20 Under 25: Sam French

Director/playwright, 19, St. Petersburg and Pittsburgh.

click to enlarge Sam French brings the light. - TODD BATES
Todd Bates
Sam French brings the light.

"Bring light to the world": That's what Sam French's former acting teacher said when he gave Sam a parting gift of an old "inky" — a stage lighting fixture also known as a Fresnel. Sam took that command to heart and brought light to St. Petersburg in the form of two theater troupes, both named Inkies: Inkies Children's Theater, which performed at local elementary schools while Sam was still a PCCA senior, and Inkies Summer Repertory, which finished a three-play season of new and contemporary work at the [email protected] on Sunday. Sam, who's going into his sophomore year in the John Wells Directing Program at Carnegie Mellon University, acted with other PCCA alums in one of the plays, Kenneth Lonergan's This Is Our Youth, and directed Ham: A Love Story, an original piece about the American/Soviet space race, love and monkeys. At CMU, says Sam, his professors have been encouraging students to broaden their perceptions of what theater can be, and this collaborative play, co-created by cast and crew, was his attempt to do just that.

He's no relation to that Samuel French: Anybody who's ever been in a play is familiar with those little blue paperpack script books published by Samuel French, Inc., a theatrical publisher since 1854. Sam's no relation — but as a two-time winner of a national playwriting contest for high school students sponsored by Baker's Plays, a Samuel French subsidiary, he's already had two plays published by Samuel French. The publisher's staff thought the coincidence was "hilarious," says Sam, and invited him to visit their New York offices. But the name hasn't always opened doors; when he first started sending inquiries to undergrad theater programs, he'd get responses from schools asking if his letter was a joke.

But he is related to Thomas French: His father, the Pulitzer Prize-winning St. Petersburg Times reporter Thomas French, is known for his mastery of long-form narrative. That helps explain a common French family ritual: "When we'd go to a movie, we'd break down the story components afterwards," says Sam.

He wrote his first play — the one that won him first place in the playwriting contest — when he was a high school sophomore. It was called "Writer's Block."

Kind of an ironic title, no, considering? What was it about? "It's a dark comedy about a children's book author who overdoses on Advil," says Sam. The writer is visited by an apparition of "a burnt-out, nihilistic, drugged version of Dr. Seuss" who tells him to do more drugs. He decides not to.

He was valedictorian at Gibbs the year it was named the state's first 'F'-rated school. What was his speech about? "What it means for us to graduate from the first F school."

But he really liked Gibbs. "It gave me a much wider idea of what the world is like — that not everyone [you go to school with] is someone going to college for bioengineering. It offered such a large range of things — I got a great education there."

Ultimate ambition: "Getting a chance to be in a theater company that does original work and children's theater — and community outreach."

Learn more about Inkies Summer Repertory: indiegogo.com/inkies.

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