If someone had told me 20 years ago that my daughter on the autism spectrum would grow up to be an actress, co-star in a film that won the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival AND earn a nomination for Best Actress, I’d have insisted that person was crazy or talking about another little girl. When Samantha 7 years old, she was being kicked out of her private special education school. At ages 8 and 9, she was rejected by a sleep away camp for kids with high-functioning autism. During her camp interview, Samantha deliberately rested her muddy boots all over the director’s white couch (white couch?!) and was completely uncooperative and rude.
“Don’t worry,” the director assured me, “in a few more years you can send your daughter away to a residential center.”
Nobody, (and I do mean nobody) could have predicted that my difficult daughter with autism, sensory issues, language delays and learning disabilities would grow up to play the charming and lovable Sarah in Keep the Change. Hell, no one (except her overly optimistic and determined mom) ever imagined she’d go to college, let alone graduate cum laude from Pace University at age 23. However, even I was unprepared for my daughter to become a budding international movie star. After winning Best Narrative Film and Best New Director at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival, Keep the Change travelled to film festivals all over the world. As my readers know, our family traveled to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic, where KTC won Special Jury Mention and the FIPRESCI award from an international film critics’ organization. A few weeks later Samantha and I travelled to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival where the love fest for my daughter continued. After the summer ended, I thought our fabulous fairy tale ride was over.
But I was wrong. Samantha now has a Hollywood agent who got her an audition for The Good Doctor. KTC has since been screened in Estonia, Greece, Israel, Tokyo and Australia. We have also been invited to a number of Jewish Film Festivals: Rutgers, Philadelphia, Boston, Columbus, Atlanta, New Hampshire, Port Washington and Harrisburg. I may have forgotten a few. . . Whoever knew there were so many? We just came back from Rutgers Jewish Film Festival on Sunday and barely had time to catch our breath.
We are planning to go to Philadelphia next week and Boston the following week. We had to turn down Columbus (same day as Boston) and New Hampshire because the movie is being released in New York theaters (yes, plural!) that week. At long last, Keep the Change will debut Friday, March 16th in New York, Los Angeles and eight other cities. Here in the Big Apple, the film will be playing at the Quad Theater on 13th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenue and at another yet-to-be-announced venue on the Upper West Side. For this proud mom with a March birthday, there couldn’t possibly be a better present!
In between film festivals, Samantha is co-starring as Lucy in EPIC Players’ off-Broadway production of You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown. Performances will be November 16th to the 18th (Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 pm) and Sunday, November 19th at 3 pm at the new Flea Theater (founded by Sigourney Weaver) at 20 Thomas Street. Tickets are still available on-line at https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/979714
Also on December 4th, Samantha will perform in EPIC Players’ Cabaret at the Triad Theater; tickets can be purchased on the EPIC website www.epicplayersnyc.org Only 10 days later (December 9th and 10th), Samantha will be starring as Emily Webb in DreamStreet Theater Company’s production of Our Town at 7:30 pm at Roulette Intermedium in Brooklyn. For tickets to this show, go to https://dreamstreetnyc.org
For now, Samantha is a very busy bee, as she likes to say. My daughter couldn’t be happier. Unlike the autism stereotype of a shy, loner who shuns bright lights and crowds, Samantha loves to be center stage. (Believe it or not, she also prefers sitting in the center seat on trains, planes and in taxis!) For the next six months or so, Samantha will have plenty of opportunities to be center stage in a variety of theaters and cities. But what happens after that? As her mom and “momager,” I can’t help worrying that her sudden whirlwind acting career will slow to a halt and she’ll eventually become invisible and forgotten (like most adults on the autism spectrum). But then I have to remind myself that most neurotypical adults NEVER star in award-winning movies or get invited to speak as honored guests of film festivals, even ONCE in their lives. I realize that not all fairytales have happy endings, but who can blame me for hoping that this story is just the beginning?