Actress Ruth Samuels is deadSunday, February 28, 2021
BY RICHARD JOHNSON
The local roots theatre fraternity is mourning the death of veteran actress of the genre Ruth Samuels. She died on February 19 in Miami, Florida, where she resided, from what are believed to be COVID-19-related complications.
Samuels was introduced to the stage by iconic roots theatre impressario Ralph Holness, and was best known for her characters in popular productions, including Obeah Wedding, Mama Man, Unda Mi Nose, Bashment Granny and Licky Licky Matey.
Her long-time friend and fellow theatre practitioner Juliet Shank told the Jamaica Observer that she was still sad and distraught in the days since she was made aware of Samuels' passing. This was compounded by the fact that she missed a call from the actress the day before she died and did not get to speak to her.
“I am so out of it. She called me on Thursday morning and I didn't get the call. I didn't get a chance to call her back, only to hear she died the following day. She called me three weeks ago and we spoke for a long time about a lot of things, including her love for theatre, as well as things about how she was doing. I had no idea it would be the last time I would speak to her.”
Shank recalled the first time she saw Samuels on stage. She remembers sitting in on a rehearsal and was taken by her ability to make people laugh and to connect with her audience. Given these qualities and more, Shank believes Samuels was never really given the 'props' and respect that she truly deserved for her contribution to the growth and development of roots theatre as an actress, writer and director.
“She truly paved the way for many of us in roots theatre. The fact is she contributed in a significant way to this form of Jamaican theatre having honed her skills as an actress and then moved on to become a writer, producer and director, and she has never really been given the respect and recognition. She set the bar for actresses and was committed to her craft. She always said her mission was to make her audience happy. So once she was on stage she did her best to make you want to laugh and she was dedicated to making going to the theatre fun. She set the pace which a lot of people are now following and so she deserves to be honoured and respected,” said Shank.
Her kind, and giving nature on and off the stage was also remembered by her contemporary Everton Dawkins.
“I always loved watching her in the Ralph Holness plays, and ultimately had the chance to meet her in 1991 when we were in a play...I can't remember the name right now.... it was for Ian Reid at the Half-Way-Tree Playhouse. She was kind and loving, very approachable and always looked out for young people, assisting them in whatever way she could. Three weeks ago, out of the blue, Ruth called me and we had a good chat. She never mentioned any sickness, so it is so sad that we are hearing this now,” noted Dawkins.
Samuels' long-time co-star Maxwell Grant, with whom she shared the stage in Unda Mi Nose and Bashment Granny, also spoke highly of her nothing that they both met through Holness in what were the burgeoning years of the roots theatre movement in Jamaica.
“She was always so good to work with. Full of ideas and very creative. In rehearsals she would say, 'use this line', or 'do it this way' so we could get the most out of a scene. In those early years we were working for very little, Back then it was as little as $30 per night. That's why some people never do well from theatre. I haven't seen her in quite a while. The last time was about three years ago in Florida, I saw her working in a production for producer Joy Grandison. She was also still acting in productions every now and then for Ian Reid. I am so sad to hear that she passed. She did some good work and really loved the theatre,” said Grant.
Samuels is survived by three adult sons.
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