 335-1650 or go online to www.steppenwolf.org.