2014 Best Supporting Actor in a Musical or Opera Nominee Interview: Sam Simahk as Rapunzel's Prince in The Lyric Stage Company's "Into the Woods"

Although we have announced our 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Winners, we continue our Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

Sam Simahk brought his charming energy to a spellbinding production of Into the Woods at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston.  His Rapunzel's Prince easily lived up to his princely duties, especially his "Agony" and "Agony [Reprise]" of one-upmanship between Rapunzel's Prince and Cinderella's Prince. In his Interview, Sam dazzles us with his personality (he's also charming in real life!), including telling us about his favorite Disney prince (he wish he would quit monkeying around), dishing about his favorite karaoke songs, and reminding us why we should smile. Sam, you made us smile, onstage and offstage!

Photo by Billy Bustamante of BillyBPhotography

Photo by Billy Bustamante of BillyBPhotography

Hi, Sam, it is a pleasure to interview you for ArtsImpulse.  Can you tell us a little bit more about yourself?  Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

Thanks so much; it's a pleasure to be interviewed!  I'm from Ashburnham, MA, a small town in northern central MA.  I'm an actor/waiter/bartender that currently lives in NYC, but, luckily, I've been doing a lot more acting work than food service as of late.

What is some of your performing background and training? 

I started acting as a kid.  I did every school show I could, and I performed at the local community theatre, Theatre at the Mount, in Gardner, MA.  After high school, I went to Emerson College in Boston and graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre (five years ago today . . . starting to feel old).

Tell us more about Rapunzel’s Prince.  How did you choose to portray him?  What was most fun about playing him? 

I loved playing this character.  I think he's a funny guy--he's a prince, but he'll never be king; that's his brother's role.  So, he's got this Prince Harry thing going on.  But more importantly than his nobility, he's a little brother.  And, as a little brother, he's constantly trying to measure up to Cinderella's Prince.  So I tried to make that evident without hitting the audience over the head with it; most of us have siblings and can identify with the inherent rivalry that comes with growing up together.

Had you seen the Into the Woods movie?  What was different from The Lyric’s production? 

I actually have not seen the movie yet!  I'm so bad about seeing things in theaters, and usually just wait until I can watch them at home, where pants are not a necessity.

If you could be any Disney prince, who would you be and why? 

I don't know about the princes, but I always wanted to be King Louis in The Jungle Book; he gets to sit up in the treetops, eating bananas, and dancing like a goof.  That's way more fun than rescuing damsels from dragon-witches (and the stakes are a lot lower).  Plus, the princes always seem a little creepy to me--something about romantically kissing sleeping acquaintances rubs me the wrong way.

What is the best compliment that anyone has ever given you about your performing?  About you as a person?

Honestly, it's always the little things that are the most flattering.  And it's always from the scene partners.  I'd take a million bad reviews if I can have one scene partner say: "[T]hat was a great scene tonight," as we leave the stage.  

Likewise, I think the best compliments I could possibly have are personified in my friends.  I'm just lucky that such cool, fun, kind, hilarious people end up letting me hang out with them, even when I get up on a soapbox about something that doesn't matter, or choose to dwell in melancholia once in a while.

If you could turn back time, where would you go?  What would you do? 

This is always a tough question, partially because prior to the 1960s a half-Asian person would be considered an abomination by a lot of people.  If that weren't an issue, I'd probably want to go to a time when the world had yet to be discovered and I could travel around, seeing sights that nobody in recorded history had ever seen before. 

And maybe some medieval setting, where I could ride around on a horse and dispense vigilante justice.  But I think that's mainly because I'm really into Game of Thrones right now.

What are some of your favorite karaoke songs?  Where do you like to perform them? 

"I Believe I Can Fly" is usually a crowd favorite. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me," complete with lascivious double-entendre, is also a lot of fun. "Ballroom Blitz," by the Sweet, is the wild card, "I've had way too much caffeine" choice. I don't do karaoke all that often, but I definitely have my favorites picked out, and I will do them anywhere near a karaoke mic.  

MISCAST! What roles would you love to play but you, sadly, cannot for whatever reason (age, gender, race, voice type, etc.)? 

The Baker's Wife in Into the Woods is a miscast dream role.  "Moments in the Woods" is such a great song, and it'd be great to do it in the context of the show.  Jim Conley in Parade is also such a great character, or anybody in that show.  I may be a little ethnically-ambiguous to play a post-Civil War good ol' boy, though.

What makes you smile?

When something goes wrong onstage and you make eye contact with one person.  And in that instant, the two of you say (completely non-verbally), "[T]hat wasn't supposed to happen, and you know that, and maybe they don't know that, but they probably do.  Either way, this is funny, and now we've gotta figure out how to make it work."  It's all in a quick glance, and even if I'm not smiling externally, I'm beaming underneath.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions? 

I'll be returning to Boston late this summer, but I'm not sure if I'm allowed to disclose any more information than that as of yet.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers? 

I'd just like to thank everybody for the honor of being recognized for doing what I love.  When I was a kid, this was just something I did for fun.  As I've gotten older, it's become something that I do for a career, and, sometimes, it's a lot more work than I'd like for it to be.  But when I'm up on stage, I'm right back to being that little kid, and I'm just glad that people allow me to keep on doing it.  So, thanks for watching, reading, and enabling me to stave off adulthood, one day at a time.  Cheers!

2014 Best Leading Actress in a Musical or Opera Nominee Interview: Aimee Doherty as The Witch in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's "Into the Woods"

Before we announce the winners of the 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Awards, we are proud to present our Nominee Interviews.

NOTE: If you or your production was nominated for a 2014 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in a Nominee Interview, please email us here.

photo by chris macke

photo by chris macke

Aimee Doherty has continued to impress and amaze with each new production and performance. Starting the year with a villainous Velma Von Trussle in Wheelock Family Theatre's Hairspray, Aimee showed the depth and range of her voice as The Witch in The Lyric Stage Company's Into the Woods and her acting chops as Betsy/Lindsey in New Century Theatre at Smith College's Clybourne Park. In Fall 2014, Aimee proved that her supporting leads are just as charming as a leading role as best friend Eleanor Fine in SpeakEasy Stage Company's Far From Heaven before making her Rhode Island debut as Margot Wendice in Ocean State Theatre Company's Dial M For Murder. She finished the year with the classic A Christmas Carol at The Hanover Theatre as Laundress. Not bad for one year! 

Between opening a show and beginning her work on another Spring show (more details below), Aimee found time to talk about her work in Into the Woods, her hobbies and special skills, and some of her "bucket list" roles, including a role that she wants to play in Into the Woods someday (we promise, it's not the role that you'd expect!).

Hi, Aimee! It’s awesome to get to interview you and see you on Boston stages so often in 2014. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? 

Thanks Brian. It was really awesome to be on Boston stages in 2014! I am born and raised in Massachusetts. I went to UMass Amherst and graduated with a BS in Environmental Science. I worked for an environmental engineering firm for 15 years before they did me the biggest favor (which at the time seemed like my biggest nightmare) by laying me off when we hit the recession several years ago. I was lucky enough to be offered my first Equity contract at about the same time, and I have never looked back. I'm married and I live with my husband, who is also an actor, and our dog Sally Bowles in the 'burbs.

What drew you to start performing?  How have other experiences in your life contributed to your talent onstage? 

My mom grew up dancing so she put me in tap, jazz, and ballet classes when I was 4. I was instantly smitten. Sadly my budding dance interests were cut short at 6 when my mom passed away, but my grandparents kept my interest in performing alive by taking me to see the ballet and to see any musical that came through town. 

Aside from one truly terrible production of Grease in high school (where we sang over the movie soundtrack), I didn't begin acting until 4 years out of college. I was looking for an artistic outlet after work, so I took a 6-week Intro to Acting and Scene Study class at a little place in Providence called Perishable Theater that is no longer there (perhaps they should have named themselves something else).

I then acted in community theaters for about 4 years. I met my husband and many friends who I now consider family doing community theater. Working in the wonderful area theaters was my college degree in acting and it was FREE! The talent that graces the community theaters in Massachusetts is truly staggering. I finally made the leap and started auditioning for professional theaters after working with a choreographer who was working for both community and professional theaters. Just knowing someone else in the room gave the the confidence that I needed to take a shot.

What did you think of Meryl Streep in the movie adaptation of Into the Woods?  What surprised you?  What disappointed you?  Do you have other favorite Meryl Streep movies?

I thought Meryl was glorious and her singing which, let's face it, was less than "Mariah Carey awesome" in Mamma Mia! was on-point in Into the Woods which was a very pleasant surprise. The thing that disappointed me most in the movie was the excising of Rapunzel's death. I was so looking forward to seeing Meryl tear it up with “The Witch’s Lament.” I think she still sang it but singing it because you are mourning the death of the only person you ever loved and who ever loved you back, and singing it because you are bummed she is running off with a super hot prince are two very different things. I understand that Disney couldn't let them kill off one of their beloved princesses but that doesn't make it any less lame.

It's funny that you should ask what my other favorite Meryl movies are because it was a Meryl movie that introduced me to Sondheim. One day, I happened to be flipping channels on the TV and I caught Shirley MacLaine singing a song that I instantly fell madly in love with. I only caught half of the song and the movie was already half over, but I watched the rest of it just so I could see who wrote that song. The movie was Postcards From The Edge and the song was "I'm Still Here." I had to hit 10 music stores (yes, music stores) but I finally got a copy of Follies and thus began my love affair with my Stephen Sondheim.

Tell us about working on Into the Woods at The Lyric?  What made your performance unique and award worthy?

I think the thing that made it special was that there was a clear singular vision. The show is broken up into so many smaller stories and sometimes that makes it seem like you are watching several different shows, but I think that Spiro [the director] did a great job making sure that we were all in the same show. I can't say that anything I did was award-worthy because the lyrics and the dialogue did it all for me. All I had to do speak the dialogue or sing the lyrics and then get out of the way of whatever emotion that they brought up on that given night. Is that the lamest "artsy" answer or what?

What was the scariest part about playing The Witch?  What was the most fun?  Did you have a favorite moment (in the woods)?   Would you want to play any other role in Into the Woods?  

The scariest part is the Act I pre-transformation witch costume. You've spent 3 weeks working on your performance and then 98% of your body (and, most importantly, your face) is covered up. You can't rely on your eyes, eyebrows or forehead to convey emotion and you only have 3 days to figure out how to translate all the stuff that you worked so hard on into the rest of your body. There were so many favorite moments but I remember particularly loving when Greg Balla’s Jack would cover Milky White’s ears before he said the lyrics: “I’ll see you once again,/ I hope that when I do,/ It won't be on a plate.”

I want to play EVERY role in Into the Woods. The Mysterious Man’s lyrics in “No More” are my favorite lyrics in the show. I want to play that part someday.

Walk us through the process from an audition to opening night.  How long do you rehearse?  How long is the production run?

All I seem to do it audition so they all end up blending together but I do remember that I sang for both The Baker’s Wife and The Witch. We rehearsed for two weeks in a small rehearsal room on the third floor of the Calderwood Pavillion until the show before ours closed at The Lyric, then we had a week of rehearsal and a week of tech in The Lyric's space. The normal run is 4 weekends but we extended an additional 3 weeks. I think we broke the record for tickets sales at The Lyric!

What do you prefer to do in your spare time?  What are your hobbies?  Do you have any special skills on your resume?

I love to organize, so I am constantly going through closets, cabinets, and drawers, and donating or throwing things out. It drives my husband nuts. I also walk my dog a few miles a day, and I try to go to yoga as often as I can.

My special skills section of my resume consist of a bunch of accents that I don’t actually know how to do, and driving standard cars, roller skating, snowboarding, SCUBA diving and karate (those things I actually know how to do).

Is there anyone in the Boston area with whom you would love to work?  

I have had the good fortune to work with many of my favorite artists in the city but Paula Plum, Amelia Broom, Marianna Bassham, Sarah Newhouse, and Stacy Fisher are still on my wish list. 

If you could have any other job or skill, what would it be?

Easy; I’d be a dancer like those kids on “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Did you have a favorite role from 2014?  Do you have any other roles on your bucket list?

The Witch was my favorite role in 2014 with Velma Von Tussle in Hairspray following as a close second.

I would love to play Mother in Ragtime and the Countess in A Little Night Music at some point.

Do you have any upcoming projects or productions?

Yes! I’m currently playing Sandra Boom in Big Fish at SpeakEasy Stage Company until mid-April, and then I’ll be playing Hedy La Rue in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in May and June at Stoneham directed by Ilyse Robbins!

Do you have anything else that you wish to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

I wish to share a beautiful warm spring with the ArtsImpulse readers as soon as possible!