Spreading her wings for a distant stage
The audience pursued Samantha Orner during her first stage appearance— as the Mad Hatter in a theatrical production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But they weren’t chasing her because they were upset with her performance. Rather, it was a mobile production that traveled throughout the Santa Fe Girls’ School, where she attended middle school. It was Orner’s debut, and she fell in love with acting.
“I really had no idea what I wanted to be when I grow up,” she said over coffee at a local café. “I dreamt about being a lawyer because I could argue very well, but then I realized I was simply complaining.”
Orner followed her debut by acting in four shows for Pandemonium Productions: Guys and Dolls (as Harry the Horse), Grease (as Jan), The Jungle Book (as King Louie), and Willy Wonka (asWillyWonka). Joey Chavez, director of the theater program at Santa Fe High School, saw her work with Pandemonium and encouraged Orner to apply for his drama program. Her first role at the school was hardly type-casting: she played a woman in her 40s who adopts a child because she can’t conceive. Orner recently performed in the ensemble for one of the school’s Broadway showcase galas.
In March, she turns 18. In June, she graduates. By September, she intends to be enrolled in a college, probably on the East Coast, where she plans to major in theater and minor in chemistry (just to cover her bases). She’s interested in the medical profession and even interned at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center last summer.
“Medical work is just an interest and not a passion,” she said. “Acting is a passion. It’s what makes me happy, and if I can get paid doing what makes me happy, I’d be in heaven.”
That can’t happen here, she said. Santa Fe just doesn’t have a lot of theater — and certainly little theater that pays. “If I stayed here, what would be here for me in terms of theater? I don’t know. I could audition for shows, but in terms of making a living? I’m ready to leave, to experience something new and get out of Santa Fe.” Her friends feel the same way, she said. “We’re all leaving — anyone who wants to do theater is leaving.”
She doesn’t see that as a bad or sad thing. “It’s just how it is. If I wanted to be a lawyer or be in the medical field, I would stay. But we don’t have the opportunity to spread our wings artistically here.”
She’s aware that it won’t be easy “out there.” She’ll have to adapt to a new environment, new classmates, and a new level of competition. But as much as she loves Santa Fe, she feels she has to make the jump.
“If I stay here, I’m probably going to stay here and lose my motivation,” she said. “Like if I wanted to start a group here, I’d have no idea how. I want to go somewhere that’s actually known for theater.”