Positive Space: Actor, photographer Sam VanKampen


Sam is a west-Michigan native and rising senior in OU’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program for musical theater.

Pursuing a career in art — performing, visual or written — is no easy feat. Our goal with “A Positive Space” is to highlight and celebrate student artists of Oakland University who are on the up and up, making impressive steps in the world of art.

For this issue, we interviewed Sam VanKampen — a west-Michigan native and rising senior in OU’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program for musical theater.

VanKampen started his involvement in theatre at a young age, with the help of his sister. He spent his early days doing backstage work and didn‘t start performing until the eighth grade. Performing as a career didn‘t seem feasible until, “after my first lead role and getting nominated for the Sutton Foster ovation awards,” VanKampen said.

His first lead role as Chad in his high school’s production of “All Shook Up” was pivotal in his pursuit of a career in theatre and for his improvement in self-esteem. It was the positive feedback from this show that encouraged VanKampen to seriously pursue theatre.

His experiences in college were not as encouraging as expected, but having put in some elbow grease, VanKampen now finds himself in his second professional show prior to graduating college.

This past spring, VanKampen was cast in his first professional production as a part of the sailor quartet in Nicely Theatre Company’s “Anything Goes.” On top of the work he was originally cast for, he also did the work as an understudy for the lead, Billy.

He is currently working at OU‘s very own Meadow Brook Theatre as a Jordanaire in “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline.”

Professional work as a college student is not easy to come by. Even as the show winds down to its final few performances, VanKampen said, “it still doesn‘t feel real.”

Offstage, Vankampen does his fair share of photography — something that started as a Spider-Man-inspired hobby and later turned into a small business with the help of his growing network.

“I came to the realization [in college] I could take headshots, and make a career out of that as well,” he said.

Whether it’s photography or theatre, what VanKampen says he struggles with the most is mindset.

“Anxiety of not feeling good enough, thinking I lack what it takes,” he said.

These insecurities were said to be hindering his college education. Regardless, it is clear VanKampen is doing something right given the impressive amount of work he is doing. That is worthy of applause.

As we can see, it is not always smooth sailing out in the world of theatre, so it is important to support and encourage local artists. For anyone in pursuit of a career in art, VanKampen stresses to keep pushing onward, even when the going gets tough.

“Never give up, unless you know it‘s not for you,” he said. “Just keep working and keep auditioning — you can do it.”

You can catch VanKampen in “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline” at Meadow Brook Theatre, which runs until June 19. Follow @sjvkphotos on Instagram for a look at his photography work, or find him on his personal account, @sammy.vankampen.