The Story Behind the Actress
Getting to know Hairspray's Zoi Samonas
Fernanda Lara CONTRIBUTOR
Photo: Samonas as Velma Von Tussle (Matt Lalonde / THE MIKE).
I had met Zoi Samonas in a Classical Civilizations course last semester. When we started talking, I realized one thing we had in common was a love for the arts. I was a dancer and she was a musical theatre star. Samonas had gone to a high school that allowed her to focus on musical theatre, and had started out her education by going to school to pursue theatre. Now at the University of Toronto (U of T), she has dedicated on average, 20 hours a week to Hairspray, where she played Velma Von Tussle and plans to continue auditioning for shows. So, when I was looking around for cast members from Hairspray to interview, I was excited that she reached out.
When I interviewed Samonas, I wanted to get an idea of what participating in musical theatre at U of T meant to her in regards to self-care and pursuing a passion. I thought it was important to focus on musical theatre as a way of participating in self-care since as undergraduate students it is easy to feel that academia is all we have time to do. We all know the feeling of being exhausted, burnt out, uninspired, and in desperate need of a break. Feeling as though we cannot write another word or memorize another detail for that one difficult course. As a fourth-year student myself, studying every day for long hours has taken a toll to the extent that I am so grateful for being able to take one day off a week. For Samonas, participating in shows like Hairspray has allowed her to continue pursuing her passion. This is what she told The Mike.
“After initially pursuing a post-secondary degree in Musical Theatre at Sheridan College, I decided to transfer to the U of T in hopes of eventually attending law school," said Samonas. "What was once my passion became work, art became academic and had to be graded, taking away the joy and creativity inherent in performing. Leaving Sheridan was a difficult decision, but it was one I had to make in order not to resent performing."
“When I first began studying at U of T, I neglected theatre and instead focused solely on my academics," Samonas added. "At first I thought I would be able to completely stifle my passion for performing in order to dedicate all of my energy to my studies. The first two years of school proved difficult until I came to the realization that ignoring artistry as part of my identity was actually impeding my potential for academic success. I knew that I could no longer separate these two important facets of my life, and would need to find a way to marry them. In third-year, I decided to reintroduce the arts back into my life by auditioning for a production of The Drowsy Chaperone. The show became an outlet for my artistic expression, which in turn allowed me to focus more intently on my academic studies. The skills I learned from performing could be transferred directly to my academic classes, and vice versa. I was finally beginning to understand and master the bridging of these two disciplines."
“Theatre is a passion shared by every cast member in Hairspray. It means so much to each and every one of us. However, making a living and career in the theatre is not as easy a task as most may think. Talent is only one fraction of the equation — you could be the most talented person in the world and still not find a job. It is about who you know, your work ethic, past experiences, and a lot of the time, luck. At the end of the day, it is a risk that many performers take. It is therefore important, should that risk not pay off, to have a back-up plan. Luckily for me, that back-up plan is also a field I am very passionate about. Pursuing a career in law has always been a dream of mine, so to be able to be balancing both is very fulfilling."
“I'm so fortunate that the U of T values the arts as much as I do, and offers ample opportunities for students to exercise their creative skills. Theatre is such an important platform, especially in today’s political and social climate, that encourages the expression of voice unlike any other platform. Hairspray, for example, tackles important contemporary issues like racism and ableism in an artistic way that appeals to a widespread audience. We, as actors, have the opportunity to spark discussion. At the end of the day, our goal is not necessarily to change someone’s point of view on an important topic, but to encourage and inspire them to, at the very least, appreciate and acknowledge the counter argument. This is why we perform."
"Theatre will always be a part of my identity and is something I will continue to pursue and unite with my other passions in life.”