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Elyssa Samsel and Kate Anderson

The Songwriting Duo That Got Their Big Break When Disney Called

Kate Anderson is a songwriter, improv comedian, sketch comedy writer, singer and voice-over actress. Elyssa Samsel is a classically trained violinist and pianist. Their fate—and future collaborative efforts—were sealed when they both attended a program called the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop in New York City and decided to partner up. Flash-forward to the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to pitch tunes for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a Disney Animation featurette scheduled to play before Coco in theaters. They wrote, they recorded, they stressed. They got the job.

When did you realize what you wanted to do in your life?

Samsel: “I had been studying and writing music since I was 6 years old, but when I was 19, I saw a woman’s name at the top of a piece of sheet music for the first time in my life. Up until then, I had only ever played pieces by male composers. That was when it dawned on me that I could be a published composer too.”

Anderson: “I was always that kid who would do anything for a laugh—I once did an entire fifth grade book report as a character with a super Southern accent named ‘Dave.’ I was always making up songs and making up characters and writing little plays. When my older sister came home and announced she was a ‘lyricist,’ it was the first time that I realized that you could do that for a living. I resisted the call for a little while because it was scary, but a year out of college I caved, and that’s when I met Elyssa. It’s been a dream come true ever since.”

What is your biggest accomplishment to date?

Anderson and Samsel: “Getting hired to work for Disney Animation and making so many wonderful friends there. Watching Olaf’s Frozen Adventure on the big screen with our families was something we’ll never forget. Similarly, watching our musical, Between the Lines, become fully realized at Kansas City Rep last summer was also incredible.”

What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your job that they probably don’t?

Anderson and Samsel: “How our inspiration comes from everywhere! Half of what we do is improvise until we make each other laugh—and then we write it down. The other half is finding inspiration in our daily lives and channeling it into our music. We have a lot of inside jokes, and a lot of them make it into our work. Conversely, we use our highs and lows, our heartbreaks and anxieties, and our love for our friends and family as constant inspiration. We also tend to write a joke version of every song we ever write. It’s maybe not the best use of our time, but it’s part of our process at this point!”

Snack food you can’t live without?

Anderson and Samsel: “Bagels. Are they a snack? Are they a meal? To that we say, yes.”

Whom do you admire more than anyone else?

Samsel: “Kate Anderson. In the past eight years of working with her on a daily basis, I’ve never once seen Kate give up on a dream or be unkind to any living creature. She leads with kindness and can also make you laugh harder than anyone else in the world.”

Anderson: “Tina Fey. And of course Elyssa Samsel. She’s secretly funnier than me and also a scary genius. I can’t even begin to comprehend how she does what she does on the piano and violin and I think that fascination makes for a healthy writing relationship. I trust her completely and believe in her vision. I think we do that for each other and…well, it’s taken us this far.”

Samsel: “P.S. She’s lying. No one is funnier than Kate!”

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