Education Dramaturg Ted Sod spoke with actor Emily Walton about her work on Darling Grenadine.
Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? Did you have any teachers who had a profound influence on you?
Emily Walton: I was born in Los Angeles, CA, but raised in Riverdale, New York. I went to a performing arts middle school in Manhattan called PPAS and to LaGuardia (the “Fame” school) for high school. I also studied at Ithaca College briefly.
In middle school, my music theory teacher, Chuck Vassallo, kind of changed my life! I developed a deep love of music theory because of his teaching and even signed up for an advanced music theory class that met during our lunch period a couple times a week. (Yes, I was a bit of a nerd.)
In high school, I had an acting teacher named Harry Shifman, who really challenged me and made me feel like a true actor for the first time. And last but not least, both of my parents, Bob and Laurie Walton, were excellent teachers in this arena. My dad is a very talented actor and musician, and my mom runs a super successful youth theatre company in Riverdale. I did shows under her direction throughout middle and high school and learned more from both of them in those formative years than I can even articulate.
TS: Why did you choose to play Louise in Daniel Zaitchik’s musical Darling Grenadine? What do you find most exciting and challenging about this role?
EW: I chose to do Darling Grenadine because Daniel Zaitchik is my best friend and, well, hewrote the role of Louise for me. So it was kind of a no-brainer!
Daniel has been a huge part of my life, creatively and as a friend, for almost 13 years. He is an incredibly special person and talent, and I am so excited for New York to get a glimpse of his singular brain and heart through this show. His writing speaks to a part of me that I can’t even describe, and I think others will feel similarly.
Truthfully, the most challenging thing about the role of Louise is that she’s a grownup. I’ve often played “kids” in my life, and with this role, I have to tap into parts of myself and my psyche that are difficult — and sometimes uncomfortable — to access. She is stronger and more powerful than I feel on a daily basis, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of finding those characteristics in myself through her.
TS: Can you give us some insight into your process as an actor? What research did you have to do in order to play Louise?
EW: I honestly can’t say I have a “process” as an actor. It seems to vary from project to project. I’m someone who learns the most and feels the most fulfilled when doing things up on my feet — really experiencing them.
As far as preparation and research for this role goes, the most valuable thing to me is attempting to understand the mindset of addicts and those who love them. Fortunately, I don’t have much experience in this field in my real life, so I look to others to educate me. It’s such a sensitive, difficult topic, and so I try to approach it all with care, curiosity, and understanding.
TS: What would you say the musical Darling Grenadine is about? How is the character of Louise relevant to you?
EW: I think the musical is about love, put simply. Not just romantic love, but love between friends, familial love, love of art, love of what we create, the things we do for love, an dwhen love verges on addiction.
The character of Louise is relevant to me because she IS me in a lot of ways! Daniel has written her in a way that is incredibly familiar to me. She is very strong and powerful... she just doesn’t really know it. Louise doesn’t believe in herself or her own ambition. She experiences low self-esteem and doubts her career path on a daily basis. I view her as someone who is on the cusp of a big moment of self-actualizing; she just doesn’t quite see it yet.
TS: How do you understand the relationship between Harry and Louise?
EW: My current understanding of the relationship between Louise and Harry is exactly how Louise describes it in Act Two: they have such chemistry. They are two people who feel destined to know each other. They speak the same language, and there is something instantly recognizable about each of them to each other. I think there is a deep love and connection there that is hindered by the existence (and denial) of addiction, of various kinds.
TS: What do you look for from a director, choreographer, and music director when you are collaborating on a new musical?
EW: Above everything else, kindness and a sense of humor. Obviously, intelligence and talent and passion are imperative as well! But I just find it so much more rewarding to work with people who are kind and who approach a piece from a place of openness. This show is especially challenging, especially beautiful, and I love feeling like my thoughts about it matter. So, in short, I look for clarity, kindness, passion, and openness. And I hope they’d be looking for the same from me as an actor!
TS: What keeps you inspired as an artist?
EW: Not isolating — immersing myself in the world around me. I love seeing shows, I love seeing movies, I love reading books. There is so much happening around us at all times to inspire creativity and passion. I also love to write music. While that is generally done in relative isolation, that keeps me excited about all the things I have yet to create and yet to know. I also get inspired by the people around me. Daniel Zaitchik is a huge inspiration to me.
TS: Any advice for young people who want to pursue a career in musical theatre?
EW: I would tell young people to do everything you can to draw confidence and inspiration from within yourself, not from external rewards, like getting cast in a show or singing the highest note. Constantly be challenging yourself to find other things in your life that fulfill you, that make you genuinely excited and happy. If singing, acting, or dancing is one of those things, hooray! But keep doing it for yourself and not because you have something to prove to someone else.
Also — be true to who you are. No one else can be you. Don’t ever feel like you need to bend to someone else’s idea of who you “should” be.
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