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Beyond the Office: Senior counsel by day, director by night

Nixon Peabody LLP Senior Counsel David C. Stimson directs the Pittsford Sutherland High School production of “Twentieth Century.” Vasiliy Baziuk

The stage is bare, save for a few chairs and several students learning the craft of acting while preparing for opening night.

The students are acting out a scene in “Twentieth Century” that involves entering through a doorway into a room. Only there is no door for this rehearsal, just masking tape on the floor outlining where it will be in a few short weeks.

David C. Stimson, 60, is reading along with the script silently, until he stops the action.

No, he doesn’t yell, “Cut!” Instead, he offers a gentle reminder that the actors have to pretend there actually is a door there because soon enough, there will be one. Then he follows up with a whisper that produces a smile from the student.

Stimson dresses the part of the attorney he is, in dark black pants, dress shoes, striped white dress shirt and red tie.

But on this night he is acting the part of director and more important, like a teacher. Door issues worked out, he convinces another student to play her character with more “oomph.” The main character, Oscar Jaffe, is an arrogant man who just fired another character, Ida.

“You’re kind of mad at him,” Stimson told the student. “You’re giving it to him. I’m looking for more edge from your character.”

Stimson is directing the Pittsford Sutherland High School production, which opens April 25. That’s his night gig.

By day, Stimson is an attorney who recently joined Nixon Peabody LLP after leaving Eastman Kodak Co., where he was chief trademark counsel for 14 of his 26 years. He was responsible for legal policies dealing with trademark, advertising and copyright practices worldwide.

Leading actors, from left, Sydney Smith and Max Mooney rehearse as David C. Stimson, right, senior counsel at Nixon Peabody LLP and drama director at Pittsford Sutherland High School, looks on. Vasiliy Baziuk

He’s doing more of the same work as senior counsel at Nixon Peabody, with many of the great people he’s familiar working with in a slightly different atmosphere and pace, he said.

An English major in his undergraduate years, Stimson grew fascinated with the language involved in trademarks and law, although entering the field was a fluke. He was working at New York City law firm when he kind of fell into it.

“As a young associate, you do a little of everything,” Stimson said. “I really liked the trademark work. It was right up my way.”

So was the theater. He had been involved somewhat during his high school years, but family and work took precedence as the years went by. About 12 years ago, a friend of his needed a male to fill a role in a community theater production of “Titanic” and drafted Stimson.

He was hooked and somewhat relieved.

“You see that you can do it,” said Stimson, who has since served several years on the board of directors for Pittsford Musicals Inc. “If I had needed to audition, I would never have done it.”

That role led to his working with students, first as an actor then as assistant director and finally, director. He also leads the school’s drama club.

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“It’s nice to be a mentor to them,” Stimson said. “They’re so open to learning.”

The students appreciate the time he makes for them, said senior Sydney Smith, who is playing a lead role and has worked with him for several years.

Stimson is not a commanding or demanding presence, but he subtly nudges the actor to where he or she should be going — and he is able to do it while making the actor think he or she is the one in control, Smith said.

“He’s so laid back,” Smith said. “He’s helped make the experience fun and without a lot of stress. He has a way of making it all come together at the end.”

The firm is supportive of his work in the theater and allows him flexibility, which he appreciates, he said. He also is an adjunct professor at the Syracuse University College of Law.

Stimson, right, goes over lines with Pittsford Sutherland student Maddi Smillie. Vasiliy Baziuk

“They know community involvement is important,” Stimson said.

Stimson has a knack for making theater fun while also providing students with a glimpse of how the real world works, said Sutherland senior Max Mooney, who plays the Jaffe role. The work has to get done, and he stresses collaboration and team work — skills that will pay off after graduation — to make sure it gets done.

“It’s really great to see someone so successful and have a passion for something on the side,” Mooney said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”

Auditions began in February, and Stimson and students rehearse twice a week for more than two hours each night. It’s a lot to juggle for students and Stimson, but he makes it work.

“It just takes planning and organizing,” Stimson said. “That’s what being a lawyer is about, being organized.”

Most shows don’t come together until the last week before a show, no matter how you plan and organize, he said. Then, once the show opens, his job is done and the cast’s begins.

More often than not, it’s a hit.

“I thought it would be a helpless feeling, and I thought it would be very hard to sit there. You’re very proud to see how well they’re doing and how much it matters to them to do well,” Stimson said. “To see the smiles on their face — they’re on such a high over it — that’s really the best part of it.”

Photos by Vasiliy Baziuk