CUE & A: Young Violet and Parade Star Emerson Steele on Backstage Rituals, Bill Murray and Her Valjean Ambitions

News   CUE & A: Young Violet and Parade Star Emerson Steele on Backstage Rituals, Bill Murray and Her Valjean Ambitions
 
Theatre World Award winner Emerson Steele, who made her Broadway debut as Young Violet in Roundabout's acclaimed production of the musical, will be seen as Mary Phagan in the one-night-only all-star concert production of Parade on Feb. 16. The 15-year-old rising star fills out Playbill.com's questionnaire of random facts, backstage trivia and pop-culture tidbits.
Emerson Steele
Emerson Steele

Steele has performed in NYC in the Songs for Story Shifters cabaret and Broadway Dreams’ Fall Showcase, as well as a December concert presentation of Andrew Lippa's A Little Princess.

The native Atlantan has also performed in regional professional theatre stagings of A Christmas Carol, Annie, Fiddler on the Roof, The King and I and Gypsy.

Full given name:
Emerson Duval Steele. Duval is my dad’s mother’s maiden name, so it’s homage to her!
Where you were born/where you were raised:
Atlanta, Georgia

Zodiac Sign:
I am a Sagittarius! We are known for being very adventurous, which describes me exactly.

What your parents did/do for a living:
My mom is an actress and a singer, but she had a career in advertising in New York before she had my brother and me! My dad owns his own advertising agency called Steele+!

Siblings:
Well… my brother is only 12 years old, so he doesn’t really do anything for a living, but he is a killer basketball player and has recently gotten bit by the acting bug!

Who would you list as your main mentors/inspirations?
My momma Laura Steele, Leigh Silverman, Sutton Foster, Meryl Streep, Alexander Gemignani, and my voice teacher Keleen Miskin.

Special skills:
Hula-hooping!!! I almost hula-hooped for 45 minutes straight about a month ago, but I got hungry and decided to stop and eat. Also, I can do some crazy tongue tricks… (Touch my tongue to my nose, and make a four leaf clover with it.) I know. Super weird, right?!
Something you're REALLY bad at:
WALKING… yup, I’m a dancer, but I can’t walk. About 3 years ago, I was literally just walking to get to the other side of the room and somehow broke my ankle doing that.

First Broadway show you ever saw:
Beauty and the Beast! I was two and a half years old, it was my first trip to NYC, and my mom was pregnant with my brother. The sad thing is, because I was so young, I don’t remember any of it.

If you could go back in time and catch any show, what would it be?
Okay… I have three because I just can’t choose between them. The original Off-Broadway production of Violet, the original Broadway production of Parade, and the original Broadway production of Company! Can someone please invent time travel already?!?! P.S. My dad told me to say that I would want to go back and see his high school production of a musical (written by his drama teacher) called Ghosts of the Theatre! He played one of the ghosts.Honestly, I’ve heard him talk, talk, talk about this show so much that I really WOULD like to go back and see it! Hahahaha!!!

Current or recent show other than your own you have been recommending to friends:
Beautiful, Jersey Boys and Matilda! Go see them NOW!!! They are all brilliant!

Favorite showtune(s) of all time:
I recently discovered the song “Putting it Together” from Sunday in the Park with Georgeand I am absolutely obsessed with it!

Some favorite modern musicals:
Well I may be biased, but Violet! I just ADORE every single thing about that show. Also I love Beautiful, Peter and the Starcatcherand Matilda. Ooooo, and I just saw Tuck Everlastingat The Alliance Theater in Atlanta and just loved it and was so moved by it.

Some favorite classic musicals:
Les Miserables, The King and I, Fiddler on the Roofand A Chorus Line!

Your personal vocal idols, living or dead:
Sutton Foster, Laura Benanti, Sara Bareilles, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and my mom.

The one performance – attended - that you will never forget:
I saw the national tour of Les Miserables about three years ago at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. The person who played Jean Valjean was one of the most talented performers that I have ever gotten to see perform that role. Every single move he made, every line he said, every note he sang was beyond captivating. He had me in the palm of his hand throughout the entire performance. But here is where the irony comes in… I somehow lost the program from the show and therefore don’t know what his name is! But whoever he is, he is PURE GENIUS!

Music that makes you cry, any genre:
There’s a song called “Close to You” that my mom has sung to me ever since I was an embryo. Every time I hear it, I start to tear up quite a bit. That song means a lot to me and it is just beautiful!

MAC or PC?
MAC! Although I have nothing against PC. I just feel like MACs hold a charge so well and are SUPER DUPER fast!

Most played song on your iPod:
It probably used to be something from Wicked, but right now I would have to say that it is either the fourteen minute prologue from Into the Woodsor “Safer” from First Date!
Most-visited websites:
Okay… I promise that I’m not trying to suck up, but it honestly is PLAYBILL.com!

Favorite Tweeters:
@LauraBenanti; @QueenLesli; and my friend from Atlanta @berksterchan.

Last book you read:
Last book I enjoyed, or last book my teacher forced me to read whether I wanted to or not? Haha… Well the last book I read for pleasure was "Eleanor and Park" by Rainbow Rowell! I cried and laughed so much reading it.

Must-see TV show(s):
"The Bachelor/Bachelorette," "Red Band Society," "Master Chef Junior" and "Melissa and Joey!" They are all so different, but I like a good variety. I have to add that "Master Chef Junior" is extremely inspiring for me. I just love to see people my age with such a passion for what they do!

Last good movie you saw:
Wow! Once again, I am going to have to give you three answers instead of one. Well, I was truly amazed by "Whiplash" starring Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. I was very moved by "Spare Parts" starring George Lopez. Also, I have recently become obsessed with Bill Murray and have been watching all of his movies. My favorite one so far is "What About Bob." It is HILARIOUS!

Some films you consider classics:
What is a classic to me is definitely not a classic to most… But I would say "Sleepless in Seattle," "Serendipity," "The Wizard of Oz" and anything Shirley Temple!

Performer you would drop everything to go see:
I have been so fortunate to work with Joshua Henry quite a few times over the past year and a half (Violetat Encores!, Violeton Broadway, and Parade)! Through working with him, I have seen just how crazy passionate he is about his craft and have noticed that no matter what he does, he does it completely full out every time. So, I would honestly drop everything to watch him tie his shoelaces, because I know he would put his everything into doing that!

Pop culture guilty pleasure:
Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Trivia Crack (I have beaten my biology teacher 3 times on it)!

Three favorite cities:
New York City, Las Vegas and New Orleans. I am dying to go to Los Angeles and know that if I went there, it would be on my list too!

Favorite sport/team/player:
Well, since I am currently quite embarrassed of how my Atlanta Falcons are doing after this rough season… I would DEFINITELY say my brother’s basketball team, the Cambridge Bears, and of course my favorite player is my brother, Walker!

First CD/Tape/LP you owned:
What’s an LP? F

First stage kiss:
My first stage kiss… is non-existent! LOL!!!:)

Moment you knew you wanted to perform for a living:
When I had just turned ten years old, I was a part of the orphan ensemble of Annieat the Fox Theater in Atlanta. When we first started tech rehearsals, I got moved to the front line with the “main orphans” for the number “Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.” I was sooooo excited and it made me think, “Hey, maybe this is what I should do! Forget soccer! Acting, singing, and dancing is where it is at!”

Favorite pre-/post- show meal:
Favorite pre-show meal is the Greek Salad and a bowl of the Chicken Paella from Medi on 53rd and 9th!

Favorite post-show meal… well, when it is eleven o’clock at night after a show, I become a very unhealthy person and eat pretzels from Auntie Anne’s and a small slushie from 7/11. Yikes!

Favorite liquid refreshment:
WATER! It used to be sodas, but after feeling yucky all the time because of all the caffeine, I turned to water and it has been my bestie ever since!

Pre-show rituals or warm-ups:
I like to pray before every show I do. It helps me remember the reason I am able to do what I love! I pray for the show ahead of me and my cast, I pray for my cast, I pray for my family, I pray for good health, and much more! I also like to shake out all the tension in my body, starting from my head all the way to my toes! I of course also do tons of vocal warm-ups and I stretch my mouth out too! During Violet, Joshua Henry and I had this thing where before every single show we would give each other two big hugs! I am pretty sure we will continue that through Paradeand from there on!

Most challenging role you have ever played:
Every role I’ve ever played has been challenging in a different way. I am so crazy grateful for each and every challenge that has come and comes my way! Young Violet was challenging because I had to be innocent at times, wrecked at times, and completely gritty at times. Mary Marie was challenging because it was the first time I had ever been the lead in a show and I had to build up lots of stamina to do it. The music was also more legit than belting/mixing (which is what I’ve kind of always done) so that was a big and fun challenge!And then there is Mary Phagan who I will be learning more about and working on for the next two weeks. Although I’ve only begun rehearsals, I have a feeling the toughest part will be knowing the full story and what’s going to happen, while maintaining the innocence and purity of Mary Phagan.

What sort of research/preparation are you currently putting into this upcoming project?
I have pretty much read every single thing there is about The Trial of Leo Frank and about Mary Phagan. I have also been working on all of my lines and songs all the time and have been listening to the original Broadway cast album non-stop!

What aspect of the Parade experience are you most excited about?
Is it okay if I say everything? Well I am going to anyway… EVERYTHING! The unbeatable cast I will be surrounded with, the incomparable Jason Robert Brown and his brilliant work, the incredible creative team, getting to reunite with people I’ve worked with before, performing at Lincoln Center, playing Mary Phagan, and sharing this heartbreaking story with everyone. So yeah, EVERYTHING!!!

What do you love most about performing and being in theatre?
I just LOVE the people that I get to work with. For no matter how long each project you work on is (a week or even a year), I feel like you become a family with those people and you form some crazy unbreakable bond! Working with other actors that share the same love for performing as you do is honestly just so cool. I love acting, singing, and dancing with another actor and feeding off of what they do and say; and also, paying attention to their every word, because then you really feel like you are that character and this is actually happening to you.I cherish working with other actors so much.

Worst flubbed line/missed cue/onstage mishap:
Okay… I hope Alexander Gemignani (My Father-my "SHAD" in Violet) doesn't mind me sharing this. Towards the middle of our run, Alex and I were doing what we call the "catechism scene." In the scene, I have a catechism, a book, in my hand and I have to close it super fast and keep it away from Alex. Well anyway, it was our Wednesday night show and as I went to shut the book, it flew out of my hands and fell to the ground.Alex and I both then went to grab it, but he got it. We kept going with the scene and changed a few of the words to make sense of it. And then because of the changed wording, I guess, Alex's lines went straight out of his head, so he just said the one line he did remember several times.And then he just walked offstage and left me standing there! So, I just said my next line, which forced him to walk back onstage to me and we finished the scene. It was crazy! We didn't laugh or break character onstage. But at the same time it was hilarious and a great learning moment.However, the lesson was mostly... don't drop the catechism!!!

Craziest audition story:
I had an audition for a film over the summer. I had practiced my sides a gazillion times and felt super confident. I got into the room and everything felt like it was going super well. The only odd thing to me was that at the end of my last scene the casting assistant just sat there looking at me like she was waiting for me to do something. I decided to improv a bit. Then finally about 30 seconds later (it felt like an hour later) she said, “Great job, thank you.” Now cut to about a month and a half later. I am looking through all of my old sides from past auditions and come upon a page that I was sure I had never seen before. Suddenly it dawned on me “HOLY COW! This is from that audition for that film.” Turns out I had missed a page and that’s why the casting assistant had just been staring at me and waiting for me to do something.Luckily, the page only had two very short lines. But, I have now learned to make SURE you have every single last page when you audition.

Leading lady role you've been dying to play (current or in the future):
Millie in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Elphaba in Wicked, Maggie or Cassie in A Chorus Lineand Carole King in Beautiful!
Leading man role you wish you could play:
24601!!!!!!!!!!! And Ummm… WISH I could play?! I WILL play Jean Valjean one day!

Any upcoming projects you can talk about?
Not at the moment, but from the wise words of Stephen Sondheim… “I’ve got a feeling there’s a miracle due, gonna come true, coming to me”! Wow, I’m such a theater nerd.

Something about you that surprises people:
I think people would be surprised to find out that I’m a three-time World Champion in wrestling. Actually, I could be wrong about this, but I think most people think I’m quiet and serious. But I’m actually very goofy, silly and funny.

Something you are incredibly proud of:
I’d say that I am incredibly proud of being able to do what I love and start making a career of it at this age. I know it sounds cheesy, but I really mean it. I am just so blessed and grateful to be able to do this!

Three things you can't live without:
The Lord, my family, and FOOD!

"I'll never understand why…"
... people have to suffer from cancer.

Best advice you've ever received when it comes to performing/the theatre business: After our closing performance of Violet, our incredible assistant choreographer, Oneika Phillips, said to me, “Never EVER change.” In a business like this it can be so easy to hide your true self and conform to what everyone else is doing, try to be like others, and let it tear down who you are.I know I will have to be strong, focus on who I am, where I come from, what I believe in, and always stay true to myself. I will remember Oneika’s words and carry them with me forever

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