Performers in the Time of COVID: Samantha Able
I spent a delightful hour talking to actor and singer- songwriter, Samantha Able on a snowy Sunday evening during Lockdown 3. Samantha is based in New York, so for her it was afternoon and the sun was shining through the window of her mid-town Manhattan flat. She told me that Manhattan is, though not locked down, very quiet. 'The continual honking has stopped?' I asked. 'Yes,' she laughed, 'but it seems to have been replaced by young men revving their sports cars!'
In the years preceding the events of March of last year Samantha had been working at a restaurant near Wall St, organising and hosting corporate events in the haunting atmosphere of the old JP Morgan Bank Vault. It was a role that afforded her a creative outlet, an opportunity to hone her management skills and the flexibility to take acting work even if it meant being away for several weeks at a time. The acting management company she had been with since leaving NYU had brought her a steady stream of work including roles in television series, the computer game Grand Theft Auto and theatre as well as commercial voice-overs. 'I really enjoyed working on the Pillsbury Christmas morning advertisement,' she said, 'and it was even more fun to turn on the television and hear myself speaking!'
Alongside her acting career, Sam had continued to write songs. In 2018 a friend who had started a web series called Travel Songs, recorded one of her songs for an episode and the company who sponsored him reached out and asked Sam to be a featured artist. They created a video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1MBEUfNENU) and hooked her up with Caelum Music Productions. It seems to have been a dream come true. 'I had an opportunity to write and record more songs and to collaborate with a producer,' she said. 'Singing is such a vulnerable thing to do, so it was wonderful to have a group of people supporting me through it. I was happy to have a way to share my songs and hoped that they would be enjoyed.'
But as for most of us, everything changed in March of last year. Both Sam and her boyfriend were laid off work and, to make matters worse, they found they suddenly had no gas provision in their apartment. It seemed the right time to leave New York. Fortunately, they were able to stay at a house belonging to Sam's parents on Kent Island, Maryland. 'It was a strange time,' she said. 'There were so many layers of emotion. On the one hand we were able to relax in this beautiful spot and enjoy outdoor space which we have never had in Manhattan. I would play my piano or sit in the sun with a book. We even got to babysit my brother's golden retriever puppy. At the same time, there was a lot of fear. Though we had the security, for the time being, of collecting unemployment insurance, we had no idea how long the situation would last. We also felt guilty that we'd escaped to a tranquil and idyllic place so removed from the Black Lives Matter movement and the political turbulence of those months.' Samantha said that they spent much of the time thinking about the future and trying to find work. 'We took a course and applied to be contact tracers for Covid. But we also applied for our 'dream jobs'. I actually filled out an application to be the voice-over coordinator for the entire Nickleodeon productions! I didn't get it obviously,' she laughed.
The couple returned to their Manhattan apartment on the day that Joe Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. election. They had both done a lot of thinking and had made some decisions. 'Before the pandemic,' Sam said, 'I had already been thinking I needed a change, but I didn't know what that would look like'. Those months of being, rather than doing, of having the time to reflect, brought her to a decision. So in the autumn she studied for GMAT, the entrance exam for business school, and applied to Harvard, MIT and Columbia. 'The hospitality and entertainment industries, the two industries in which I have worked since I left university, are struggling,' she said. 'I would like to find a way to help them recover in the post pandemic world.'
In November Sam sat the GMAT. 'I've done the work now and I can sit back and wait until February when I'll hear if I got an interview,' she said. In the meantime she has started a new job with a visionary company called Too Good to Go which helps recycle left over food from restaurants, bakeries and delis in order to prevent food waste. 'Do you know that it takes a head of lettuce 25 years to decompose in a landfill site!' Sam told me. 'This job is my takeaway from a tumultuous year,' she said. 'I want to be doing something that makes a difference. There are a lot of things that have to be fixed in our communities and around the world. Actors have to spend there time focussing inwards; I want to merge all the areas of my life and focus them outwards to contribute to a better world.' I have little doubt that with all Sam's intelligence, energy, optimism and good will she will play an important part in a better future.