If there’s one thing Samara Stern has learned since she graduated from acting school four years ago, it’s that you have to create your own opportunities.
To that end, along with three schoolmates, AJ Laflamme, Josh Vokey and Cory Doran, she co-founded a theatre company, Homestead Theatre Project.
Their first play, Empty Boxes, written by Laflamme and directed by Doran, is running at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, starting May 30.
“It’s about an eight-year relationship that has ended,” Stern says. “And the couple at the beginning of the play is packing boxes and figuring out how they’re going to navigate new territory – how you decide who the shampoo belongs to and how you divide two lives. You see the relationship from the beginning and see it decline as things fall apart.”
In the credits, Stern is listed as “Past Sarah.” The play’s novel approach is that as the couple pack boxes and discuss the situation, younger versions of themselves also appear on stage.
“I play Sarah at the beginning, when they [she and Kevin] meet for a first date and all those things, but I also come in as the subconscious, the echo, the nagging voice, the part of her heart that wants to hold on.”
As one of the theatre company’s producers, Stern was also involved in the creation of the play. “I was dealing with the media push, finding a place, everything that gets it from us sitting in a room to it being on stage and getting the audience there,” she says.
“I absolutely love it [producing]. One of the most rewarding things I have found is creating your own work. You can’t sit by the phone waiting for the part. You have to find work that inspires you and make it happen. I want to tell stories and create.”
In addition to giving the quartet an outlet to create their plays, they created Homestead as a venue for young artists to inspire younger audiences.
“A lot of young people say that theatre isn’t relevant anymore because it’s not so immediate – ‘I can get it on my iPhone, I can get it on YouTube, I can watch television shows in my home, anywhere I can go.’ It’s about finding plays that are exciting and real that will get them to leave their homes and come to the theatre.”
She feels that Empty Boxes has the right ingredients to get younger people in the seats because it deals with common issues.
“It’s very real. The script is very raw and very real, and a younger audience will be able to connect to it.”
Stern has big ambitions for the theatre company. In the fall, they plan on staging Martin McDonagh’s disturbing The Pillowman and will follow that up in November with a workshop of a new all-female show My Mother’s Daughters by Laflamme, which examines mental illness.
“We want to find pieces that have been done that we can do in a new and exciting way, but we also want to produce a new voice, a new story that hasn’t been told yet.”
Stern says she’s been acting “forever” since starring in a play she did at Camp Robin Hood, and continues to learn her art. She attended a joint University of Toronto/Sheridan College program, graduating with a degree in theatre and drama studies and a diploma in acting.
“Acting is a skill that I believe I have to constantly work on to get better and better, and to keep yourself inspired and ready so that when your big break comes, you’re ready to knock it out of the park.”
And that big break may not be so far away. In addition to working with Homestead, Stern has also been getting some film work. Just recently she got a role in Manhattan Undying, a new movie by Babak Payami, the writer and director of Secret Ballot, which won awards at several film festivals around the world.
“I met him years ago. I found Secret Ballot really inspiring and unique. I wanted to work with him and kept in touch with him. He brought me to the audition for it, and though I was too young for the part I auditioned for, they found another part for me.”
Stern plays a waitress in the film, which she describes as “a very gritty, artsy, vampire film. It’s a really interesting script.
“It was really exciting. In this career, it takes a long time to get there. And I’ve been four years out of school, and 10 hours on the set was totally worth it. I got to work with incredible actors and crew. He’s such a phenomenal director, he knows how to get the best out of the actors. I can’t wait to see the finished product.”
She also recently had a principal role in a sci-fi film, The Common Sense.
And if acting and producing aren’t enough, she’s also trying her hand at writing.
“I’m going to spend the next few months working on a screenplay,” she says. “I’ve tackled producing theatre, acted in films. It’s up to me to make it happen.”
Empty Boxes runs at the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E., May 30 to June 9. Visit homesteadtheatre.ca for more information.