I met Sam Schiffman in 2015 when we were both in callbacks for Theatreworks shows and we’ve remained friends from seeing each other at many of the same appointments and callbacks! She is SUCH light in the holding room, with her Mary Poppins audition bag in hand always. We had such a blast at the adorable Penny Lane Coffee, talking about everything from her first few sublet adventures in the city to her magical booking experience last summer and what show she and her boyfriend have created for themselves!
Drink of Choice: Soy Chai Tea Latte
AF: What did you get to drink, Sam?
SS: I got an iced coffee because I already had a large chai this morning with soy milk and cinnamon syrup.
AF: Now, is that your drink of choice?
SS: My drink of choice is always a soy chai tea latte.
AF: So you’re a tea girl!
SS: I am a tea girl… I find that I crash after coffee but with my chai the caffeine lasts all day.
SS: But when I’m drinking coffee it’s usually iced.
AF: It’s also VERY humid today so a cold drink was necessary. So I always ask… what is your back-story?
SS: I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, Highland Park which is the like the Westchester to New York. I have four siblings and a twin sister! There’s five of us. I have been acting since second grade where I did Bugsy Malone Junior. If you haven’t seen it…go check it out! I played Louella who was the girlfriend of a guy named “Danny Dan.” She was also a dancer at Sam’s Club so she was a two-timer. I played sports for a long time. I played a lot of soccer. My dad was the coach. And then I realized I didn’t want to do this any more, I wanted to perform and I started trying to sing and I was I Chorus. In sixth grade I auditioned for Once on This Island which was really appropriate. I thought I got cast. And I did not… a girl named Sam Shiffran got cast. She was an eighth grader. I was a sixth grader. Then in eighth grade I did Once Upon a Mattress and then high school I did the whole thing. I played Connie in A Chorus Line, which was also…very appropriate. I went to Indiana University and got a degree in Theatre not Musical Theatre. I minored in Dance and Spanish.
AF: Can you tell us how a Theatre degree is different from a Musical Theatre degree?
SS: At Indiana, basically the difference was the masterclasses and showcase. I had a lot more requirements inside and outside the degree of Theatre. I had to get like twelve credits in the school of Theatre and then fourteen credits in the college of Arts and Sciences but my Senior year I studied abroad in London and all my credits transferred outside the school of Theatre so I got to take whatever I wanted! I took all the dance classes, voice lessons… it wasn’t my first choice school but I’m glad I ended up there. I was in a Sorority… I did the whole college experience. I don’t regret going there. I’m very happy with where I’m at and where I’m going. It almost doesn’t matter what your degree is…as long as you’re going on the path that works for you.
AF: And putting forth the energy to make the strides you want to see in your career.
SS: I heard so many “No’s” in college because I wasn’t in the program like, “You can’t be in the main stage if you’re not in the program…” but I moved to New York and was one of the first of my friends to get my Equity card.
AF: I bet that helped shape your stamina and build a wall subconsciously where you could deal with the rejection better than somebody in the program!
SS: Yes, because I was so used to the “No’s.” It also didn’t hurt that my boyfriend is also in theatre and trained at Boston Conservatory and he taught me how to work that audition circuit. “You wake up at five am… you go…and you wait…” It was really nice to have him teaching me. He moved in July and I moved in September.
AF: It’s so helpful to have a partner to help guide and push you a little bit. I have so much respect for people who are doing all this independently.
SS: Right- and I’ll push him! He’ll say, “Oh I don’t want to get up yet” and I’m like, “You’re perfect for it! Go!” And maybe if I didn’t say that he wouldn’t have gone and booked it, you know? It’s a nice partnership.
AF: Any time I tell Douglas to go in for an audition, he gets the callback! Anyways so you move to New York… what has your time looked like?
SS: I moved in September of 2014 and I moved with one of my best friends. I moved with four suitcases and a prayer. And my dad came with me so we were spending an entire day on Craig’s list. I ended up living with a mid-sixties woman and her Israeli exchange student in a one bedroom with her yappy dog.
AF: That is something out of a TV show.
SS: I was working at a Yoga studio…and the Israeli student took a class with me at the studio. The woman slept on a Chaise lounge and there were two twin beds for the student and me. There was no closet space, you couldn’t use the stove because there was so much all over the place…but I was paying five hundred dollars a month. I lived there September through November and signed a lease December first.
AF: That’s amazing.
SS: Right… and then I booked my Theatreworks tour December seventh. Six days later… Like, BYE!
AF: As soon as you commit to something… you book. When it rains it pours. We met each other on the audition circuit in 2015… at Theatreworks.
SS: I had just gotten back from tour!
AF: Any time we would see each other… we would encourage each other and then the next week we’d touch base and be like, “We booked!” I was thinking oh I’ll book my trip to Spain… and then something will come along! Nothing has happened yet so maybe this will be a good pitch to people to cast me! (haha) Okay so first New York experience was kind of crazy… then you signed the lease, then you left for tour…
SS: Then I moved into a place on the Upper East Side with two other people in a one bedroom… really thriving. This was before the second avenue subway… so it was really far from everything. I came back end of May, early June, moved into a new apartment in September. Then I moved into a four bedroom in Washington heights and we had a washer dryer, and a dishwasher but that apartment was PLAGUED. We had a fire, we had bedbugs, we had mice, cockroaches, water damage from the fire…
AF: I’m learning so many new things right now. That’s a lot.
SS: That happened and now I live with Max!
AF: And you still are here! Even through ALL that!
SS: Yeah and all the time auditioning, babysitting the same kid for three years…
AF: That’s so special!
SS: It’s so unheard of to be with a family for that long.
AF: It’s good for you, it’s good for the kid. Wow- you’re so busy! What’s been a high point and low point?
SS: Two years ago my boyfriend left for a contract and I felt very lost in the city. I was so happy for him but it took me a while to realize his successes weren’t my failures.
AF: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. It’s hard to come to that realization.
SS: It took me all summer. I had a concussion… and this was also at the height of the bedbugs! We had to clean the entire apartment and all of Max’s stuff was in the apartment and I missed him and I just felt very lonely. We had gotten to this place where it was just the two of us and I didn’t see a whole lot of my friends and so I wondered where I was at. When he got back there was a lot of readjusting and that was my hardest time. I never wanted to leave New York but I was very much like, “Woe is me.” This was summer 2016…so I’d been there two years.
AF: I feel like when you’re at that two-year mark… it’s like “Okay I’m really doing this.”
SS: It didn’t feel like anything I was doing was fulfilling. I wanted somebody to hire me and pay me to do that as my only job. It was really hard. It took me a full year after that to book my next gig. I worked at Maine State last year and took a class with Bob Cline and he said all the agents want their clients in a Maine State season. It’s such a great place to work. It’s a hard job to come by because you have to be a triple-threat! I don’t consider myself a triple-threat. I am a singer, I am a mover-“plus”… it takes me a minute but I’m willing to put in the work to learn the combo. I went in for Grease for Frenchy… didn’t hear anything and then got an email three weeks later and went in for Patti. It was one of those where you leave the room and know you booked it… but they said they’d be having a dance call and I never heard. When I didn’t hear I assumed I didn’t get it… and I hadn’t done Yoga in six months because I’d had surgery and I did my at home practice and I laid down and rolled over and my phone started ringing and it was my agent telling me I’d booked it.
AF: I just got chills all over my body. That’s amaaaaaazing. That’s such a great reminder that if you just center yourself for a second, let it go, and be okay with where you are at. I’m preaching to the choir…but I know we all struggle with that. We’re never going to be as far along as we would like.
SS: Sometimes I question, “Did I take my card too soon?”
AF: Same. But we gotta keep pushing forward! No regrets. So booking Maine State was a highlight…
SS: Also this year has been kind of an awakening that what I’m offering in the room is the best I can do and the best representation of my abilities. I didn’t book anything for this summer but I’m in voice lessons and I’m really comfortable with who I am and what I’m presenting to the room is really honest and what I am… and just because I didn’t book anything doesn’t mean I didn’t have a good season. I’ve had more callbacks this season than I’ve ever had… not that it was a lot but more than I’ve ever had.
AF: So that means you’re pursuing who you are and embracing your honesty and bringing your full capabilities to the room.
SS: And going to auditions that I know I’m really right for.
AF: It’s getting to that place of maturity of fully going for it and giving it everything regardless of whether you receive anything back in return.
SS: For so long I’ve obsessed over which dresses to wear because certain dresses are right for certain characters…and not that you don’t want to allude to it but wearing overalls for a Mama Mia! audition isn’t going to get me the job… being me and being honest and being as close as I can to being in that character is all I can do.
AF: But also you ALWAYS look fierce. You always have a massive bag with you, filled with so many great options.
SS: I only brought two dresses with me today!
AF: I’m getting to that point in the year where I need a new “audition something.” That’s how I justify shopping. So not to dampen the mood but…what was your low?
SS: The year after Theatreworks. I got back with all this momentum and things weren’t happening and it was really hard. It makes you realize just how good it feels when someone DOES choose to take a chance on you. I had to wait for it to come along.
AF: This season of waiting is not failure. You’re working on yourself, working on your craft, and you just know the next thing that comes along is going to be amazing because the last thing you got to do was great…and it can only go up the ladder! So I always ask… what are you working on now?
SS: Max and I booked Bed the Musical which is us sitting in our bed eating snacks all summer. This joke has been going on for six months… he’s starring as Pajamas and I’m starring as Junk Food. He wrote me a contract… it’s legit. We have an email thread with the offer. The kid I babysit will be gone for most of the summer so I might spend some time at home and auditioning, keeping on top. If there’s anything I learned this week it’s that you can’t let things bog you down. If you stay on top of it you can take on the world! Spending ten hours with a kid can take a toll on you…but I’ve found time to breathe into it and take into account the fact that I need to prepare for these auditions.
AF: You have to make it a priority. Some days you work, work, work… and then when you have something coming up you take a second.
SS: Two years ago I would have been like, “Ahh this week is so busy I can’t go to any auditions…” but now I’m in control. It feels good. I’m putting myself to bed earlier because I know I have THINGS to do.
AF: You’re creating that career for yourself.
SS: You have to put the work in. You can’t expect your agent or manager to do it all for you. You have to look at everything. Someone said to me once “If you can’t book a job, don’t audition for it.”
AF: What are your words to live by?
SS: Somebody else’s successes aren’t your failures. It took me a really long to grasp that and I still struggle with it. But whenever I see you at auditions and I say, “I really hope one of us books this” I mean it. I would love for someone I know to book. If that person is the best one for the job… they should get it. Also- just because the girl before you sounds great… remember that you’re also great. You can both be good.
AF: Everyone brings a different quality into the room!
SS: And if that person is booking, that’s great for them! It doesn’t mean it’s bad for you. Your time is coming… or it’s not! And that’s good. You have time to work on you!
AF: There’s a reason we’re here for the summer.
SS: I feel at peace about it. I can go to Coney Island! I’m really enjoying this coffee by the way… I’m all hyped up.
AF: Well thank you so much for coming on the blog! I’ll probably see you at an audition like… tomorrow!