Crain's Detroit Business | 40 Under 40

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why Does Shakespeare Matter to Black Folks?

I haven't blogged in a while and I'm sorry. I've been traveling and it hasn't left me a lot of time to login. But I thought it was time and I wanted to share something that has been on my mind since I saw this crazy blog  post a few months ago (which you'll see the link for in my actual blog below) from a high school teacher who refuses to teach Shakespeare to her students. Also, I had a few questions from people who wondered why I produce The Bard. I hope the answer below addresses all of that. I feel very passionately about classical art forms and everyone having access to them. It is, in my opinion, unethical for it to be any other way. 

Thanks for reading!

Here’s the thing about humanity: Technology may change and society’s wardrobe may change. But the things that make us human do not. We all get cold. We all get hungry. We all want to be loved. We’ve all been betrayed. We all want our families to prosper. Some members of our families may get on our last nerve. We all want to be happy. We may have missed out on that great job opportunity because it was given to some younger, greener guy or gal, and we were pissed about it. Shakespeare wrote about all those things. What I am saying is that the experiences, feelings and our core needs don’t just change because time passes.

It always makes me cringe when people say that Shakespeare doesn’t matter anymore. So, needless to say, I cringed a lot when I read Valerie Strauss’ blog c/o The Washington Post where high school teacher Dana Dusbiber went on and on about Shakespeare no longer having a place in the classroom. As a Shakespeare advocate, fan and the founder of Shakespeare in Detroit, I completely and utterly disagree. As a black woman who grew up in a predominantly black city and attended predominately black schools, I vehemently disagree.

Shakespeare has been the gateway to make this girl from Seven Mile in Detroit’s (yes, the mile before Eminem’s Eight Mile) dreams comes true. We weren’t poor and I grew up with everything I needed as a child, but we certainly didn’t have enough money to travel overseas. In fact, we probably only took one vacation when I was a kid and that was to Disney World in Orlando, FL. No one had a passport in my family except for books. Reading changed my life and opened my mind and heart. It has taken me all over the world. I have been to Rome, Egypt, Venice, Scotland and other wonderful places across the globe because my mother insisted that I read Shakespeare. That exposure opened my mind to the possibilities and when it was time to start a Shakespeare company in Detroit, I never thought I couldn’t do it because maybe I wasn’t the color of most artistic directors at Shakespeare companies or because I didn’t have a fancy education. I knew I was just as well read as a lot of people and my imagination has no boundaries.  It is because I am a reader.

But my mother didn’t just insist I read Shakespeare. She insisted that I read everything. That’s what I loved and still love about reading. I love reading about experiences that are similar to my own and experiences that I may not otherwise have without the pages of a book. Why do black people only have to read about black experiences? I didn’t know there was a color assignment to reading or art for that matter.  My hope for black students – and other students of color – is that they realize that while society may try to make them feel different, they deserve the same access and exposure as everyone else. They need to know that the world is bigger than their block or city or state or country. When they have access to others’ experiences, they realize how much we are all the same. This puts them, mentally, on the same level and they will attack the world with a beautiful ferocity upon graduation no matter what happens in their exterior lives. Reading literature of all kinds will send their hearts, minds, imaginations and confidence to new heights. In the world we are living in today, when young people of color are under attack, they need these skills more than ever.

Sure, and of course, we need black literature or books that speak to our own experiences. We need to be able to relate to the stories we are reading. That’s why my mother also made insisted I read James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker and the list goes on. One of my favorite contemporary poets, Jessica Care Moore, lives right here in Detroit and I read her work as well. But embracing modern literature doesn’t mean that the classics are invalid.

Teachers are my favorite humans. They are heroes, right after good mothers and fathers. There are many teachers out there who boldly provide a large landscape of literature for their students. They teach ‘oral tradition out of Africa, the translations of early writings or oral storytelling from Latin America or Southeast Asia and other parts of the world.’ And right along with all of those beautiful, valid works, they teach Shakespeare.

I started Shakespeare in Detroit because I didn’t have any engagement with Shakespeare during my time in school. If it weren’t for my mother, I wouldn’t have had it at all. It’s my hope that students come to our free summer shows and engage with The Bard.  I hope the success of these shows inspires schools who do not currently teach Shakespeare to do so. It is my prayer that the tireless work my team and I have done to promote Shakespeare’s work in our urban landscape for the past two years inspires people to love art of all kinds – modern and classical, work from ethnically diverse writers and that ‘old white guy from 450 years ago.’ 

Monday, August 24, 2015

I Can't Take Care of Anyone if I Don't Take Care of Me

It's been an incredible summer.

I recently had the opportunity to visit Cedar City, Utah -- my second favorite city in the US of A. The inspiration for Shakespeare in Detroit was the Utah Shakespeare Festival -- some of you who have followed our journey may already know this. I met some of the most genuine, incredibly talented people in the theatre business. And to make the trip that much sweeter, I was able to attend the inaugural conference for a wonderful organization for women in theatre by the name of Statera. I was able to sit in a room for two days with dozens of women that I respect and admire and tell them exactly what was on my mind and in my heart. It was freeing for me because I don't really get that opportunity here at home. Typically, I am answering a bunch of questions or requests, which is awesome. It's nice to be asked but sometimes you want to just be. The only request I got in Utah was to be myself and let go (let go of what? Well you had to be there :-)) . And that is exactly what I did. If you are a woman in theatre, I highly suggest you look into this organization and follow them on every social channel they have. Then spread the word to other women in theatre. We need each other.

Check out this snippet from the conference via my friends at The Shakespeare Standard:

I also had the chance to go to Miami, drink a few margaritas, take a few naps on the beach, play in the water and just chill with one of my best friends. I needed that because I hadn't taken a vacation since I started Shakespeare in Detroit. 

I feel refreshed and ready to move forward with the next season. I'm excited again.

Shakespeare in Detroit is celebrating its second year this month and I feel truly grateful to every actor and artist and audience member who has shared this journey with us. Seven shows in two years is not easy but we have been able to do it with grace and authenticity because I think that, for the most part, all of us believe in the mission of the organization and what it means to Detroit. We are all very excited about the possibilities.

Photo credit: Talented Ladies Club

I promised myself that I wouldn't work too much in August. I am recuperating from a small procedure and just enjoying some me time. I have been able to do some traveling, enjoy my friends, partake of some good wine, open my mind and heart to dating again, read a few books and reflect on all of the beautiful blessings that have happened to me and for those around me. I feel so filled with love and my creative cognitions are flowing again and I am super excited to bring Julius Caesar and Merchant of Venice to life in 2016. We'll also have a few cool surprises in store -- hopefully, experiences that are unique here in Detroit. I always want to think ahead and, hopefully, inspire thought and stir excitement in the ether here in my hometown.

I've learned so much the past two years about theatre, about Detroit and about myself. I've made a lot of mistakes and made some really awesome choices as well. I have learned from both. I can share three very important things that I learned that I believe might help anyone who is reading this and trying to start a business -- of any kind.

1.  Passion for the mission trumps everything. I am not saying that talent doesn't matter. OF COURSE, talent matters. What I am saying is that you have to surround yourself with people who can see beyond the immediate product or show or experience. You want to surround yourself with passionate folks who are visionaries and can see the benefit of whatever you are producing and how it can impact others in a long-term and meaningful way.

2. Get used to descent. It usually means you are doing something right (one of the pointers I got from Statera). Everyone isn't going to agree with you all the time and that is fine. It's a good thing. Know who you are and what your business stands for. Keep your mission close to your heart and on top of mind. Listen to everyone, but at the end of the day remember those who are impacted the most by your work. In my case, it is the kids, and adults, who are from neighborhoods like mine that come to our free summer shows and who otherwise wouldn't engage with Shakespeare.

3. Quality > Quantity. When I first started I just wanted to produce as much good work as possible. I am more interested, as we go into our third season, in producing great work, high-quality productions. That's the goal. Quality brings longevity.

But more than anything, if you are my theatre brethren out there or my sisters in theatre (or just a human, navigating your way in the world), remember (and I am telling you this because I learned the hard way) that you can't take care of anyone if you don't take care of yourself first.

Getting offline now to plan my trip to Saugatuck, Mich. with my other best friend.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, friends. I'll talk to you in September. xo

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Shakespeare in Detroit closes its 2014-15 season with "King Lear" at Marygrove College

DETROIT, April 2, 2015 --  William Shakespeare's epic tragedy ,"King Lear", will close Shakespeare in Detroit's 2014-15 season.

"King Lear" is directed by Frannie Shepherd-Bates and will play at Marygrove College, where the company is currently in residence, April 9 through 19 -- it is the first time Shakespeare in Detroit has performed in a traditional proscenium-style theater. The company has previously performed in parks, a restaurant, a recycling center, high school and a black box theatre as part of its template for performing in the places where people live, work and play. 'Lear' also marks the sixth full-fledged production for the company in 18 months.

"I am so proud of the work Shakespeare in Detroit has produced since our first production in August 2013," says Sam White, founder and artistic director. "It's been an honor working with some of this area's most talented actors and artists.

"Marygrove College is the perfect venue for us to play our most important production yet," says White. "I believe we have built a solid foundation for a Shakespeare company here in the city and I am excited for the future."

This final show of the season is an important transition for the company who was recently taken on as a client by Sacramento, California-based branding, marketing and public relations agency Runyon, Saltzman and Einhorn, Inc.

"The agency has been kind enough to take us under their wings as we examine ways to continue to grow and build," says White."We don't want to just survive, we want to thrive and its important that we find ways to sustain ourselves, build new audiences and support all of our artists."

Shakespeare in Detroit planned to close the season with what would have been their third summer of free Shakespeare in the park in the city. The company is unable to continue this summer due to a lack of resources. The funds raised through their recent fundraiser will be applied towards costs for "King Lear."

"We hoped to raise enough funds through our crowdfunding campaign, however, we were not able to reach our goal which would have allowed us to continue our mission this summer to provide free, accessible Shakespeare to the community," says White.

"The theatre will go dark after 'Lear' through the fall season as we restructure the organization," she continues. "We look forward to returning in the spring with a ticketed production, followed by a summer 2016 production in the park which will continue our mission and allow Shakespeare's work to touch the city's diverse landscape."

"King Lear" will play at Marygrove College located at 8425 McNichols in Detroit on Thursday, April 9, Friday, April 10, Saturday, April 11 and Saturday, April 18 at 8 p.m. with one matinee on Sunday, April 19 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 online and $25 at the door. Visit for info tickets.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Tickets for Shakespeare in Detroit's "King Lear" on Sale Now

I am so excited for Shakespeare in Detroit's 6th production, "King Lear."

It's one of my favorite plays. It's one of those stories that reaches deep down into your humanity and touches those emotions that are sometimes difficult to handle, but are all a part of this experience here on earth.

We have all lost someone close to us. Maybe, some of us have an elderly parent that we are looking out for. Perhaps, there are many of us who have siblings who aren't playing their part in taking care of their elderly parents. Maybe, we've witnessed family members act out and argue over things like who gets the inheritance when a parent passes. These are all experiences we can all relate to at some level.

Shakespeare in Detroit's post-apocalyptic concept for the show is only going to make this tragedy even more raw and impactful.

Visit our website to learn more and purchase tickets:!tickets/c1srt

We open April 9th and run through the 19th at Marygrove College in Detroit.

I hope to see you at the show.


- Sam

Monday, February 9, 2015

In the air with Southwest Airlines

Shakespeare in Detroit is featured on the cover and in the pages of  the February in-flight issue of Southwest Airlines' magazine. I am the February cover girl.

It's really a dream come true. I can't believe it.

I am floored with gratitude and delight. It's such a blessing to be able to share my story and tell my truth. It's even more amazing to get the wonderful, encouraging feedback that we have received so far.

There is so much work to do. This is only the beginning and it only gets harder. But, I am fueled by the love and this experience. The universe is working and I hope that I can continue to just work with it. And, hopefully, along the way we can inspire, encourage and motivate others to go after their dreams and live their truth.

It's exciting.

Thank you to Drew Philip for writing the story and Southwest Airlines for sharing the story. Thank you to anyone who picks it up and takes the time to read it. I never in a million years would have dreamed of being photographed by Cris Crisman. He has photographed Alan Cumming, Kevin Spacey and Richard Branson -- three people I look up to. It's all a dream. He's an incredible photographer (and a delight to work with).

I am bursting at the seams with gratitude.

Here's a link to the digital version:

Cheers to all my fellow dreamers out there (in the skies and down here)!

Lexus' I Have the Drive campaign

I haven't had a lot of time to blog as of late. 

There's so much happening right now. But, I definitely want to make sure to keep those of you who have been reading this blog and supporting me updated on everything. 

I am so excited to share that I am one of the Detroiters featured in Lexus' new I Have the Drive campaign. You can check it out here:

I'm really excited and grateful that Lexus along with WDIV (Channel 4,  here in Detroit) have supported Shakespeare in Detroit. Many thanks to those who nominated me (nominations were open to the public). 

It's been such a tremendous year so far. It's only February and we've already been graced with so many incredible opportunities. I hope this is just the beginning for the little theater company that could. 

Thanks to everyone who has supported us -- new supporters and old supporters. 

-- Sam

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top Ten Moments of 2014

To say this has been the best year of my life is by no means an exaggeration. It is the beautiful truth.

I am so grateful to the people and the Divine for giving me the courage, support and love to go ferociously after my dreams. There were so many awesome moments in 2014, but I thought I’d share my top ten.

Many blessings, hugs and gratitude to the people who have supported me, especially, Tonnille Williams, Van Nguyen, Lindsay Holston and my brother, Freddy. You guys celebrated the good with me, helped me earn my wings in my professional life,  and got me through the times I was unsure; I was sad, frustrated and confused. You saw the real me and you had my back. Thank you.


#10 Getting to talk to kids about living their dreams is always fun for me. I always end up walking away inspired by their energy and potential. Thank you to East Hills Middle School for having me!


#9 Chatting with my fellow entrepreneurs is always the coolest of cool moments. Thank you for the fun Beer & Builders! Grand Circus Co., you are the best! Love your people. Love your space. I appreciate the opportunity.

#8 Who would have thought the little girl from Seven Mile who loves Shakespeare would get to chat about her Shakespeare dreams in a room full of Bard academics? Thank you to the Midwest Modern Language Association for having me and valuing my voice.

#7 Winning Detroit SOUP helped get the ball rolling for our 2014 shows. There would be no “Antony and Cleopatra” without you guys. Thank you for getting it. Thank you for supporting my crazy imagination. (Forgive my blurry photo).

#6 Crain’s Detroit Business’ 30 Under 30. It was such an honor. It was a happy moment for me as an artist to be recognized with other innovators from medical to technical fields.  

#5 TEDx Detroit was…There are really no words for this moment. I am a HUGE fan of TED conferences so I would’ve been happy just being in the audience. But, I gave a talk. And people liked it. WOW.

#4 “The Tempest” in September 2014. Only a few people saw the show. But, it was SUPER fun. I loved being in the audience watching the actors bring the comedy to life. I am really proud of that show. Kudos to the cast and crew on a supreme production.

#3 “Romeo and Juliet” at Mumford High School in July 2014. I was able to bring my company home to my former high school. There had never been a play in their new state of the art theater. It was a beautiful thing to right that wrong. How can you not have a theater program with that fancy theater? I love you Mumford, but, please, bring more theater to your school. Please? (Photo taken at Grand Circus Park performance).

#2 My number two pick is designated for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at New Center Park where we enjoyed our biggest audience to date. There were 800 people in attendance. The rainy weather that had been plaguing the summer missed us – literally, a black cloud passed right over us and the sun showed up. It was amazing!

#1 Of course, number one goes to “Antony and Cleopatra” at Recycle Here. The four-show run was of epic proportions. Seats by Sit On it Detroit. Repurposed or recycled costumes.  Despite the freezing temperatures, 738 people supported us. Thank you, Detroit!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thank you Team SiD

 A couple of weeks back I gathered in a room with 500 people, including the 39 other professionals who are a part of the 2014 Crain's Detroit Business' 40 Under 40 class. It was all very exciting as we all celebrated one another. I felt really blessed -- as an artist -- to be recognized with other industries from technology and sports to medical and design.

It makes me incredibly happy to see that people are beginning to realize that there is a business to art and the creative industry is as important to a thriving, healthy city as any other industries.

I believe that any success that I have had is because of the people in my life who have helped me. I am a powerful woman, but there is no way Shakespeare in Detroit could have had the year it had, without the support of everyone from the actors who have been in our shows and the directors who have shared their talents to the people who have donated everything from their hard-earned money to their time to us. I thank everyone who has made this year as epic as it has been. I call you Team SiD because the only way Shakespeare in Detroit can become a world-class Shakespeare company -- comparable to great companies like Strat Fest, RSC and The Globe -- is with a large group of people from this community and other areas who believe, as I do, that a job may bring someone to a city, but the arts will keep them here. The experience will keep people in Detroit.

Detroit has always been a city of innovation and an industrial epicenter. This city changed the way the world moved -- from Henry Ford to the Supremes -- and I sincerely believe that was only the beginning for our great city. I look forward to watching how the story of Detroit unfolds in my lifetime and I hope that Shakespeare in Detroit will be a part of the fabric of its rebirth as we turn this chapter.

My heart is completely filled when I think of all the awesome opportunities that have been presented to me because of Shakespeare in Detroit. It's incredible to think that an idea that lived in my head is now alive and breathing and creating.

I am so excited as we gear up for our next show, "King Lear." I hope you guys tune into my podcast to learn more about that production opening on April 9, 2015!

It is my dream that you will continue this journey with me, with Shakespeare in Detroit and the town that was once mostly known for motors and music, will also become a destination for those who love Shakespeare, those who love art and those who want to see our great city thrive.


~ Sam

Friday, October 24, 2014

Michigan Opera Theatre’s Elektra is a bloody good time

Michigan Opera Theatre’s fall 2014 season opened with Richards Strauss’ German-language opera, “Elektra.” The horror-filled one-act performance was disturbingly wonderful to watch with the award-winning vocals of soprano Christine Goerke.
Photo by John Grigaitis

Elektra is grieving the loss of her father who was murdered by her lusty mother and her lover. She seeks revenge and begs her sister, Chrysothemis, to help her. This role is played by soprano Jennifer Check whose runs and vibratos are lovely and sweet and a great contrast to Goerke’s Elektra and all her glorious grit.  

Goerke leaves her soul on stage giving a vocal and physical performance that could exhaust a diva of a much lesser grade. As beautiful as her voice is, her endurance is even more admirable and she has the acting chops to handle such a challenging role. Even before she opens her mouth, you feel her pain from the slant of her brow to the thrust of her jaw. She is truly wonderful to watch.

The role of the sisters’ mother, Klytaemnestra, is played by mezzo-soprano Jill Grove who makes it very easy to dislike her character with her strong performance as the villain in “Elektra.” She plays bad so good. Grove, like Goerke, delivers on the acting in addition to the singing. You don’t have to read the subtitles to know her role in the story. Her body, her voice and everything in between give you the entire context to understand.  

Photo by John Grigaitis

The cast also includes German Bass-baritone Thomas Gazheli as Orest and Canadian tenor, Richard Margison as Aegisth.

“Elektra” is one of those operas that resonates with every age group from 18 to 80 because of its youthful energy but still maintains the structure and dynamic of a classic libretto. The way MOT has opened up the context so that it is accessible to every audience is to be admired. The acting by the performers in this production make it easily understood whether you have been attending the opera your entire life or are viewing it for the first time. Not to mention, the bloody setting – including a set that spews blood – is perfect for this time of year with Halloween just around the corner.

MOT is only presenting four performances of this emotionally charged opera – the two closing shows are this weekend. As horrific as this murderous tale is, it would be more horrifying for Detroit audiences to miss this show.

The opera is directed by Nicholas Muni with Maestro Steven Mercurio at the podium.

“Elektra” is playing this Saturday, October 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, October 26 at 2:30 p.m. at the Detroit Opera House located at 1526 Broadway in downtown Detroit. Tickets are $25 to $128. Visit or call 313.237.SING for more information.