Samantha Cunha has seen the bright theater lights from all angles. While earning her BFA at Hofstra University, Samantha performed on-stage in works such as Urinetown and Rent, and co-produced sold-out shows for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. After graduation, Samantha worked with the theater management team at the David H. Koch Theater, home of New York City Ballet. She then moved to The Lyric Theater during a run of what can only be called the most magical show ever, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’ Now, Samantha is exploring a new passion: producing.
Serving as a producer of ‘THE FACTORY,’ an independent immersive theater experience, Cunha is helping to bring Andy Warhol’s story to life. Written and co-produced by Kate Agustin and directed by Travis Greisler, the show’s narrative includes characters such as Edie Sedgwick, charts the rise of The Velvet Underground and explores Valerie Solanas’ attempted assassination of Warhol. The entire story unfolds as if it all happened in one night, and audience members are invited to participate (and party!): follow the actors, drink from the Factory’s bar, or create their own Warhol-esque silkscreen painting. However one chooses to participate is up to them, but either way, theatergoers will not be disappointed.
Samantha gave me the inside scoop, explaining her own background in theater and the creative process behind ‘THE FACTORY.’ Read on for more exciting details!
EM: Tell me about your first introduction to acting. How did you become interested in theater?
SC: My parents both worked nine to five jobs when I was growing up, and I think performing and participating in drama club came out of me needing something to do after school. I had already tried everything; was always at some kind of camp, tried different instruments, took dance classes, but I was never excited by anything. Then I did the school play and loved it. I think my parents would say I’ve always been dramatic, but after trying every activity, theater was the one that stuck. I wanted to keep pursuing it, so my mom enrolled me in a kid’s theatre program at the Greater Boston Stage Company. My first show was ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and I was playing Mrs. Bucket as a ten-year-old. After that, I was totally sold, I was hooked. I stayed with that program for ten years, through my graduation, and then returned to teach during college breaks.
Tell us about how THE FACTORY Immersion came together. Who are you working with and how will the show be produced?
After college, I co-produced two shows for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Edinburgh, Scotland. My peers were watching and now, almost five years later, a friend of a friend was looking for a producer and I was recommended.
‘THE FACTORY’ is an immersive theater party. My co-producer is the show’s creator and writer, Kate Agustin, and Travis Greisler is the director. Kate has been developing the project for about two years and only recently decided it was time to move forward. We are still in the early stages, still developing our roles, but also the functionality of what our jobs are. Kate has kind of taken the lead on the fundraising side and I am more of the business and production end of things. In the meantime, she’s continuing to develop the show artistically. ‘THE FACTORY’ will be produced…however we can be successful! Crowdfunding and fundraisers, grants, sponsorships — whatever allows the project to come to fruition.
Can you explain the idea behind the show?
I think the description from the website puts it best:
“You are invited to a party at Andy Warhol’s famed Factory. Sit for your screen test, silk screen a painting, or star in an underground movie, as the story of Andy and his Superstars unfolds around you through performance. Follow one of the 12 characters, enjoy cocktails created by NYC’s best bartender, rock out to a live band, make some art – or maybe chase fame for yourself. After all, ‘THE FACTORY’ is all about making Superstars, and Andy’s always looking for a fresh face. Written by Kate Agustin (The PIT, UCB, The Moth) and directed by Travis Greisler (Associate Director of Broadway’s The Cher Show), ‘THE FACTORY’ is a boundary pushing experiment in independent immersive theater. Following the rise of Edie Sedgwick, the development of The Velvet Underground and Andy Warhol’s attempted assassination by Valerie Solanas, ‘THE FACTORY’ tells the whole Warhol story as if it happened in one night, at one party. How you feel about the events that unfold will depend entirely on which character you follow and how far you chase fame. The show is an hour long, but it loops twice – giving you the opportunity to see the action from multiple different perspectives.”
Beyond that, we’re trying to strike a middle ground where we have enough of the salient plot points down so that the story is still told in a way that’s true to Kate’s vision and the history we’re recounting, but also malleable enough for the audience to interact with it and shape what happens. There are different stations where you can interact; those experiences will be unique to anyone who comes to the show. Certain elements are benchmarks and will stay the same to keep the momentum moving forward. Because otherwise, allowing an audience in with a completely improvised show…well, that would be chaos.
You are also employed full time. How do you manage to work a desk job and find ways to produce theater on the side?
Being honest with people about my priorities is important, but it’s difficult to manage even under the best circumstances. I’m always sneaking in a meeting or sending a quick email or text, anything to keep the momentum going, but it is a struggle.
When can we see (or participate in?) THE FACTORY ourselves?!
Hopefully spring of 2020! If spring 2020 isn’t feasible, we’ll push it. Between now and then, we would ideally secure 100% of the funding. But even if we secure 25% of the funding, that’s enough to take care of the administrative overhead. This would allow us to cast and produce the show, find designers, print materials, put money down on the space, etc. and better position us to secure the rest of the funding. What’s most important is producing a product that we can be proud of, that’s also in line with our goals if it takes time to raise the money to achieve that goal, so be it. We want to present the best iteration of the project possible.