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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2012 6 years ago

Inside the Ormond actors studio: Sam Cooper and Nick Harshman

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Between mixed martial arts bouts and scriptwriting, Nick Harshman and Samantha Cooper found time to star in a Daytona play, "Let's Murder Marsha."

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

He gets into character by changing his shoes. And he’s got a closet full of shoes.

Seabreeze High School junior Nick Harshman is no stranger to the stage. Even when he was little, growing up in Los Angeles, he wanted to be an actor — “It’s my favorite thing to do and always will be,” he says. To understand the character he’s playing in any one of the many roles he takes on at a time — he’s starred in 14 shows since last October and auditioned for four new parts last week alone — he walks a day in their shoes. Literally.

By sporting the sneakers he’ll have to wear onstage opening night, he says he gets a feel for how his character would move. If he would be stiffer. If he’d be a stomper. Every step he takes throughout the day reminds him not to be himself.

He also listens to music he thinks his character would listen to a week before the curtain rises.

But Harshman, a soft spoken, friendly type, has a harder side. He’s also on the high school wrestling team and fights in mixed martial arts bouts.

“Every mother wants their kid to be in acting when they grow up (in L.A.),” he says. “It’s just how I was brought up. My mom always wanted me to be the nice, charming theater kid. And my dad wanted me to be the football player.”

And so he became both.

But his stage mate, Samantha Cooper, has a very different story.

Three years ago, she moved from Scotland to Ormond Beach, where on her first day at Mainland High School, she asked her teacher, in front of everybody, for a rubber — an eraser, in her native dialect.

“After that, I thought expectations were pretty low,” she says, laughing. But she’s being modest.

For a 19-year-old, Cooper is constantly pushing herself. In transitioning from Scotland to America, she had to retake classes and earned four years of high school credit in just four months, all while finishing up a few Scottish courses online.

She plays guitar, and a little bit of everything else. And she’s also a writer, which is what made her think to join the theater in the first place.

“There’s no use being able to create a character if you don’t know how that character moves, how they’ll be directed, how it will flow,” she says. “I can’t be expected to write a TV pilot if I’ve never been on the other side before.”

And coming to America got her on that other side. In Scotland, she says, people are less open, more cynical. If you didn’t start acting early, the general consensus is that you shouldn’t start at all.

But here, she was accepted into the theater immediately. And unlike Harshman, who feels the stage works as a time machine to keep him young and not too serious, Cooper believes it’s helped her grow.

“It’s rough, and it’s hard work, and it’s traumatic,” she says of acting, “but it’s worth it.”

Harshman agrees: Acting is tough. But thanks to fighting, it doesn't quite seem as scary as it once used to.

“Fighting overall has changed me as a person ... because you don’t know that you can do it until you’ve already pushed yourself to do it,” he says. “It’s made me just a tougher person. ... Fighting and acting are definitely two different things, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

Cooper and Harshman star in “Let’s Murder Marsha,” now playing at the Daytona Playhouse.

Now playing

“Let’s Murder Marsha,” starring Ormond Beach residents Samantha Cooper and Nick Harshman, opened Sept. 7, at the Daytona Playhouse, 100 Jessamine Blvd. The next shows are 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13, 14, 15, with a matinee 2 p.m. Sept. 16.

Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for seniors and $5 for children 18 and under.

Call 255-24331, or visit DaytonaPlayhouse.org.

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