Testing, Testing... Is This Thing On?

by Grayson Samuels

           Hello! My name is Grayson, and I am 19 years old. A year ago, I swapped out the sunny shores of St. Petersburg, Florida for the dry terrain of San Marcos, Texas, where I study Musical Theatre at Texas State University. The past year of my life has been an absolute whirlwind. For one, I never thought I would be living in Texas (Texas??), nonetheless studying musical theatre in a state that is notorious for old white men telling women what to do with their bodies. Those two things don’t exactly match up, but as you will discover throughout your time with me, I was oh so pleasantly surprised.

            My first memory of performing was at a very young age in a church choir on a Sunday,  a pretty typical jumping off point for most Broadway hopefuls. While I wasn’t the one with the mic in hand in front of the choir, I took the idea of being a soloist to a whole new level. On that day, singing was out of the question. Yelling was the name of the game, and for twenty minutes I praised Him at the top of my sweet little lungs. After the service, I was bombarded by good Christian women that heard me all the way from the back of the chapel. Looking back on this day, I know I sounded terrible. But come on, I was damn cute. This feeling was totally new to me, and I loved it.

            Thirteen years later and here I am. Obviously, a lot of growth occurred from that first performance to now, my summer after my first year in a BFA program. That growth started with school performances, the first being Oscar the Lizard in that classic Christmas tale, The Christmas Lizard. (The book that it was based off of is now out of print. Ever heard of it?) From there, I moved on to summer camps at a local community theatre, starring in children’s productions of Annie, Get Your Gun! and Bye, Bye, Birdie. As I became too old to be in the shows, I assisted with the productions, helping build sets and handle costumes, and more importantly I began to stick close to the director, following her every move and learning what it takes to put a show together in two weeks’ time. Only a few years after being enrolled as a camper, I moved on to directing some of the shows, my favorites including Aladdin and The Music Man.

            In high school, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend a magnet program for the arts, where I majored in musical theatre. The Pinellas County Center for the Arts was my safe haven and stomping ground for four very special years, where I took classes in acting and dance, as well as set construction and costume design. This helped my appreciation for the theatre grow even more, as I began to realize just how mechanical a show really is. Each department depended on each other. Without the actors, the set designers had no one to put their work on. Without the lighting designers, the actors wouldn’t be seen. It painted a much bigger picture for me, and really put me in my place as a member of this community.

            During my sophomore year of high school, I met a man named Dave Clemmons, a casting director and Broadway vet that was friends with a teacher of mine. He came in to give us a small master class, and while he was talking to us, he mentioned a summer program he was a part of called The Performing Arts Project, a musical theatre intensive “like no other.” I was intrigued, so I auditioned, and I was accepted into their Company Two (named aptly due to their second year of existence), and my life was changed. Literally.

            I always thought people who called things life changing were kind of silly.

            “Ugh, that spinach frittata was life changing Janet.”

            “Oh GOD, that SoulCycle class was life changing! I’m a new woman.”

            Company Two was life changing for many reasons, mainly because it introduced me to the musical theatre program at Texas State that I am a part of, but more than that, my summer with the brilliant minds of TPAP pushed me, stretched me, and moved me in ways I had no idea I could be pushed, stretched, and moved. For the first time in my life, I could fall flat on my ass, and be applauded for it. I was encouraged to crack on the high note in that one song I didn’t think I could sing. I learned to never use an eraser while I wrote, because all creation is good creation. From these mistakes, I grew. I failed forward.

            This mantra, “fail forward”, moved me in so many different ways, so much so that I got it tattooed on my right forearm. This small reminder is for the person that I was before Company Two, afraid of taking risks, afraid to displease those in authority, and afraid to make bad art. It reminds me that from taking risks, we can soar to incredible new heights. It reminds me that from bad art comes good art, and from good art comes peace.

            In a little less than two weeks, I will be traveling to Williamstown, MA to spend my summer as an acting apprentice at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, a Tony Award-winning theatre that “is designed to present unique opportunities for artists and audiences alike, revisiting classic plays with innovative productions, developing and nurturing bold new plays and musicals, and offering a rich array of accompanying cultural events…” (I pulled that from their website. Sounds super official, right?) Obviously, I’m terrified. But I will keep you all updated every week with my thoughts, feelings, experiences, and everything in between.

            Thank you all so much for reading. This is Grayson, signing off. Until next time.