Remember the time when you dreamed of being an actor? For Emily Peterson, 23, that childhood wish never went away. So it's a good thing that she has become one of KC's most visible — and accomplished — young performers.
She was "around 12" and already drawn to the arts, she says, when her dad took her to see School House Rock: Live! at the Coterie Theatre, and she felt that pull toward acting. "I loved it so much," she says, "he signed me up for classes right after."
She developed much of what she calls her "passion, understanding and drive" in five years studying at the Coterie. "They have an advanced curriculum that not only teaches technique, text analysis and ensemble work," she says, "but they do it through development of imagination and confidence. Which is awesome for kids and, like me, teens who know that the arts is their path." (She also studied with the Shakespeare Festival.) She kicked off her professional career at 13, when she played a weasel in the Coterie's Wind in the Willows.
Following graduation from Stephens College, Peterson performed in summer theater in Amana, Iowa, and Okoboji, Iowa, as well as the Black Hills Playhouse in Rapid City, South Dakota. It was "work hard, play hard," she says of those out-of-town stints. "You do not rest. You eat, sleep and breathe the work."
She still does. In just the last six months, she has appeared on several local stages. In March and April, she portrayed Cecily in the American Heartland Theatre's production of The Importance of Being Earnest. In May, she played English heroine Elizabeth Bennet in the Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre's Pride and Prejudice. She followed that with the Shakespeare Festival: Hermia in A Midsummer Night's Dream and Iras in Antony & Cleopatra. August and September have brought Kansas City Actors Theatre: Miss Casewell in The Mousetrap and Felicity Cunningham in The Real Inspector Hound. And she looks forward, after that, to rehearsals for the Kansas City Rep's A Christmas Carol.
"I've been fortunate to play some pretty kickass ladies," Peterson says. "Oscar Wilde is a blast to perform, and Elizabeth Bennet is my hero. That being said, while all of the women are strong and smart, they are all so different." And it's that range of roles that makes her work, she says, both challenging and gratifying.
"One of the most enjoyable parts of working in theater is constantly meeting and working with new people," she says. And her repeated work with other local actors breeds a helpful familiarity. "There's a vocabulary, a style that we know in each other, so oftentimes we get to move a little quicker, are maybe more comfortable trying new things." Relationships build and continue in other ways, too: knitting tips from Peggy Friesen, for example, and recipes from Charles Fugate.
In what must be a very limited amount of leisure time, Peterson watches Netflix, goes to the City Market, eats out, cooks and grills, goes to theater, plays Skee-Ball at the Velvet Dog. She and her boyfriend, Kyle, plus two cats and a hound dog named French Fry, call the Southmoreland neighborhood home. "I'm so domestic, it hurts," she says. She knits and sews, and she makes stationery. "I love most things crafty."
And so, there's the craft of acting that she hones and perfects, both in KC and in Chicago, where she plans to start splitting her time after A Christmas Carol. She's a student of the theater, she says, who keeps learning "with each challenge presented with each role."