Q&A with Emily Anderson, local arts performer and Delta College employee

Emily Anderson is a full-time working mom of two boys, and is currently employed as an admissions recruiter for Delta College. Anderson has been involved in the local theatre scene since she was 12, and has either performed or worked backstage in over 50 productions in the Great Lakes Bay Region.

Currently, Anderson serves on the national board of the American Association of Community Theatre, and has been invited to perform with Six Eleven Theatre Company in Chicago.

We invited Emily to talk to us about what it’s like to be a dynamo in both the local and regional arts scene.

Q: Emily, thank you so much for joining us. Can you tell us about your connection to Midland and what ties you to the area?

A: Absolutely! I’m a Midland girl, born and raised. I only ventured about 30 miles west for college to Central Michigan University (fire up Chips!) and was happy to move back to Midland after graduation. I have a close-knit extended family, so being near them has always been a priority for me.

My kids have a great relationship with their aunts, uncle, grandparents, and great-grandparents, and we frequently gather for Sunday dinner and holidays. With great schools, a wonderful arts center, and plenty of family-friendly events, it’s been a perfect place for me to make my home.

Q: You have a great history with the performing arts in the region. Can you tell us more about that?

A: My love of performing began in late elementary school, when I realized that sports were more fun for me as a spectator and not as an athlete (aka: I am horrible at sports). I’d always been involved in music growing up, and my parents took me to see Phantom of the Opera, which was my first show on Broadway when I was 11 or 12.

My mom says that she watched me more than she watched the show; I was completely enthralled. From there, I decided to audition for the musical at Northeast Middle School and when I walked into rehearsal, they were blasting the Phantom soundtrack and I knew I had found ‘my people.’

Since then, I’ve performed in over 40 plays and musicals with Midland High School, Teenage Musicals Inc., and the Midland Center for the Arts. Some of my favorite roles have been Sally Bowles in Cabaret, the title role in Mary Poppins, Little Sally in Urinetown, Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, and Vanda Jordan in Venus in Fur.

Q: That sounds exhausting but wonderful! What do you think the Great Lakes Bay Region has to offer when it comes to the arts?

A: I sit on the national board of the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) so I’ve seen my fair share of theatres from all over the country. They all have their special stories and quirks, but we are unbelievably fortunate to have the facility and staff that we have at Midland Center for the Arts, especially for the size of our community.

We have a lot of bells and whistles (two theatres, a rotating stage, a resident scenic designer and charge artist, and an overflowing wardrobe department, to name a few) but we also just have a lot of support and involvement from the community. There are so many opportunities to get involved ourselves or to get our kids involved in the arts, and with arts funding being cut all over the United States, those supplemental programs are so important.

In addition to our home-grown programs, we also get to host Broadway touring productions, world-class entertainers and lectures. Those programs give us so much opportunity for exposure and education. It’s pretty incredible!

Q: We have heard a ton about your podcast. Can you tell us all about it, and what kind of guests you have featured?

A: I’m an NPR nerd, and work at Delta College, so I had become a bit of a regular on their semi-annual Q90.1 pledge drive. About a year ago, the program manager asked if I wanted to host my own show. I’ve always wanted to hear more contemporary musicals featured on the radio, so I jumped at the opportunity to fill a programming void.

In addition to music, we also interview artists from the local theatre scene about the shows they’re working on and their process. We’ve also chatted with performers who got their start in the area and have gone on to have professional theatre careers.

Q: What play have you most enjoyed being a part of?

A: That’s like asking someone their favorite song! It’s too hard to pick one! Sometimes, the stars align perfectly and you get to do a show that is really firing on all cylinders. I loved being a part of Urinetown and Venus in Fur because we took them to the heights of national competition, which is just a fun and unique experience.

If I had to choose, I think Cabaret is the show that will always have a special place in my heart. We do theatre to entertain audiences but also to teach empathy and tell important stories, and Cabaret is one of those shows that meets all those requirements. In the past, people have come up to us in the lobby with tears in their eyes because they were touched by the story, and that’s been a very rewarding and humbling experience.

Q: What else would you like to see in the local arts community?

A: I would like to see us start to take more risks. We do very ‘safe’ productions in Midland because we are sometimes afraid to ruffle feathers. And risky theatre doesn’t have to mean dark or risqué!

 The most amazing production I’ve ever seen was a community theatre show called Our Daily Bread from Argentina.  I saw it at a WorldFest in Venice, Florida, and I can’t talk about it without crying. It was entirely pantomimed in a silent movie style and it was an original/experimental piece that was unbelievably imaginative and moving. We don’t do anything like that here … yet. We need to shake the dust off sometimes and be open to non-traditional theatrical experiences.

Q: Being a parent who works full time and is involved in projects that can take up so much of your time can be tough. What are your recommendations for people who would like to be involved in theater, but fear that they do not have time?

A: Many of the theatres in the area are getting better at offering things for our busy schedules. Start small. Don’t wait for your dream show to come around to make your stage debut. Contact your local community theatre to see if they have any new volunteer programs.

You can start by volunteering backstage for a show or singing in a small cabaret-style revue. Running crew or dressing actors for a show usually only takes a couple weeks of your time. That way you can dip your toe in the pool without making a huge time commitment.

If you have fun, then you can start auditioning for smaller parts in the main stage shows or in shows with small casts where they may be more willing to work around your schedule conflicts.

For more information on Emily’s podcast visit Q-90.1 Delta Broadcasting.

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