Actor and 2015 Helen Hayes Award nominee, Emily Townley currently plays Detective O'Connor in Studio Theatre's dramedy Between Riverside and Crazy, now playing through February 28. In this week's Take Ten, she shares her intrigue in the goings on backstage at an early age and her enthusiastic advice to young dreamers.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
Annie, when I was about 8. I don't remember thinking "Wow! I wish that was me! I wanna do that!" Instead, I was fascinated by the spectacle and all of the moving parts and I wanted desperately to know what was going on backstage and how it all came together. (I asked my mother what she thought the performers might be doing right before they went on stage and she said "Doing what all good performers do, going to the bathroom!")
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
Can't remember the very first. I started doing small local productions when I pretty young. Did a wildly age-inappropriate children's theatre production of Richard III, played Titania in Midsummer at the Folger, did a play at the Little Theatre of Alexandria when I was 15 or so, and played an 80 year old with spray-painted white hair when I was a freshman in High School. I'm guessing I wasn't particularly brilliant in any of those roles.
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
It's generally whatever production I'm working on at the moment. However, I do hold dearly in my memory a production of Craig Lucas' Reckless I did in college. It was directed by a very beloved college professor and I learned a tremendous amount from it.
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
I worked for a producer in L.A. for a while who regularly enjoyed throwing things at me.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
I do something in every production I find cringe-worthy, whether others notice or not. But in the middle of a pretty solemn scene in a Woolly show once, I slipped in potato salad that had just been thrown in the previous moment of the scene while crossing downstage and fell flat on my butt in front of a full house.
6) What are you enjoying most about working on Between Riverside and Crazy?
The text! The story! The language is so gorgeous! Every character is so slippery! Guirgis is brilliant.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
I think I'd prefer to have an amazing dinner party with a round table of women; Queen Elizabeth I, Katherine the Great, Nina Simone, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Taylor, Michelle Obama, ladies like that. (Okay, maybe I'd also go out with Viggo Mortensen, if he asked, for reasons that don't need explaining.)
8) What is your dream role/job?
Martha in Virginia Woolf, Gertrude, Kate, Josie in Moon for the Misbegotten...there are so many roles I'd love to take a crack at, too many to name!
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
Any performance by Sarah Bernhardt, Ellen Terry or Eleanora Duse.
10) What advice would you give to an 8 year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
I would tell an 8 year to create, create, create! Dance! Paint! Write a play! Shoot a movie on your phone or iPad! Sing and play music! Act everywhere for anyone who will watch and scream at the top of your lungs! I would tell a new MFA grad to work incredibly hard, don't expect roles to come to you and be prepared to sacrifice A LOT if you want to be a journeyman who is still making a living in the theatre in your middle age and beyond.
Emily Townley is a Company Member at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, where she has performed in multiple productions; her favorite roles there include Penny Easter in The Totalitarians (2015 Helen Hayes Best Actress Nomination), Mary in Detroit, Pauline in A Bright New Boise, Lizzie in Mary Stuart, Heidi in Fuddy Meers, Marilyn in Watbanaland and Barbara in Spain. She is currently performing as Detective O'Connor inBetween Riverside and Crazy at Studio Theatre, where she has appeared previously in Laugh, Skin Tight, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and The Bright and Bold Design. Locally and regionally, she has appeared in numerous productions for the Folger Shakespeare Theatre Company, Everyman Theatre, Rep Stage, MetroStage, Washington Stage Guild, Source Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Round House Theatre and Gulfshore Playhouse. She was most recently seen in Bad Dog at Olney Theatre Center and will next perform as Lucinda in the DC premiere of The Mystery of Love & Sex at Signature Theatre. Ms. Townley is a proud member of Actors’ Equity Association.