The first thing you notice when you meet Samantha Haeli is her gorgeous red hair. The next thing you notice is that she has a lot to say. Her YouTube videos on hot-button topics like feminism have earned thousands of views, and one was even taken off YouTube by angry protesters. A graduate of the UW-Eau Claire and a study abroad veteran, Samantha comes across as incredibly intelligent and world-wise…and very funny. These traits have led her to develop her “Glass Menagerie character,” Laura Wingfield, very differently than Laura is typically portrayed. Read my interview with Samantha below to get a sense of how smart and witty she is, and to hear her talk about her unusual character interpretation. And make sure you see “The Glass Menagerie” before it closes on Sunday at Lyric Arts!
SH: I was born in Minneapolis and raised in Rogers. During the day I usually am working as a server at the Original Pancake House in Maple Grove. I don’t mind working as a server for now but want to either make a career out of acting or support myself with my Spanish portion of the degree. I’m fluent in Spanish and spent a summer in Costa Rica as well as half a year in England (I studied abroad twice). I travel whenever I can. It’s my favorite. I went to school at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and spent a semester at University of Winchester.
EP: You haven’t been at Lyric Arts since you were a kid at the Pocket Theatre. Where have you been all this time? What about this production made you audition?
SH: I stopped doing stuff at Lyric Arts once I hit high school and did all the school production and the Elk River Community Theatre stuff because it was closer to my house than Anoka. I definitely missed the quality of Lyric Arts though so I’m glad to be back. Then I went off to college in Wisconsin and did a lot of theatre there—I got to fulfill a dream by playing Juliet in Romeo & Juliet. I auditioned for The Glass Menagerie at UWEC—it was actually the first ever college thing I auditioned for. I didn’t even get a callback. I wasn’t ready for the challenges of playing Laura, but much like Juliet, this role has been on my Bucket List since I read the play in high school. I needed to see if I could get it and am so happy that I get to work with a director as talented as Scott.
EP: Let’s get right to it. Give me a three word summary of the production.
SH: Poetic. Tormented. Honest.
EP: Talk about how your interpretation of the character is different than the typical meek, “birdlike” Laura.
SH: Here’s the thing: I hate it when all Laura is is shy. It’s so one-dimensional. People aren’t like that; if they’re shy, there are so many reasons why. She isn’t confident, she has all sorts of anxieties about her crippled leg, and she has serious abandonment issues from her father walking out on them when she was a kid. She’s the oldest of the two and yet her brother takes care of them— there is enormous guilt there, because she loves her brother more than anyone else in the world and she’s part of the reason he can’t feel happy and free. Added to the predisposition she has for obsessive compulsion and depression, and you have someone far more than “shy” and “meek”. Amanda even says it herself: Still water runs deep. There’s something everyone has to love about Laura, and it can’t be entirely out of pity. She’s not just shy—she is truly peculiar and troubled, yet she is so loving and sweet. She’s a beautiful character.
EP: An important part of your character is her “crippled” physicality. Tell me about developing that.
SH: It’s really hard to play a physical impediment. I started off by not bending my knee when I walked, but that didn’t read well. Now I’ve been sort of dragging my one foot. I was afraid of looking like Igor or some other hunchback but Scott says it’s working so I’m hoping he’s not just full of it. The other challenge is playing that handicap all the time and not just when I’m walking. A messed up leg doesn’t stop being messed up just because you’re sitting. Consistency is something I have to be constantly mindful of.
EP: You’re a very vocal feminist. Talk about the character of Laura as a woman with few options in the 1930s.
SH: YES ALL WOMEN. My feminism is one of my most treasured values. It pains me to the core that Laura has backed herself into a life where her only option is marriage, yet she doesn’t want marriage. She doesn’t want anything. She’s afraid of things changing, and yet not necessarily happy with how things are. It reminds me of Chekhov’s T” and how they always talk about how they’ll go to Moscow to be happy but they never do. She has very little agency, which is strange because for all Amanda’s talk about being dainty or desirable to men, Amanda is actually rather empowered. She supported her children for some ten years before Tom was old enough to work, so why hasn’t Laura learned from this example? I think she’s too focused inwardly on her own defects and doesn’t see how she’d be desirable or capable for any job or any man.
EP: What’s your favorite thing about Laura?
SH: I love how imaginative Laura is. She’s frequently lost in a world of dreams playing with her records or menagerie. Even though she is too restricted by her imagination, she hangs on to the almost childlike innocence that we lose as we age. She creates her own world in her head, and prefers to be there than in reality. Haven’t we all been there?
EP: What’s your least favorite thing about her?
SH: I struggle with how angry she is, deep down. She has a hard time with forgiveness. She never forgives herself for anything, especially. She is angry about her father, angry at how her mother pressures Tom, angry that Tom behaves in a way that makes her feel like a burden. Yet her anger very rarely presents itself in a manifestation that the outside can see. Having so much anger inside is self-destructive.
EP: Has anything surprised or challenged you about this experience?
SH: I’m surprised at how easy it is to feel everything so deeply as it happens onstage and in the script. Tennessee Williams has written the language in such a way that it’s impossible as an actor not to be impacted by the words and feel them. Love, rage, despair, and hope all dance around on the pages and it’s so easy to play them because of his writing. The challenge is playing the emotions big enough for an audience to see and not just internalizing everything.
EP: What’s next for you, after The Glass Managerie?
SH: I’m back to more and more auditions. I just moved into Minneapolis with a few excellent roommates and am excited to see the adventures I can find in City Life. Perhaps I might even try to get a Big Girl job in the Spanish field whilst I search for more acting work.
EP: If you were an animal in Laura’s glass menagerie, what animal would you be?
SH: I’d be an otter. They’re smart and playful but will totally bite you for no apparent reason while you’re swimming in the lake and you’re like WHAT THE HECK BRO.
EP: Laura’s odd nickname is Blue Roses. Do you have any fun nicknames?
SH: I get a lot of people calling me Red or Ginge or Weasley. They are very creative names based on my hair. It’s brilliant.
EP: What’s your favorite line from the show?
SH: Amanda talking on the phone to a friend and saying “You can’t have a story without complications.” THANKS, TENNESSEE. WE KNOW.
EP:You have to fight one of your fellow glass menagerie cast members. Who are you going to fight?
SH: I can tell you who I’m NOT fighting: Patti Hynes-McCarthy (Amanda Wingfield). I’d lose that battle so hard.
EP: You have to switch roles in the show! What character are you going to play now, and why?
SH: Tom. I want to be Tom because I can relate to him on a really personal level.
EP: Let’s have some fun now. These aren’t related to the show, just help us get to know you. Cats or dogs?
SH: DOGS. I don’t like cats and I’m allergic.
EP: Favorite book?
SH: Series: Harry Potter by JK Rowling. Stand Alone: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
EP: Favorite movie?
SH: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
EP: Favorite music?
SH: Mumford and Sons
EP: Favorite TV show?
SH: Doctor Who
EP: Favorite play or playwright?
SH: Anton Chekhov, particularly The Seagull
EP: Favorite fictional character?
SH: Hermione Granger, GET IT GIRL.
EP: Favorite local theatre?
SH: The Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis
EP: Star Wars or Star Trek?
SH: Battlestar Galactica
EP: Favorite charity?
SH: I don’t have a favorite organized charity, but I have a box of food I keep in my car that I pass out to homeless people I see when I’m driving because I can’t handle seeing them and not doing anything to help.
EP: Horror or romance?
SH: Aren’t they the same thing?
EP: What are your dream roles?
SH: Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Nina in The Seagull, Stevie in The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia, The Next Companion to the Doctor on Doctor Who.
EP: You’re going to teach a college class on any subject of your choosing. What class would you teach?
SH: Spanish Phonetics: The Difference in Spanish Sonnets and English Sonnets and what is lost in translation.
EP: What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you onstage?
SH: I got hit in the face with a sword during a performance of The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe at Lyric Arts when I was 11. That was pretty weird—my eyebrow never really grew back.
EP: If you could prank call one celebrity, who would you call, and what would you say?
SH: I’d call Amy Poehler and then immediately forget my joke or prank and be like I LOVE YOU OH MY GOD I LOVE YOU
EP: If you wrote an autobiography what would the title be?
SH: More Than My Hair: The Autobiography of a Ginger.
EP: Into any sports?
SH: Sportsball confuses me but I like the collective energy of being at games. I played softball for 14 years—was a catcher. Stopped in college and focused on theatre.
EP: Movie that makes you laugh the hardest?
SH: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
EP: One that makes you cry?
SH: Twilight, because it’s just so bad. Or the recent film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars. Dear god.
EP: If you could star in any play or movie in history what would it be?
SH: I would say that I’d wanna be Audrey Hepburn’s character in Roman Holiday but that would mean that she wasn’t in Roman Holiday and I don’t want to live in that world.
EP: Play any instruments?
SH: I play some guitar. I’m considerably better than Taylor Swift but considerably worse than Eddie Van Halen.
EP: Best thing to do on a first date?
SH: Definitely eat food because I love food and then you can see if they chew with their mouth open.
EP: Favorite food?
SH: Potatoes in their infinite varieties
EP: Least favorite food?
SH: Mushrooms because NO ONE ASKED YOU HERE, FUNGUS.
EP: One person dead or alive you want to have dinner with?
SH: Jane Austen because feminism and questions.
EP: Favorite fashion trend of all time.
SH: The oversized sweater or T-Shirt with leggings. I basically want to look like I’m in Flashdance 24/7
EP: Favorite store/brand/designer?
SH: I’m not trying to be trendy when I say this but I could honestly not care less about designer brands and think it’s a huge waste of money. I don’t care about clothing designs or makeup brands or any of that stuff. The only thing I ever seem to be loyal to are Apple products because that’s what I grew up using and understand and technology confuses me.
EP: You can travel anywhere in the world. Where are you going?
SH: New Zealand first, everywhere else after.
EP: Best place you’ve ever been.
SH: Winchester, England will always feel like home.
EP: What are you bringing on a one-way trip to the moon?
SH: Oxygen, baby. And probably a Kindle loaded up with free books.
EP: Favorite superhero?
SH: Thor. I love me some Norse God goodness.
EP: Biggest learning experience of your life?
SH: Studying abroad made me brave and capable. In Costa Rica I realized that language is a barrier I can overcome and spiders can be crushed no matter how big. I can do anything in any language if I really need to. In England I was taught how to be self-sufficient with both finances and commuting. I learned how to be me and not apologize for it. I came back a bolder version of myself and can never express how much it did for me.
EP: Anything else you want to say to the people coming to see The Glass Menagerie?
SH: It’s hard to be vulnerable. Williams is asking us to be more vulnerable than I’ve been on a stage in a long time. I hope that you enjoy and can contemplate the meaning of being human after this play. You know, the easy philosophical stuff.