December 16, 2018

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Staging a homecoming

Winnipeg-born, New York-based actor returns as star of PTE's award-winning season-opener

LEIF NORMAN PHOTO</p><p>The title role in PTE's Gracie is Samantha Hill's most challenging one yet.</p>

LEIF NORMAN PHOTO

The title role in PTE's Gracie is Samantha Hill's most challenging one yet.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/10/2017 (430 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg-born actor Samantha Hill journeyed from Winnipeg to Broadway to take on high-profile triple-threat roles including Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera and Cosette in Les Miserables.

Make no mistake: Those entries on her resumé are kind of a big deal.

And yet, she says the most challenging role of her career is back on the Winnipeg stage as she prepares to play the title role in Prairie Theatre Exchange’s season-opener, Gracie.

The role comes a few years after Hill consistently distinguished herself locally as “one to watch” in productions such as Spring Awakening at Winnipeg Studio Theatre, or playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Rainbow Stage in 2009. An alumnus of both the University of Winnipeg and University of Alberta theatre programs, Hill has always seemed especially at home in the musical genre.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/10/2017 (430 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg-born actor Samantha Hill journeyed from Winnipeg to Broadway to take on high-profile triple-threat roles including Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera and Cosette in Les Miserables.

Make no mistake: Those entries on her resumé are kind of a big deal.

And yet, she says the most challenging role of her career is back on the Winnipeg stage as she prepares to play the title role in Prairie Theatre Exchange’s season-opener, Gracie.

The role comes a few years after Hill consistently distinguished herself locally as "one to watch" in productions such as Spring Awakening at Winnipeg Studio Theatre, or playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast at Rainbow Stage in 2009. An alumnus of both the University of Winnipeg and University of Alberta theatre programs, Hill has always seemed especially at home in the musical genre.

But at a breakfast meeting not far from Prairie Theatre Exchange’s Portage Place location, it’s clear from her order — a yogurty fruit parfait and a latte — that the day’s work ahead is not going to require a lot of singing. When preparing for a day’s work on a musical, dairy is generally verboten.

"I just had a moment of, ‘oh, what am I doing?’" Hill admits. "There’s a different lifestyle when you’re doing a play instead of a musical.

"But this is the hardest piece of theatre I’ve ever done, to be honest," she adds. "Because it is just me — an hour-and-a-half of me talking, going from eight years old to 15."

In Gracie, written by Governor General’s Award-winning playwright Joan MacLeod, Hill plays a girl who is transported across the Canada-U.S. border to Bountiful, B.C., when her mother is chosen to be the 18th wife of an elder in an outlawed Mormon sect.

"We follow her life and she starts out as this vivacious, scrappy kid and she grows up in a polygamy colony and she has little realization of the world she lives in, and she progresses and changes as a result of living that way," she says.

Hill currently calls Queens, N.Y., home, but she was compelled to return to the city of her birth after getting a call from PTE artistic director Robert Metcalfe.

"Bob has been a supporter and mentor of mine for probably about 10 years, so he called me up and said, ‘I have this really great script and I want you to read it and if you feel connected to it, I’d like you to come do it.’

She says Metcalfe was very clear, because the subject matter is such that, if she didn’t feel connected to it, than she shouldn’t do it, because it’s not an easy show.

"But the script is beautiful and I was attracted to the character, and I’m always looking for ways to come home and work, and be here for a while," she says, adding she gets to stay with her parents at their home in River Heights for the play’s run. "So this was the perfect opportunity."

That said, it wasn’t a given that Hill would be able to connect with the character.

Hill says she feels lucky to have grown up fairly religious in a non-denominational church and struggling with her identity within the church.

"There’s a struggle between what you’ve been taught and what you start to believe as an individual growing up and seeing the world with different eyes," she says. "I’m not really religious anymore and sometimes it was a difficult transition."

Of course, the character she plays is subject to an extreme religion where the outside world is considered evil and the faithful are subject to heavy indoctrination. That is precisely the situation Gracie faces.

"We see her just as she’s coming of age and is expected to get married and have babies and that’s when you see she’s not ready for that," Hill says. "It’s the disconnect between what’s expected and what’s right. So she starts to make her own opinions on what’s happening."

"You go down a rabbit hole when you research this. When I was researching, I thought: Why are there not more stories about this? It is a relatively small sub-sector of Mormonism, but the amount of this (activity) currently that goes on is astounding."

Hill says she was surprised that more people didn’t know about the (Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Church) and its leader Warren Jeffs, who is now in prison.

"I was excited to be able to tell a story that’s fascinating and disturbing," she says.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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