During her senior year after realizing her peers were lacking in their HIV/AIDS IQ, Samantha Brahms organized a show called Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, all about the 40 acre AIDS memorial quilt. In addition to doing the show all over the state for her peers, Samantha’s production team also brought in pieces of the AIDS memorial quilt, held talk back sessions, and concluded every performance by giving a Broadway Cares – Equity Fights AIDS speech, where she would share personal stories about friends and family members who were affected by HIV and AIDS. At the end of the six months, Sam and her team had raised over $10,000 for BCEFA and a true awareness about this deadly disease.
It goes without saying that we’re thrilled to have Samantha doing her master’s apprenticeship with Elephant. Read on to find out more about this remarkable, theatrical creature.
Where are you from?
I was born in New York City at NYU Medical Center (which is ironic since I ended up back in NY and at NYU for my undergraduate degree). When I was six, my mom and I moved to South Florida to be closer to family and surprisingly enough, it was in the move to Florida, that I became a part of children’s theater and began spending every moment outside of school involved in theater.
What is your background in theater? Community/Children’s theater?
My first grade teacher believed that the arts are key in the education of well-rounded students. We worked on storybook theater pieces presenting them to the rest of the school at assembly. My favorite performance was when she directed an upper school sign language/singing performance that rehearsed in our classroom. As if by osmosis, we all learned the songs and sign language. One day she turned and looked back at us and finally saw that as the group in front of her sang the songs, we were behind her signing them. So we all did the show together.
In Florida, I was lucky enough to be in schools that still had arts budgets, and I was able to always be a part of their school performances. In addition I also became an active participant at Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theater, an amazing place that gives every child an opportunity to work on a production, to act or sing, to work backstage or as an assistant director. When I wasn’t in a show at school, I was in a show there, or I pushed the limits and convinced my mom to let me do both at the same time.
Tell me a little bit about your program at NYU.
As an undergrad, I attended the Gallatin School of Individualized Study, at NYU where I was given the freedom to create my own major: theater for social change. The easiest way for me to describe my major to people is that I basically majored in philosophy, theater, political science and some communication courses. I had learned through high school that there is something special about theater that allows you to not just entertain an audience, but to do so much more. I realized that I was interested in studying the magic of theater and think about how that magic can be used. I am currently finishing my last year of graduate school in a program similar to Gallatin, in Applied Theater where I am gaining additional tools to consciously create work that is both entertaining and meaningful for the actors and the audience alike.
What sparked your interest in Elephant Ensemble Theater?
I was sitting in class one day and we were all doing group presentations on community arts based organizations. A few of my fellow classmates were presenting one on the Elephant Ensemble Theater. I just sat there listening and realized how they were presenting information on an organization that does work that I am interested in. As someone who has experienced life on pediatric floors or in their emergency rooms, and as someone who appreciates what art and theater can do for that child, I was thrilled to learn more and get involved with an organization that was bringing those two worlds together.
Why are community-based non-profits important, in your opinion?
The first answer that comes to mind is, “I come from Florida where our arts budget was slashed in almost every school while I was growing up.” If I hadn’t been a brainiac, I would never have received scholarships to private schools and might not have had great experiences in theater. But if there weren’t places like Fort Lauderdale Children’s Theater, I would not have had theater at all until I was a high school student. If I didn’t have a mother who could and would drive me 60 miles three/four times a week for theater and for dance classes, I wouldn’t have had them at all. The arts were not alive and vibrant in many schools, it was the community-based non-profits that provided them, not just in special cases and in special places, but throughout south Florida for normal/not so normal kids, like me.
What would you consider to be your most rewarding memory in working with your own non-profit?
Nothing is better than seeing people smile because you know that you helped to make a difference in their life, make their dream come true, or just made it a bit more feasible for them to make their own dreams come true.