Growing up in the Black Box Theatre

“If there’s ever a time to do it in my life, it’s right now. So why not go for it?” said Sam Kamras. She’ll move to New York City in August. (Tom Bateman/AQ)

Sam Kamras greeted me at the door of her apartment with a smile. As I took my coat off, we talked about how we weren’t feeling so great. ‘Tis the season, we both said.

Typical. When your work is due, your body shuts down. I told her I figured I was on the upswing after a 24-hour bug.

“What about you?” I asked.

“Pneumonia,” she said. “Now, I was serious about that tea I promised. Would you like some?”

***

Kamras has been in the public eye recently after successful applications to graduate schools for acting in New York City. She accepted a spot at the New School for Drama, and will complete a three-year master’s in fine arts with a concentration in acting.

“It was stressful,” Kamras said about the audition process. “I was trying to keep myself fed, keep myself hydrated, remember my lines. But it was kind of magical at the same time, I mean, who can complain about running all over Manhattan?”

The doe-eyed fourth-year student applied to New York schools like the Actors Studio and Tisch School of the Arts, and she did a panel audition for the University Resident Theatre Association, which covered applications for 40 schools across the U.S. and the U.K. She also did on-the-spot auditions for Birmingham School in England and New School for Drama in New York – where she will start courses on Aug. 27.

“You basically build foundations in your first year, develop them in your second year and then in your third year, at the very end, you’ll do a showcase. They invite a bunch of agents to come out and hopefully someone will like you and you’ll take off from there.

“Three years of 15-hour days, plus rehearsal times,” she said with a laugh. “It’s going to be exhausting, but fun.”

The way Kamras’ eyes light up when discussing her future makes you think she’s had this plan all her life. It’s like she’s one of those theatrical kids who started singing and dancing before they could talk.

But theatre wasn’t always her goal.

***

The daughter of an RCMP officer, Kamras moved around the country a lot before settling in London, Ont. When it came time to apply for university, her interest in writing turned her to journalism.

She applied to Ryerson University in Toronto and Ottawa’s Carleton University, but she knew she wanted to move away from home and start fresh. St. Thomas University was the only school she visited, and she said as soon as she stepped on campus, she felt at home.

“Small classroom sizes, friendly environment – the whole spiel that STU gives you – I just fell in love with it and I found it to be true,” Kamras said. “So I decided to go with my gut and I came here.”

She had the intention of doing as much theatre as she could at STU, but her primary focus was journalism. In mid-September of her first year, Kamras auditioned for Theatre St. Thomas’ The Importance of Being Earnest.

She was terrified of the process because she had just seen the David Ives show TST members had worked on over the summer. Many of the show’s actors were there for the audition and it was then, she said, the doubt set in.

“It was a torturous week waiting to hear back, and eventually I got the email. I remember it was a Friday and I didn’t have class, so I was just kind of waiting. [When] the email came it was just kind of like, ‘Oh my God, I have a community now! I know what I can do with my spare time, this is great!’

“Looking back now, thank God I auditioned. Thank God I just got the guts and I went for it because things would be very, very different if I didn’t have that.”

It was this past summer, while balancing three productions, that Kamras realized she wanted to pursue theatre.

It felt comforting, she said; comforting to know what she was doing at the end of her fourth year, comforting to know she was going to have a theatre family for the next three years, and exciting that she was going to give this a shot.

“If there’s ever a time to do it in my life, it’s right now. So why not go for it?”

But that doesn’t mean there were low points. Her first audition was at Tisch, and despite Ilkay Silk, STU’s director of drama, telling her to do otherwise, Kamras compared herself to everyone auditioning.

She asked herself what the hell she was doing, convinced she was being ridiculous. She thought she looked 16 years old compared to the other women.

“You doubt yourself, you doubt your motivations, and it can be a really, really low point. But you also know when you give it your best and you have family and friends who are supportive of you and who reassure you, you take a deep breath and convince yourself to keep going, and then you just hope for the best.”

Her family and friends were supportive of her decision to pursue acting, but the reaction that sticks out most in her mind was that of her best friend.

They went for breakfast together and Kamras announced she had some news: she was going to graduate school for acting.

But mid-way through her own sentence declaring her plan, Kamras cut herself off re-enacting her friend’s reaction, arms flailing.

“She just freaked out. She was more excited about it, I think, than I was,” she said with a laugh. “And she’s been right there all along.”

Every once in awhile, Kamras said, her roommate stops her to tell her how proud she is. Quoting her friend, Kamras’ voice trailed upwards, holding back emotion.

“That to me – that’s just so…wonderful,” she laughed. “It’s really nice to hear.”

***

Kamras said she can’t imagine her life without theatre. Theatre has taught her to be on time, to come prepared and to not procrastinate – among other things.

But more importantly – and perhaps more poetically, she said – it’s taught her a lot about life and human truths. The great thing about theatre is how powerful and universal it is, she said. She attributes her discovery to Silk because of the way she approaches rehearsals.

“Half your time in rehearsals is spent talking about historical, social and economic circumstances, and you learn so much about the world you’re trying to recreate because you want to make it as believable as possible.”

Kamras said at the callbacks for New School, there was an opportunity to ask students about their experience. One said the program was exhausting because it strips away everything you’ve ever believed to be true; it takes all of your beliefs and all of the stereotypes you hold, so you’re left with a bare soul.

“And so from that as you study, you work to create these characters and these worlds on-stage, then you rebuild yourself as a human with just so much perspective about life and about the world.”

But as much as it is soul-searching, Kamras said theatre is extremely social. Through committing the hours it takes to produce a show, and the experiences the actors go through together, the process reaches an intimate level. Inside jokes are developed, friendships are made and you take “emotional roller coasters” with characters.

There’s a strong theatre community in Fredericton and especially on the STU campus, she said. Theatre opportunities are available to people regardless of what they’re studying or how old they are.

With these opportunities and the encouragement of Silk and University of New Brunswick director of drama Len Falkenstein, Kamras feels her life wouldn’t be the same if she hadn’t moved to the East Coast.

“I grew up on the stage of the Black Box Theatre. It’s where I learned what I wanted to do.”

***

Sitting cross-legged on her couch with the sun pouring in the window, Kamras said she’s ready to move on.

Moving away from home and her family, with whom she said she’s “ridiculously close,” was hard. But between friends, professors and everyone else she’s met in Fredericton, she’s made a home here too.

“I would like to come back, eventually. I just need to spread my wings a bit and see what it is that I can do.”

After finishing her call backs at the New School of Drama, Kamras walked down Sixth Avenue with her headphones in. Hey Rosetta!’s “Young Glass” came on, and the line, “It’s the boulevard and the hum of her hard lights” made her stop.

“I just took a moment and I was like, ‘Wow. I could be doing this every single day for the next three years,’” she said with a laugh.

“It was one of those moments. It was good.”

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