Emily Breeze ’14 did quite a bit of acting in junior and senior high school, but when she came to Vassar she resolved not to major in drama. “I decided I wanted to do something else with my brain when I got to college,” she says.
Breeze’s plan to put the theater aside and try other forms of artistic expression was partially successful. She stayed away from drama clubs, joined a sketch comedy group, No Offense, and took part in numerous activities in the Music Department. But when the time came to declare a major, Breeze says, “I realized that all the courses I wanted to work the hardest in were in the Drama Department.” She majored in drama with an English correlate, and since last summer she’s been honing her craft as artistic resident at the Long Wharf Theater in New Haven, CT.
Breeze’s tasks have ranged from keeping track of script changes to hosting “talk-back” sessions with audiences following performances. She assisted directors in several Long Wharf productions, and she’s capping her paid internship by directing a production of The Boy at the Edge of Everything by Tasmanian playwright Finnegan Kruckemeyer. She says her 10-month stay has been rewarding and enlightening.
“Long Wharf has always been a great place for plays to develop (seven Tony Award-winning plays and three Pulitzer prize winners debuted there), but it’s also a place where young artists can develop their skills,” Breeze says. “It’s really helped me find my own voice as I begin my career.”
She says she especially enjoyed working with Long Wharf’s artistic director, Gordon Edelstein, and assistant artistic director Eric Ting. “Watching Gordon work is sort of like watching an artist paint,” Breeze says. “You don’t immediately understand why he’s working with various colors, and then suddenly you’re looking at a perfect night sky.”
She says she learned to appreciate Ting’s approach to his craft when he directed a play entitled Brownsville Song by Kimber Lee. “It was an emotionally wrenching play about gang violence, and I was inspired watching him deal with these raw topics with such humanity and passion and find a way to tell the story simply,” Breeze says. “Eric’s brain kind of works on a different wavelength from the rest of us. What I got from him by working on that play was the importance of specificity and delicacy when you’re dealing with such emotionally charged topics.”
Breeze says hosting a “talk-back” session following a performance of the play was especially enlightening because some members of the audience had witnessed such scenes first-hand. “There were people in the theater who had been directly affected by gun violence, so that generated plenty of discussion,” she says.
Breeze encountered a somewhat awkward moment when she hosted a talk-back session following a performance of Picasso at the Lapin Agile, a play written by Steve Martin about a fictional meeting between Picasso and Albert Einstein. “Someone asked why Steve had decided to write a play with these two characters,” she says. “Steve was sitting in the audience but had asked us not to tell anyone, so I just turned the person’s question around and asked, ‘Why do you think he might have written it?’ Eventually, Steve did join in the discussion and was very gracious, and Gordon Edelstein told me later I’d handled the question well.”
Breeze says she’ll draw on many of her experiences at Long Wharf as she pursues the next phase of her career. “I really became immersed in all aspects of the profession, and I learned something in every show,” she says. “A lot of times I’d know what the director would want me to do before he even asked. There were times in rehearsals when the director would make a slight hand motion and I’d know what he was talking about.”
One of the most significant lessons she learned at Long Wharf is the importance of teamwork. “What you learn is that nothing in the theater really functions very well without everyone being on board in the same place and at the same time,” Breeze says. “It’s a lesson I’ll always carry with me.”
Photos: Evan Abramson