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An explosion of color and life: Through the eyes of Archer’s musical theater director

Photo credit: Vivianne Arnold
Musical theater director Samara Kelly leads her Theater Arts: Introduction class through an improv game as freshman Lena Sakhnini holds out a hairbrush as a makeshift microphone. Kelly said her own high school theater community helped her explore her identity. “I loved the making something out of nothing,” Kelly said.

A young girl sits in the balcony of a theater, her mother next to her. The lights are up, and the show has not yet started. To the girl’s surprise, there is already a performer perched on the ledge of the balcony: not just an actor — a cat, setting the scene. In a few moments, the lights will dim, the curtains will lift and the girl will be transported into the magical world of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats.” 

This was musical theater director and Performing Arts Department Chair Samara Kelly’s introduction to the world of theater, one she has now been a part of her entire life. 

Very early I was just like, ‘I want to do that,’” Kelly said. “I love singing, I love dancing, I love acting — and you can be a cat. I was sold.

Kelly began working at Archer in 2021 when she directed the upper school musical “Leader of the Pack,” which she described as an “explosion of color and life.” But her career as a thespian took off years before at her own high school in Miami, Florida, where her director inspired her to follow her passion for theater. Kelly said she felt seen by her director in a time when few teachers understood her, and his influence inspired her to carry on his legacy through teaching.

“One day he pulled me aside, and he gave me the script ‘Equus,’ and I still have it,” Kelly said. “He was just like, ‘You should learn this play. You should do these characters,’ and I read it and … my world exploded.”

Kelly chose to pursue theater throughout college and beyond. She distanced herself from musical theater while remaining highly active in the worlds of dance and straight plays. Kelly started her own theater company, performed a self-written one-woman play, worked on the Off-Broadway stage and built a dance program at a public school.

When she moved to Los Angeles, however, Kelly said she began to feel she was losing her connection to acting. She felt that her life was more about “getting the job” than truly making art, so she decided to invest in teaching and went to Harvard for her master’s. Kelly was deciding between continuing with theater or going to nursing school when she saw Archer was looking for a musical theater director and was immediately interested.

“When I came here and did the demo lessons, I could just feel the joy that is so pervasive on campus and the love that the students had for, again, the craft of acting, of theater, of dance,” Kelly said, “and I was just sold in that moment.” 

Middle School Director Reed Farley, who previously worked as Archer’s musical theater director, said musical theater is unique in its combination of several different art forms. Though Kelly said she had not directed a musical prior to her work at Archer, Farley said her experience in a variety of artistic disciplines was exactly what Archer was looking for.

I feel like I have her in my corner always.

— Avalon Straiton ('24)

“It was important to me to find someone that was a skilled dance teacher and a skilled theater teacher,” Farley said. “And that’s what we found in Ms. Kelly.” 

Since her debut musical at Archer, Kelly has also directed several middle and high school musicals, including this year’s “Mean Girls” as well as Into the Woods” and “Frozen.” “Mean Girls” assistant director Avalon Straiton (’24) noted that Kelly’s respect for students translates to every aspect of her work.

“She always listens to what I have to say. She’ll always ask for a second opinion. And she’s very inclusive when it comes to this, when it comes to being AD,” Straiton said. “I feel like I have her in my corner always.”  

Kelly said her favorite part of being a director is working with students and watching them grow over time as they face fears and take risks — learning, as this year’s musical taught them with its Act 1 finale, to be “Fearless.” Junior Mia Vosicher, who played the character Janis in “Mean Girls,” said those experiences are part of what makes theater so unique.

“I always come back to the fact that I’ll have people there to support me in theater and people who genuinely care,” Vosicher said. “People who are as passionate about theater as I am, and who love to just connect with people on stage. I think it’s a really special bond that can’t be broken.” 

Kelly said it is important to her that students have a supportive environment, as she sees a lot of who she used to be in the actors. Most of all, Kelly said she enjoys how theater pushes people to their boundaries. She said she loves watching her students discover not only what they can give to the theater community, but also to the world.

“Theater is the study of life,” Kelly said, “so it has everything to do with life.”

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About the Contributor
Vivianne Arnold, Staff Reporter
Vivianne Arnold joined the Oracle as a staff reporter in 2023. She is a board member of Archer's GSA and is involved in theater. In her free time, she enjoys reading, playing D&D with friends and listening to music.

Comments (6)

As part of Archer’s active and engaged community, the Editorial Board welcomes reader comments and debate and encourages community members to take ownership of their opinions by using their names when commenting. However, in order to ensure a diverse range of opinions, the editorial board does allow anonymous comments on articles as long as the perspective cannot be obtained elsewhere, and they are respectful and relevant. We do require a valid, verified email address, which will not be displayed, but will be used to confirm your comments. Because we are a 6-12 school, the Editorial Board reserves the right to omit profanity and content that we deem inappropriate for our audience. We do not publish comments that serve primarily as an advertisement or to promote a specific product. Comments are moderated and may be edited in accordance with the Oracle’s profanity policy, but the Editorial Board will not change the intent or message of comments. They will appear once approved.
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  • M

    muchlove_sienaJan 3, 2024 at 9:00 pm

    Ms. Kelly is such an inspiration. Incredible article Vivi, beautifully articulated 💖

  • G

    Gabby KaplanDec 12, 2023 at 11:47 am

    So great! Congrats on your first article!!

  • A

    Allie YangDec 10, 2023 at 7:24 pm

    VIV!!!! MY QUEEN!!! this is so well-written; your talent as a budding journalist is inspiring and i am so excited to read ALL your pieces :)))

  • J

    Jennifer RawiczDec 10, 2023 at 6:34 pm

    Wow! Thank you for this article. I’m looking forward to seeing my first Archer show now!

  • M

    Melinda WangDec 10, 2023 at 5:43 pm

    wonderfully written article!! it was such a great read <3

  • J

    julesDec 10, 2023 at 5:42 pm