In meeting Samantha Stavely, there are few things you learn about her right off the bat. You learn that she is not only a powerhouse of an actress, but stalwart in what she wants, even endearingly stubborn.
“When I want something, I want it. And I want it YESTERDAY,” says Stavely.
Currently, Stavely will be performing the role of Zelda Fitzgerald in the organization’s Fall Season production of “The Last Flapper” at The Women’s Museum of California. Her relationship with acting goes back to a young Stavely, who entered the world of theater after exercising that endearing strong sense of what she wants. As a youth, she saw a memorable theater production by The Young People’s Theater at St. Charles Community College near St. Louis Missouri. From that day on, Stavely decided performing was something she wanted to do. Stavely convinced her mother to let her try out for an upcoming role, but the show’s director gave her mother a bad impression and she ended up not being able to participate.
“My mom thought the director was horrific,” recounts Stavely.
Two more years passed, and still Stavely couldn’t let go of her desire to perform. So with some goading of her mother, she was allowed to try out for The Young People’s Theater and attained her first role, although the director for the show was the same one her mother had disagreed with two years prior.
“It was the same director, and she WAS horrific!” said Stavely. “She was tough, but she taught me discipline and taught me a lot about the acting world that I really needed to know.”
Samantha stayed with The Young People’s Theater for years, doing three shows a year and getting into the routine of acting regularly.
“After all that my mom saw that I was really serious about this and she saw that I was actually GOOD, and she became really supportive,” said Stavely.
It was at the age of 13 that Stavely first met American History Theater founder and president, Hal Berry, who directs her for her role as Zelda. Berry was looking for child actors to play in “To Kill a Mockingbird”. Stavely auditioned and was even given a prominent scene where she was able to sing, yet another talent Stavely boasts.
When asked what she got from acting at such a young age, Stavely shares some interesting insights which many actors and actresses may relate to.
“I was a very anxious child,” said Stavely, “and theater was the only thing that helped to alleviate that. It gave me the chance to step out of myself and into somebody else’s skin,” said Stavely.
Through the years, Stavely continued to act, acting through highschool and into college, making musical theater her education path. It was at this time Stavely began to take into account the life she would live if she pursued her passion of acting.
“I knew I’d be living paycheck to paycheck and I didn’t know if I wanted to do that,” said Stavely.
She changed her degree to Arts Management, then eventually attained her Master’s in Speech and Theater Education. She continued to act on her own throughout the rest of her college years, but took a long break when she moved to Los Angeles with her husband three years ago…until Berry, now living in San Diego and running his own 501C3, came knocking on her door.
“The longest break I ever took from acting was when I moved to LA,” said Stavely.
With almost three entire years of no time on stage, Stavely is now back, tackling the role of famed artist, writer and flaming schizophrenic, Zelda Fitzgerald. Known most iconically as being the wife of famed author F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda was actually her own throbbing powerhouse of creativity, emotion and intelligence. The entire play conceptually takes place in an insane asylum, where Zelda languished for many years after the death of her famous husband. Stavely hopes to bring to the stage Zelda’s intense personality, that of a woman possibly far ahead of her time.
“My one hope is that I can do the role justice,” said Stavely. “I want the audience to like her, because she was likeable. I want the audience to feel so many emotions because she was strong, but at the same time lost. She was also so, sosmart. We had to cut a few words that were so big we knew no one would know what they meant! ”
Stavely also hopes to tackle the stigma that comes with intense mental health disorders, like schizophrenia, which Zelda was eventually diagnosed with.
“I did a lot of research on mental health,” said Stavely. “Understanding the disease and how it was treated at the time was interesting. For me to get into the role, it was really all about educating myself. Mental health can have such a stigma, but I want the audience to see how mentally ill she was, but still like her!”
Doors for the show open at the Women’s Theater of California for the debut of “The Last Flapper” on Sept. 24th. Come see Stavely take to the stage once more as the likeable (maybe even loveable?) Zelda Fitzgerald.