Shining From the Inside Out
"Sam is a light — he's someone who's shining from the inside out"
I wrote that about Sam when Illusion produced his play Same Difference. Later we taught a class at South High together, later still, we commissioned Sam to write his own story about surviving childhood leukemia.
Samuel G. Roberson Jr. passed on May 21, 2017. He was 34 years old. Sam was a vital part of the Twin Cities theater community - here at Illusion, CTC, Pillsbury House, before heading to Chicago where he worked as an actor at the Goodman, Steppenwolf, and Victory Gardens, eventually becoming the Artistic Director of Chicago’s Congo Square Theatre.
We first met Sam through his play, Same Difference, a story of two young black men, Anthony and Jahmal, from very different backgrounds who are thrust together as freshman college roommates. The show exposes the stereotypes and expectations the men have of each other as they struggle to define themselves. We invited many high school students who talked afterwards with Sam; he spoke frankly to the students about the confusion of messages laid on young kids coming up. At the time Sam wrote, “I’m still wrestling with the idea of an authentic identity. It’s hard for a young man to be himself. What does it mean to keep it real? How do I act at home, at work, with the fellas? The play is a result of all these questions.”
We introduced the show to the organization Diversity in Practice, a nonprofit association comprised of the leading Twin-Cities legal employers whose mission is to build diversity in our legal community. DIP had us perform Same Difference as a CLE training for their lawyers and judges, which led to them talking frankly and honestly about misperceptions about black identity that have surfaced in the Minnesota judicial system.
Illusion then commissioned and presented a story Sam told us he needed a deadline to complete -- - it was story he knew he had to tell. “And they said I wouldn’t make it…A Story of Hope” is the story of Sam and his family’s struggle when, as a child Sam was diagnosed with leukemia. Sam’s father and mother were young parents, they had never heard of a youngster having cancer, you had to be old to get cancer. They also had never heard of a black child getting cancer. That just didn’t happen. As an eight year old Sam would step up to the plate and believe he was going to hit a home run, his father had taught him -- if you conceive a thought and you can believe a thought, you can achieve a thought. This same conviction and determination is how Sam and his family fought and won the battle with leukemia.
In addition to And they said I wouldn’t make it performances here at the theater, through our Board, Don Brunnquell arranged for Sam to perform this play at the Minneapolis’s Children’s Hospital for the Doctors, Nurses, Staff, Parents and Patients in the Oncology Department. Eventually Sam performed it at the Minneapolis Hilton to over one thousand people at the National Bone Marrow Conference.
At that time Sam asked me to write a Letter of Recommendation for a Fellowship, I wrote about Sam’s performing to this huge hotel room of an audience -- - “Sam is totally at ease center stage. He is funny, wise beyond his years, an audience immediately senses his warmth, and becomes engaged in his story. But he is also that rare performer who can suddenly step to the side, and let the light shine on another—a kid with leukemia, a doctor who is struggling with how to talk to his patients, a father who has just comprehended what his child’s diagnosis means. Sam listens, and encourages others to tell their story. In the piece Sam says “I write this story for all the young black children with cancer who never saw a cancer success story to give them hope. I write this story because it hasn’t been told.”
I continued in my letter, “When his performance ended I saw him greet every audience member who came up to him, with his big, open heart, each audience member telling him how his story was their story. Sam never tired, passing that same hope forward to each and every audience member. ”
In 2016, that big open heart wore out; he gratefully received a new heart and kidney. We all believed he would once again “conceive, believe and achieve” health. But it was not to be. We are grateful for the light Sam always shined out – in everything he did. We will send love and light to his wife Ashley, his father, mother, sisters, grandparents, his family who were there for him at every step of the way. Rest in Peace Sam.
If you would like to make a contribution in Sam’s memory: https://www.gofundme.com/tfcsamgjr
Want more Jeffrey Hatcher?
His new play Holmes and Watson is playing in Arizona with music by Roberta Carlson featuring Stephen D'Ambrose directed by Minnesota native, artistic director David Ira Goldstein . This is David's last production in his 25 year tenure as artistic director of the Arizona Theatre. The Arizona Daily Star wrote —" this ATC production is the world premiere — is tight and clever and full of suspense — and has enough red herrings to feed a family of 40." For more information - www.arizonatheatre.org
Jeff's adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's WHEN WE DEAD AWAKEN is now playing at the Commonweal Theater in Lanesburo Mn. For more information www.commonwealtheatre.org
Also, Jeff and Chan Poling's rollicking musical Glensheen returns to the History Theater this summer with Jen Maren, Dane Stauffer, Adam Qualls ,Wendy Lehr and Gary Briggle. If you haven't yet seen it, call and reserve your tickets ----it always sells out. www.historytheatre.org
Remembering Edgar Davis
Edgar Davis passed recently. Edgar was a member of the Illusion Theater Company, he toured and directed TOUCH at many of our Peer Education sites. Currently he was living with the love of his life, Shari Cornish, in Vermont. Our condolences to Shari and his family and the community in Vermont where he lived, where he was a substitute teacher, and ran a store called The Whistle Emporium.
Nancy Riestenberg offered some memories of her times with Edgar
"Edgar and I trained high school students in TOUCH. We traveled to Nebraska and Montana, trips that took time to get there, and so afforded lots of conversation and storytelling. He told me of his mother and father, both preachers, of art school and hip hop ( a new topic for me in 1992). He was the best partner, not only for the Illusion trainings but in traveling.
We went to Lincoln on a small plane with propellers, my 6 month old daughter in tow. As you might imagine, her ears did not like the change in air pressure. Edgar was right there, fending off angry looks from other passengers with his quiet countenance and gentle smile, explaining the difference between circuit riding preachers and ones with a church, keeping me focused and unruffled.
When we went to Montana, we were in the northeastern part, where the land is a gentle undulate of prairie, cut up by straight roads and telephone lines, vast. I tried to show the quiet beauty of the place, but my pictures showed brown lumps and a grey horizon. Kind of like mud. His pictures used the telephone poles to show near, far, contrast, grace, impact. That is why I left the direction of the play up to him, and kept the sex facts as my part. The play was the thing, after all, and needed an artist.
Gentle passion, graceful focus, practical artistry. Edgar Davis.
Nancy Riestenberg is now the Restorative Practices Specialist for the State of Minnesota.
She worked at Illusion from 1982- 1994.
Isabella LeBlanc is on her way to LA for a screen test with CBS.
Saint Paul Actress, 19, Gets Callback In CBS Diverse Casting Call
CBS put out a call for diverse actors from areas other than Los Angeles and New York City. A 19-year-old St. Paul woman submitted a tape and got a callback.
At just 19 years old, Isabella LeBlanc is a veteran actor in Minnesota. Read more here: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2016/12/12/cbs-diverse-casting-call/