A Conversation with Sam LaFrage
It was my great pleasure and privilege to speak with Sam LaFrage, a graduate of the Class of 2012 and founder of the Ragtag Theatre Company, winner of the Off-Broadway Alliance Award for “Best Family Show 2017.” We dove into Sam’s work as an actor, drag performer, and theatre artist living in New York.
The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
August: So I could sit here and name all of these incredible projects you’ve done in New York, off-Broadway, and regional and all that—but instead of that, I want to ask you: what do you feel is your most accomplished project you’ve been a part of and why?
Sam: I think the thing I’m most accomplished in has been starting this company, The Ragtag Theatre Company. I started it in 2016 and it’s an LGBTQ family theatre, we do queer family theatre, and getting that off the ground and still going, that’s definitely the thing I’m the proudest of.
August: I have to ask the dreaded question: how have you made it work during the time of COVID?
Sam: Don’t even get me started. COVID really changed a lot of things. A while back, Barrington Stage Company in the Berkshires did a world premiere of one of my shows in 2019, and then right after that, the pandemic happened. The show was this drag version of Snow White for families, and we had an industry reading of that. And now we’re at the very beginning of that with a bunch of theatres around New York, having talks with them and seeing what’s going on… In these talks, you never really know what’s happening. It’s like with theatre, the things that are being produced are things that the country is yearning to see. So we’re in a great spot to bring laughter to people who are looking to laugh at a time when they don’t get to laugh much. I think everyone really needs a laugh right now.
August: You mentioned Snow White, but a drag piece… I need to hear more about this.
Sam: All of our shows are Commedia based. Imagine the stock characters of Commedia, you know, this little traveling troupe of players all going around performing little fairy tales. Now you have that mixed with drag. It’s like RuPaul’s Drag Race meets street clown theatre…they all sort of mesh into one. We do a whole lot of different fairytales, I just really love fairytales, they’re great fun for me, and there are so many morals and so much meaning behind them.
August: And that’s sort of your forte, yeah? Working with fairy tales and some drag thrown in there.
Sam: You know, I really should say this: before I went to The Academy, I performed drag for a while. And then at The Academy, I studied Commedia. So everything was just kind of piling up and getting me there. It all lends itself to each other, and it works so well for doing family theatre.
August: You’re also involved in writing some of the material?
Sam: I write all of it, yeah, and most of them I’ve been commissioned for. A theatre will commission me, and give me a deadline. But for Cinderella, I wrote that in a day. And that’s because it just kind of lives in me, so I could just throw that together, but that show really built up over time. And Commedia is all about play, so we improv a lot. Rapunzel I wrote over the course of three months, and playwriting is messy, you know, it’s like a puzzle that I never start at the beginning.
August: Play is important to your very messy process?
Sam: When I bring the script to rehearsal, we use it as a solid foundation to build. We don’t throw it out, we just build off it. It’s a bunch of back and forth, and if someone has an idea, we use it and go with it. And, by the way, my company was formed at The Academy… all of us working together is like a family, as a tennis match of bouncing off each other.
August: What advice do you have for Academy students and alumni?
Sam: I think the most important thing you can do after you graduate is to take a break. But the best advice I’ve ever been given is to not let your own perfection stand in your way. With starting this company, there was a lot of groundwork I needed to lay. There was this one time I was meeting with a mentor, and I was telling him about how I had to work on a website, and he really reminded me that I should be having fun. It’s just so important to remind yourself how blessed we are to work in this industry… I’m so blessed to be able to be creative and make money doing it too.
August: In the spirit of making money doing what you love, what’s next for you?
Sam: We’re in talks with those companies that I was telling you about, and I’m hoping these talks go well and we’re able to get those shows off the ground! And then I’m also working with my writing partner on some stuff. This summer I have my residency, where I’ll be teaching play and Commedia dell’arte. And then hopefully soon people can see me on stage in one of these great big theatres.
August: And I’m sure they will! But until then, where can people find you?
Sam: You can get in touch with me through my website ragtagtheatre.com. Just find me there!