The Director's Chair, Artist Spotlight, Playwright's Corner, Choreographer's Cue and Designer's Dialogue are weekly interview series highlighting entertainment professionals, working actors, singers, stage managers, producers, directors, designers and others in the arts and entertainment industry. Guests share stories about how they began in the business, their journey and helpful suggestions for others who aspire to their profession.
This week we were privileged to chat with performer, trouper, headliner — Emily Abeles, a class act indeed.
Join us as we explore her accomplishments, goals and challenges in another edition of Artist Spotlight.
JANUARY 24, 2021 — By Chris Daniels
This week’s Artist Spotlight is on Emily Abeles. An absolute delight! Most actors in this area already know Emily, or have worked with her on a production before. I’ve seen Ms. Abeles numerous times on stage, and progressively astounded each and every time. You may remember a few of her choice roles on this short-list below. Sometimes sweet as a ripe apple, sometimes even playing the villain (“One Man, Two Guvs”), but always possessing precise, calculated professionalism and a tantalizing talent that can send you reeling. Here’s a few of my previous reviews on her work:
EVITA — “Emily Abeles (“Parade,” “The Little Mermaid”) in a spotlight role is wounded and disconsolate as the exceedingly young mistress Evita sent packing from Perón’s palace. Her tender swan song in the show, however, entitled “Another Suitcase in Another Hall,” was one of the best performances of all.”
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES — “Ms. Abeles is a wonder as she embodies the loquacious, quick-tempered title character with carrot-colored pigtails and vivid imagination. As she effectively exudes this homeless drama queen’s spunk and jaw-dropping candor, she showcases a singing voice both pure and powerful, pulling off a character several years her junior with apparent ease.”
THE LITTLE MERMAID — “A luminous Emily Abeles personifies free-spirited Ariel with an effervescent likability and sweet voice, bedazzling the overflowing crowd with dreamy favorites, including “The World Above,” the velvety “Part of Your World,” and Ariel’s Lament “If Only.” Some of Emily’s credits include “A Chorus Line” (a Chance Theater production, which resulted in an Ovation Award Nomination), “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” “Parade,” “American Idiot” and “Fairy Hoax,” an OC Premiere.”
RECENT THEATRE: “Peter Pan,”—2020; “Evita”—2019; “Anne of Green Gables”—2019; “Goosebumps, the Musical”—2019; “The Little Mermaid”—2018; “A Chorus Line”—Ovation Award Nominee; TV: “The Fallen”—2018; “Kirby Buckets”—2014; “Family Moments”—2013; FILM: “The Dinner Party”—2019; “The Learning Curve”—2018; “Dust”—2018; “Fraction”—2017
We talked with Emily this past week, and asked her about her long-range plans for the stage and what she has been doing this past year, especially through this communicable pandemic. Here’s what she said:
Emily, this has been a very trying time for artists in general this past year. It does require a strong resolution to keep going in some cases. But I’ve never seen a more positive outlook than yours. Can you fill us in on your future plans for the stage, new projects or roles you’re looking at, and whether the pandemic has created challenges for you?
"It’s sweet of you to compliment my positivity Chris, because that’s something that I take pride in. It’s been a goal of mine to be a light and source of kindness for others, especially in an industry as rough as show biz. My light has definitely been tested though, don’t get me wrong! During the pandemic, I’ve struggled with loneliness, procrastination, lethargy, you name it. But, I learned pretty quickly that optimism isn't necessarily equivalent to hope. Hope stems from a confidence within yourself, and the power that you hold as a fearfully made individual.
Something that’s helped me keep my hope alive is (as simple as it sounds) dreaming big, which encompases things like writing my aspirations down on paper, reminding myself, “why I love theater” by bingeing Audra McDonald videos, jamming out to some Sara Berelis, or surrounding myself with other inspirations and people that I love and that encourage me to be the best, most authentic version of myself. As of right now, I’m working on graduating and finishing my BFA industry showcase, as well finishing some scripts of mine that I’ll hopefully produce someday!"
How did you get started in the arts?
"I was involved in the arts pretty early on, (probably five or six) as a ballet dancer. I even went en pointe for a few years! I fell in love with musical theater after seeing a 'so bad it was good' musical medley in Middle School, and despite the show being a wee bit cringeworthy, I was absolutely mesmerized, and have been hooked ever since."
What has been some of your proudest accomplishments so far?
"One of my proudest accomplishments came right out of high school, actually. I participated in a musical theater competition and was signed by a talent manager who was in the audition room. She was a mentor to me, and to this day I am humbled that I was able to learn and grow from her as both an artist and as a young business woman.
Another proud moment of mine was when I played Anne Shirley in 'Anne of Green Gables.' It was an extra special experience for me, not only because it’s one of my favorite books/movies, but because it was also my grandma’s favorite, who passed a few months before I auditioned for the show. I’d stay up hours watching the BBC adaptation with her, so it was such a dream portraying Anne and being able to honor her in that way.
I also keep the shows where I’ve flown ('Little Mermaid' and 'Peter Pan') close to heart!"
Emily, you are definitely a triple threat, showcasing more than a decade of dance and ballet, an exquisite acting style, and a most glorious voice. I’m anticipating big things down the road for you. But which of the three do you enjoy the most?
"Wow, how incredibly sweet! Thank you, Chris! That truly means a lot. I love each one dearly, though I do admit though, acting is something I've always treasured and valued, especially since I grew up a film junkie, and I’ll always have a soft spot for singing. I definitely couldn't live without it!"
Who do you look up to as your greatest creative inspiration?
"I mentioned them a bit earlier, but Audra McDonald and Sara Berellis are definitely among my top inspos, in addition to actors like Sutton Foster, Viola Davis, and Denzel Washington. Writers like John Steinbeck, The Gershwins, and Neil Simon are also inspirations for me, and the late and great Gene Kelly is also a huge influence to the artist I am now. In fact, 'Singing in the Rain' was the deciding factor that made me want to pursue musical theater for a living. It’s SO Good (and if you haven’t watched Gene tap in roller skates...well you have to, you just do.)"
What else are you passionate about when you’re not doing theatre?
"I’ve always been a writer, and thankfully I’ve remained passionate about it! Right now I’m working on a few screenplays, the hope being to stage one of them one day! I’m also passionate about mental health awareness, reading, faith, and cooking/baking. I’m actually working on some Broadway inspired cupcake recipes. I’ll keep you updated when they launch. Hopefully they’ll be quite “Popular!” (See what I did there?)"
Has there been a show you’ve done that has deeply affected you personally, perhaps even changed you in a permanent manner?
"Doing 'The Little Mermaid' was a very cathartic experience, because 'Part of Your World' was my absolute favorite Disney tune growing up, and there’s something to be said about playing such a popular, iconic redhead for over a thousand screaming kids. The pressure is definitely on. And the show is such a beast too, especially since we did our production outside, with a large cast, during the peak of fire season (there was so much smoke), and with harnesses galore. I learned so much about trusting my body and my abilities during the process, as well as the importance of humility and selflessness, especially as the lead of a show. The production is so much bigger than yourself. It’s a team effort. Everyone struggles, and everyone perseveres together. And when things click, that symbiosis is a very beautiful thing to experience. (I also learned how much I love Heelys!)"
What are your top three favorite plays or musicals?
"THIS IS SO TOUGH. Okay, right now I’m really into 'Something Rotten' because it’s um, BRILLIANT, but I also love 'Waitress,' the revival of 'Oklahoma!,' 'Crazy for You,' and of course, 'Singing in the Rain.'"
How would you describe yourself in one sentence?
"I am a spirited, empathetic, strong willed woman of faith (and occasional dork) whose determination is fueled by art, joy, imagination, and love from family and friends (and pup, Hashbrown!)"
And finally, what’s something you are really good at that few people know about?
"I can smell a sale from a mile away. If thrifting were a superpower, I’d be an X-man, no doubt about it."
Thank you Emily for those uplifting, inspiring words, and we wish you the best in your endeavors!
Maya Valenciano and Emily Abeles
"Anne of Green Gables"
Promo Trailer for the SAG New Media Pilot
Emily Abeles as Kristine - The Chance Theater
"A Chorus Line"