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Class of 2020: Amari Samya is ready for the big stage

Amari Samya Cummings, a VCU 2020 graduate who studied acting for film and stage, practices lines from Shakespeare on stage in Singleton.

Throughout Amari Samya’s four years as a theater performance major at Virginia Commonwealth University, she took chances to elevate her skills and explore acting off campus thanks to the partnerships her department has with multiple theater companies around Richmond. During her freshman year, Samya scored the understudy for the lead role in Virginia Repertory Theatre’s production of “River Ditty.”

“I’ve had multiple opportunities with different local theaters, such as the Richmond Triangle Players and Cadence Theatre Company, which partnered with the production that we put on at VCU called ‘The Wolves’ by Sarah DeLappe,” said Samya, who will graduate in December from the School of the Arts. “VCU thrives off partnerships with the theater community. You evolve in these various nurturing opportunities to get a foot in the door on professional opportunities outside of VCU Theatre, but also to get that experience and build your resume.

“That’s really the goal of an actor: to leave college with enough experience, training and opportunities.”

Putting herself in new situations helped Samya form a strong community on campus and build a robust portfolio in live theater and acting for the screen. In addition to “The Wolves,” Samya’s theater credits while at VCU include “In the Red and Brown Water” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She also appeared in “How to Bruise Gracefully” at Cadence Theatre. And this fall, Samya was one of the hosts for VCU’s online “No Shame Variety Show.”

“‘The Wolves’ was based around a high school soccer team. So we actually had a turf stage, bright fluorescent stadium lights and all of these cool aspects,” Samya said. “I think educational theater is something where you can definitely try a lot of things and fail because it’s for educational purposes. In most cases, I feel when we’re working with large theater companies, there’s not really much room for error. So in educational theater and theater at VCU, it’s definitely a place where you’re given a little bit more freedom and a little bit more opportunity to try things.”

The Cincinnati, Ohio, native chose to study at the School of the Arts based on VCU’s reputation. She made a concerted effort to get involved with extracurricular activities that helped her connect to her classmates, acclimate to the university setting and help other students enjoy life on campus.

Samya was the 2017-18 Homecoming Court Lady, which led to the opportunity to work as weekend co-coordinator for the activities programming board with University Commons and Activities in 2019. This year she has gotten involved in a newly formed Black Theatre Association. 

As a recipient of a U.S. Department of Education Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship in 2019, Samya studied in London, England, immersing herself in film studies at the University of Westminster. 

“It was very magical. And I think that has to do with being halfway across the world, in a place where you don’t know anyone,” Samya said. 

Another draw was the chance to attend performances of the “Phantom of the Opera” as well as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare’s Globe, a reconstruction of the Globe Theatre, the Elizabethan playhouse for which William Shakespeare wrote his plays.

“It was almost like a party. It was very interactive with the audience. The actors are going in and out of the audience and talking to us and acting,” Samya said. “They welcome in the audience playing live music. I even had the experience of being a Groundling, where you stand up the whole production. You’re physically on the ground and you’re leaning around the stage of the production. So the actors are really right there. It was just amazing; it was like watching a machine power itself.”

Taking classes that emphasize acting for film and television — and choosing to study film while in London — is proving beneficial, as the coronavirus has forced many theaters to close. After graduation, Samya will perform in a production of “Sugar in Our Wounds” at Richmond Triangle Players in 2021 and then will join the television and film industry in Atlanta where she will work on a pilot project of a pitched series called “The Power of Rah” about a pro-cheerleading team.

“Atlanta is a great place that is allowing young, Black artists opportunities. That aspect is definitely something that I could take a hold of, especially me being young and hungry and a sponge wanting to soak up information and just be in rooms where I can work and observe and learn and engage,” Samya said. “Atlanta would be best for me, to give me that room to grow as well as get the tools that I need.”

Story by Dina Weinstein, University Public Affairs. Photo by Kevin Morley.