Exclusive Interview: Samantha Williams of Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen is the Tony, Grammy and Emmy Award-winning best musical. The show has become a phenomenon, spawning tours, books, a teen novelization, and an in-development movie. We got to chat with the lovely Samantha Williams, who currently stars as Alana eight times a week on Broadway.
Congratulations on making your Broadway debut! Has there been anything that surprised you?
Thank you! It is truly a dream come true! Since starting the show, the biggest thing that has surprised me is the amount of fun my castmates and I have backstage. This is my first professional gig, so I went into it expecting everyone to be extremely serious and uptight. I soon realized that this cast is beyond goofy and loves to have a good time
What was your preparation for the role?
A month prior to joining as the full-time Alana, I had already learned the role because I was a vacation cover for a week. This was very convenient because when I started my 2-week rehearsal process to replace, I already knew the lines and blocking. That being said, my replacement process was completely different because rather than having to replicate someone else choices (as understudies so truthfully do), I was given the freedom to make my own choices and find my version of Alana.
How do you relate to Alana?
OOF! I relate to Alana in so many ways. At first glance, I thought “ok, I am nothing like this girl. She’s so uptight and extra”. But, as I dug deeper, I found that like Alana, I have longed for a community. Growing up in Texas, it was very rare that I met other afrolatina women interested in theatre. I often felt isolated until moving to New York where I met people like me. Alana is headstrong, smart, and always on top of her work and I like to think I acquire those traits too (for the most part). At the end of the day, Alana just wants to be accepted. So, I think we all have a hint of Alana in us!
Did you create any backstory for her?
The first thing I did, after reading my script, was create a backstory for Alana. The only clues about her life that the script gave me is that she had a grandma who broke her hip and died, she isn’t good at making friends considering she only has “acquaintances”, and she has spent most of her life searching for acceptance. This gave me the freedom to create a whole life for her.
Here’s the cliff notes version:
My Alana is an only child. Her father is a West Point grad, so she grew up a military kid, moving from base to base. Her mother is a successful family practice physician and works on the base as well. It’s been the three of them for most of her life. She loves her parents but they have been hard on her since the day she was born. She got to this high school junior year, and was determined to make friends, but being that she hasn’t been anywhere long enough to know how to do that, she has had a tough time adjusting to the scene. She spent most of her first year at the school eating lunch in Mrs. Green’s room (her English teacher that feels sorry for her) and the girls bathroom stall (which is surprisingly comforting to her). At the beginning of this play, she is starting her first day of SENIOR year. Her ultimate goal this year is to make friends, and she is determined to do whatever it takes to make that happen!
What are your dressing room essentials?
So, I’m HUGE on room decor and being that my dressing room is the same size as my college dorm room. I took most of that decor and used it in my dressing room! My dressing room essentials are my slippers (which I didn’t know was a thing on broadway but everyone has slippers!!), my comfy green chair (compliments of THE Jennifer Laura Thompson), my sticky note that reads, “‘You are spectacular’ Say this 5 times” because I do that as part of my prep before every show, and last but not least my “Badass” button that Mallory Bechtel gifted to me on my first day.
How do you balance going to Pace University and being on Broadway?
How do I balance being a college student and being on broadway? I don’t know… ask my mom. Ha! But in all seriousness, it takes a lot of work and scheduling. My teachers have been very accommodating to my schedule, but that doesn’t mean the essays aren’t still due by the end of the week. I actually had 5 finals the week of my Broadway debut. I try not to think of it too much and just do what I have to do. I always remind myself that this is such a privileged position to be in and to just do the work.
Dear Evan Hansen is a phenomenon. Do you have any fan stories so far?
I don’t have any crazy fan stories yet *knock on wood*. But, I will say the love I get at the stage door and online is truly something that is out of this world. My favorite moments are when I see little girls of color at the stage door and they say “I wanna be like you when I grow up”. Representation is so important in this industry and I’m so grateful that I get to do my part in showing that it is possible for young people of color to thrive on Broadway!
What advice would you give to your high school self?
Advice I’d give my high school self: DON’T pop that pimple, STOP being so hard on yourself, and keep BELIEVING in your dreams even when others may doubt you.
You will be found. You can also find your tickets to Broadway or the national tour HERE