Gymnastics paves way to performing arts for Riverside actress

It was not theater that interested Samantha Shroll when she was a child, but gymnastics. Born in Temecula, her family moved to Idaho when she was 5 years old for her father’s job. There she trained to be a gymnast.

Before high school, my parents moved back to California to Murrieta,” she said. “The gymnastics teams here were going to set me back a few levels that I had already completed, so I decided to try other hobbies.”

Shroll tried ballet and other forms of dance before auditioning for musicals at her mother’s suggestion.

“My cousins had done musical theater for several years, so I thought I would try,” she said. “I would get cast as a dancer and because I could still do many tricks from my days in gymnastics. I also wasn’t scared of dance lifts and flips. With my experiences dancing in musical theater, I learned to sing and act as a byproduct.”

Shroll started taking drama classes in middle school in high school. She also started singing lessons, which led to a music scholarship at California Baptist University, where she sang in the school’s choirs. This required her to take more voice lessons, leading to opportunities in singing in Pasadena’s lunchtime concert series for the arts.

Again, it was not Shroll’s intention to pursue a degree in theater. Her plans were to get a degree in mathematics and become a high school teacher.

“After starting at CBU, I was involved in their music and theater programs for the scholarships, but I realized that I needed to pursue this more,” she said. “I changed my major from math to theater with a performance concentration.”

Shroll lived in Riverside since 2015, when she began attending CBU. After graduating in 2019, she moved back to Murrieta for a short time, before getting a job and moving back to Riverside that year.

In spite of having played key roles as Amalia in “She Loves Me,” Helen of Troy in “Trojan Women” and Hermia in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shroll said some of her favorite accomplishments in theater have been supporting friends who are putting on independent productions. She also loves participating in what she called “kitchen read-throughs of fresh scripts from peers.”

“Every production that makes it to an audience feels like an accomplishment to me,” she said.

Shroll recently began rehearsing for her first show since February 2020, a layoff imposed by COVID-19. Because she is immunocompromised, Shroll has quarantined to keep herself safe.

“Now that I have had vaccines and a booster, I am back to try to rebuild confidence as a performer exiting quarantine,” she said.

She was also asked to participate in a concert honoring composer Stephen Sondheim’s memory taking place in Riverside soon.

“I also have a concept for a site-specific staging of a play that I have been devising for sometime in the distant future,” she said.

Schroll talked about how the arts have the potential to be therapeutic.

“I think that’s why art has survived,” she said. “Visual and performing arts have endured over centuries because they are beautiful and entertaining but also because they allow us to grieve, laugh and learn together. They show us the realities of our shadow sides sometimes and reveal truths about us as groups or individuals. And something that is ‘just a sweet story’ can be the smile someone needed.”

Patrick Brien is executive director of the Riverside Arts Council.