Emily Lunsford still remembers the first time she was ever on stage.
“I was 11 years old, and the Missoula Children’s Theatre came to Leeds for a week-long camp,” she recalled. “I went with my brother and sister, and we did a production of Snow White.”
Lunsford was cast in the role of an evil henchman, while her sister played Snow White. “So it wasn’t much different from real life,” she said with a laugh. “But I fell in love with theater at once.”
Her love of performing arts will be channeled into a production of Life With Father, which closes a two-week run at the ACTA Theater in Trussville this weekend. The show is Lunsford’s debut as a director.
“Directing is not all the glamour I thought it was going to be,” she said. “It’s a lot more businesslike and management, almost secretarial. But it’s been a lot of fun. I’m enjoying watching the cast bring their characters to life.”
Taking a coffee break Tuesday afternoon from her marketing post at Birmingham’s EWTN television station, she discussed this weekend’s shows while identifying her most challenging role as an actress and explaining why creativity is important to her.
The show: “Life With Father” is a Victorian drawing room centering on the Clarence Day family. Mr. Day is a Wall Street broker who rails against his staff, his cook, his wife, his sons, and the inability of the world to live up to his impossible standards. Complications ensue when his wife seeks to have him properly baptized. Based on a collection of autobiographical stories published in 1939, the play holds the record for longest running non-musical on Broadway.
Performances: Dates are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Ticket prices are $12 for adults, $8 for students and children and $10 for seniors 60 and older. For reservations, call 205-655-3902. The ACTA Theater is located at 225 Parkway Drive, Trussville.
Directing or performing? “I prefer performing, and since I don’t have a part in the show, now that we’re in performances, I’m almost wondering ‘what do I do now?’ But it’s a lot of fun seeing audiences respond to scenes we’ve spent so much time working on to get them just perfect, and when the audience laughs at what you know was going to be the money line, it feels really good. I also like seeing the actors pull out all the stops as they feed off the audience’s enthusiasm. It’s super gratifying.”
What made her fall in love with theater: “The magic of it. There’s no question that theater is magic. It might even been more magical to me now that I have the perspective of directing a show. When you’re an actor, you get caught up in your side of it. As a director, I’ve now seen all the footwork and groundwork that goes on behind the scenes, and I have a better idea of how everyone comes to their roles. It really is magic that it all meshes together.”
Her most challenging role: Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher in The Miracle Worker. “It was a tremendously eye-opening experience, emotionally draining and physically exhausting. I’ve never been pushed to those limits before. That was actually the last show I did before directing this one. If I could tackle Anne Sullivan, I can direct a show. It felt like that, anyway.”
The character she’d most like to portray: “Ophelia in Hamlet. I did the part in an abbreviated version, but I didn’t get to play the whole role. I’d like to try taking on the full gamut of emotions. And maybe Cordelia in King Lear.”
Developing a role: “I like to immerse myself in the thoughts of a character. I usually end up incorporating a sense of my own personal experiences, but in a way that is akin to what the character should be feeling. Most of my roles have been in dramas, so I’ve had to pull up a lot of deep emotions, which is a challenge. I can handle comedies pretty easily because I’m a bouncy, bubbly person in real life.”
How she describes herself: “I’m a very hopeful and faith-filled person. Hope and faith are the things that make me tick.”
The best advice she ever received: “Stay close to the Lord. I’ve driven that point home to my cast, probably more than they’ve heard it from any other director, but we can’t do what we do without the Lord. That’s the key to my creativity.”
The importance of creativity: “It’s inside all of us to create. I was brought up to always be creative at home. We were always making something – jewelry, recipes, crafts. Eventually I landed on acting as my form of art, and I view it as a gift from God. I like seeing the job in everyday things and moments. A deep look into little joys and little sorrows is what theater captures and puts on display for everybody to empathize with.”