Saturday, December 12, 2015

Upturned ducks.

This doesn't go here. But I don't know where else to put it. Some would say it belongs in a private journal, but I don't really keep those. I'm a sharer, always have been.

My phone was ringing loudly on my nightstand, which was weird because the volume on my phone wasn't supposed to be all the way up, I hadn't set an alarm in hopes that I would sleep in and sleep off the end of my tonsillitis. But my phone was ringing loudly and I saw that it said "Mom" so I groggily swiped it and anticipated a short conversation in which I could say, "Remember? There's a time difference and I'm sick and I'm sleeping." Instead, my half-asleep greeting was cut off by panicked sobs on the other end, and a situation that had been familiarly disorienting suddenly twisted into a reality I didn't recognize at all and I just wish I had taken a second to wake up before I had all of the air knocked out of me.

Samantha Pereira died. I didn't think that's a phrase I'd know or say for a long, long, long time. But here we are -- it's 2015, and she was supposed to turn 47 in a few weeks, and we were supposed to get tres leches cake at Cafe Latte when I was home for Christmas, and we were supposed to finish a text conversation from two days ago where I sent her a picture of my tonsils and she sent a lot of alarmed emojis back.

She was one of my very best and oldest friends. She still is?

Dinner in Vegas last year, attempting a selfie

When I was 12, I watched too much "Saturday Night Live" and became fascinated with improv. My parents took me to see Stevie Ray's Improv in the Park -- a summer tradition in the Lake Harriet Rose Gardens, shortform improv over lav mics between two trees, for families on blankets. Samantha was hosting that day, as she often did -- with this effortless and genuine playfulness that simultaneously made an entire audience and a few nervous improvisers feel safe. I introduced myself after the show and she suggested I sign up for classes, that she would be teaching a new teen class in the fall. Did I know it was going to change my life? ...Actually? I kind of did. Because when you talked to Samantha about improv, there was a spark that made you know very certainly that improv was magic. SHE did that. She was the first person to tell me to "yes and" and listen. She taught me zip zap zop and 2-person scenes. She made me feel safe and okay when I wanted to throw up from nerves before my first show and she was the one to give me my first notes afterwards.

I know I'm not alone in this experience. While Samantha was a quick and masterful improviser, her greatest joy and proudest moments were as an improv teacher. There are so many Minneapolis improvisers -- at Stevie Ray's, and later at HUGE -- who walked into a classroom absolutely terrified and excited and sooo green and came out in love with improv magic. She met each student with a warm smile and twinkle in her eye. No one got to sit on the sidelines in Samantha's class. Everyone was present. Everyone was a genius.

I wonder how many servers at the various restaurants we brunched and drank at over the years signed up for a class? She sold every one of them on it by the end of our meals. I can hear her so clearly in my ear, "Take a class! You'd be fantastic."

Crock Pot

Samantha started as my improv teacher and biggest comedy advocate, and then she became one of my truest forever friends. We shared the stage together at the Bloomington Sheraton with Stevie Ray's. She was on my first "indie" improv team, Crock Pot (with the incomparable Maureen Tubbs and Cristi Rumpza). I remember our first run at Improv a Go-Go in the old Brave New Workshop space. As many Minneapolis improvisers know, winning those three consecutive Sunday slots in the IAGG lottery is a real treat, and we savored those opportunities. We were giddy to play and I don't know that three people have ever made me laugh so hard. Those IAGG sets were like getting on a rollercoaster -- fast, full of delight, and the blackout always came too soon.

At the Brave New Workshop

When I told her I wasn't going to go to my senior prom, and that I was going to come watch the Stevie Ray's improv show in my dress that night instead, she (along with Maureen) secretly planned Improm -- and there aren't enough positive adjectives in the English language for that night. Samantha picked me up in a limo and took me to a fancy dinner with Maureen and a few others, then brought me to the fully streamer-ed, glitter glue-decorated space where an unsuspecting audience and all of my improv friends were waiting to do a prom-themed improv show. Samantha was incredibly thoughtful and always up for something fun. That is what Improm was, totally and completely. When people do something like that for you when you're 16, it changes how you see friendship. If I'm a good friend now, it's because women like Samantha and Maureen taught me what friendship is -- in those grand moments like Improm and also in the 3am phone calls and birthday dinners and shoulder squeezes on the backline during tough improv sets.

Improm surprise

She was wise and dependable. She was firm and compassionate and her advice was somehow practical and whimsical at once. When I was 12 and I thought about the woman I wanted to become, it was Samantha. And now that I'm 27, that still holds true. She's still the woman I want to be, for 10 million reasons. I have a hard time understanding that she won't be a bridesmaid in my wedding and that she won't know my kids. She always joked (although she would claim she was serious) that whenever I got on "Saturday Night Live," all she wanted was for me to hold a cue card during the goodnights that said, "Hi Samantha!" I don't know about SNL, but I do know that she has and will continue to be in every script I write and every improv show I do. How could she not be?

Summer Sunday evenings were dedicated to Improv in the Park throughout high school and college, and Samantha and I would often spend those warm afternoons hanging out at the Rose Gardens after improv class. I used to have these little duck earrings, and Samantha would laugh every time they were upside down. "Sweetheart! Your ducks are upturned!" It stuck for years. "How are you doing?" "Oh, I've been better." "Oh no, upturned ducks?"

Well, gosh, Samantha, if my ducks aren't upturned now.


  1. Oh, Emily (and the Schmidt family). I had a ridiculously long note written, but it just didn't seem right to post it. I'm simply trying the right words to convey the depth of my sadness for you and how much I want you to know that I am here for you in your sadness. Emily, if you are a "sharer", then share. It's who you are. Grieve as you, not via someone else's prescribed path. This post was beautiful; I am sure Samantha would (does) feel honored by your expression of love and admiration.

  2. I am unbelievably touched by this Emily. I did not know Samantha, but your writing here has and will help continue to allow her spirit to inspire others as it did you. Thank you for sharing what a special human she was and I am thinking about you and Samantha's many loved ones.

  3. This post, like your friendship with Samantha, was beautiful. Thank you for sharing with us. Samantha was such a bright spirit. Sending love to you and all of Samantha's loved ones.