PHOTO ESSAY

Becoming Cinderella: Samantha Walkes redefines a classic role

Empowering a traditional character to empower young women

This season, Neptune Theatre has taken on a classic fairytale, but adding a twist or two along the way.

Cinderella has been turned into a pantomime in order to redefine what people think of the classic story. A pantomime is a spin on a popular story that introduces humour, music and audience interaction.

The cast of Cinderella joins artistic director, Jeremy Webb, on stage at a media call announcement for the show’s extension.   Jessica Briand

One of the ways it was redefined was through casting Samantha Walkes — a black woman — as Cinderella.

The pantomime, said Walkes, is the perfect way to modernize a story like Cinderella.

“We should always be finding ways to bridge the gap, always. This is definitely a commentary,” she said about the idea that certain roles are for certain races. “As soon as (Jeremy Webb) put my face on I was like, ‘this is 2018.’ This is where we are, this is now, this is happening.”

She feels that it was necessary for someone to be a role model for marginalized community members.

“There are children that need to see this and say, ‘no, I’m not what everybody else says I am,’” said Walkes. “And that is a huge thing because we are told certain things by society, but also the prejudice, the racism, all the things people still do.”

Samantha Walkes begins to transform herself into Cinderella for Sunday’s matinee.   Jessica Briand

When Walkes received the call about the role, she told her manager to wait because she wasn’t sure if Webb remembered what she looked like. But he did.

“We’re honoured to have Samantha playing the lead role. From the beginning, she’s been passionate about redefining the character in a new way that appeals to the broader community,” said Webb in a media release.

Walkes’ sister taught her certain makeup techniques to highlight her face specifically for theatre lighting.   Jessica Briand

In the show, Cinderella is portrayed as an intelligent woman who tells herself she doesn’t need a man to make her complete. Walkes worked with Webb to redefine the character.

“What is brilliant about it is that it’s also a black woman,” said Walkes, adding she wanted to show an empowered Cinderella, so young girls attending the show would feel that way too.

Walkes says in her day-to-day life she hardly wears makeup. Cinderella’s makeup can take 30 minutes to apply.   Jessica Briand

 

Walkes’ dressing room mirror has cards, photos and drawings from fans. Fellow cast mate Andrew Prashad ’s daughter gave Walkes one of the drawings she keeps on her mirror.   Jessica Briand

Becoming the character wasn’t an easy process. Walkes said, as a black woman, there was an emotional aspect to stepping into the dress for the first time.

“I had no idea what to expect. But I also didn’t know how I’d be as a person, as Samantha Walkes, stepping into this role,” she said.

Walkes felt nervous and anxious about the role but decided to take it day by day.

Walkes puts her mic in the right place for the show. She uses her hair to camouflage the cord.   Jessica Briand

 

Walkes’ mic is in place well before she puts her costume on. She likes to wait until the last minute to put on the dress.   Jessica Briand

This isn’t the first time Walkes has pushed boundaries in castings.

She became interested in theatre in high school, after taking her first drama class. After graduation, she had “the big moment” auditioning for the role of Maria in The Sound of Music for Mirvish Theatre Toronto. It was something she did on a dare, during a Canada-wide search, but at 19, without any formal training, she made the top 20. She was the only black woman to do so.

“It freed me from the idea that I needed to be, or look like, or sound like what you would call the elite,” she said.

Walkes starts to mentally and physically prepare by doing stretching and breathing exercises.   Jessica Briand

For Walkes, being an actress is more than a profession. She tries to have an impact on audiences.

“We are doctors of our soul,” she said. “So the bravery and the courage it takes to look really deep and know ourselves so well, so that we can portray every story with the utmost honesty, truth and genuine feeling takes work on ourselves to understand these stories, these people who have told them to us, to play.”

Walkes calls acting a work on oneself. Noting it has taken blood, sweat and tears, in order to become each character she portrays.

Walkes begins to put on one of four Cinderella dresses she wears throughout the show.   Jessica Briand

 

The first costume Walkes wears is a worn-down dress similar to the one seen in the classic film.   Jessica Briand

 

Walkes is seen on stage as Cinderella during a media call singing one of her solos.   Jessica Briand

Being part of Cinderella has given Walkes hope and energy for the future.

“It’s given me so much life to know children are coming of different minorities and seeing themselves,” she said.

Even though she got the Cinderella role and was rehearsing with the cast, the fact finally hit her right before the show opened, during the Parade of Lights last month. Children were excited to see her, “freaking out, completely losing their minds.”

“In that moment I realized they were seeing the magic and they were seeing me too,” she said. “So much of my life has been not being seen, pushed aside, nothing I do is enough, because of the colour of my skin and I was not expecting that they would see me and the magic of Cinderella, in one. I cried.”

Cinderella (Samantha Walkes) and Prince Charmin (Ryan Brown) dance at the ball.   Jessica Briand

The play runs from Nov. 27 to Jan. 13 on the Fountain Hall stage.

4 comments

  1. Absolutely beautiful!! Amazing transformations & breaking down barriers that result in empowerment! This is way over due! I’m thrilled that Samantha gets to cause this. She is the perfect fit for this role. She is intelligent, compassionate, confident and humble.
    Gods glory be revealed in this production for freedom of all his people. When is it coming to Hamilton, Toronto? The show must go on.

    1. Thanks for the comment Susy, the production is very exciting. Unfortunately the show is exclusive to the Neptune Theatre in Halifax.

    1. Thanks for the comment Tom, unfortunately the production is exclusive to the Neptune Theatre in Halifax.

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