After graduating from SUNY Potsdam six years ago with a double degree in music performance and speech communication, Emma Simon ’12 has made a concerted effort to do what she loves every single day. Recently, that brought the New York City transplant back to campus as an actor in the Pendragon Theatre production of “Pride & Prejudice”— an adaptation of Jane Austen's classic novel, in which Simon played three different characters.
“We rehearsed for three weeks and then we had a two-week run in Saranac Lake, N.Y. Their final show of every season is a classic touring show and they bring it around the North Country and bring in student groups. I’ve always wanted to do a touring show, especially in an area where I think there’s less access to arts and theatre. To be able to provide that for a community is really exciting. When I saw that it was coming to SUNY Potsdam I was like, ‘It’s meant to be,’” Simon recalled.
After “Pride & Prejudice” was staged at the Performing Arts Center, Simon stayed at SUNY Potsdam for a few days to teach a clowning techniques workshop for Associate Professor Kimberly Bouchard’s Comedy and Comic Styles acting class—introducing students to a side of acting that Simon has grown to love. The comedic approach to acting not only helped Simon feel more comfortable on stage, but it also rekindled her passion for acting after taking a clowning techniques class in the city.
“All of a sudden, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so fun and exciting and brings me so much joy! By the end of my time at SUNY Potsdam I had so much performance anxiety. I would be dry heaving before going on stage. It was miserable, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to do this, because it doesn’t feel good.’ This clowning work and this comedic way in, became a way back into the joy of performing for me,” Simon said.
She went on to attend The Studio / New York, a conservatory for advanced actor training in Manhattan. As part of the nine-month-long program, she spent long days working on her acting skills, and nights working as a waitress. “I would wake up at 5 a.m., I would go and rehearse with my scene partner from 7 to 9 a.m., I would be in class from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then I would work from 5 p.m. to midnight. I did that for a year. It’s no joke, I was tired! But, focusing on my craft was really important to me,” she said.
It’s not just about acting for Simon. She also loves educating others about the art form—something that dates back to her time at SUNY Potsdam. “When I was here, Carleen Graham was still running the opera program and she is such a gift of an educator and a passionate theatre-maker. I interned for her when we did the opera outreach programs, and her dedication to education was really exciting for me! I always want to be teaching alongside the performing that I do, it really matters to me,” Simon said.
Although her career path has gone in a different direction from what she was studying at Crane, Simon still incorporates all of her vocal training whenever she can. “Now the music ends up being an exciting tool I have. So, instead of the focus being on the voice, it’s shifted to the focus being on the story—I’m so thankful for that training,” she said.
She said that Crane professors Kirk Severtson, François Germain, Donald George, Deborah Massell, Dr. Lonel Woods and most notably, her studio voice teacher Lorraine Yaros Sullivan, all contributed to her growth at SUNY Potsdam. “You connect so much with your voice teacher. You’re spending so much time together, and there’s such transformation—it can be an emotional experience. The whole voice faculty really involves themselves in the development of every student,” she said.
As an undergraduate, Simon also decided to get a second degree in speech communication, something that has gone hand in hand with her acting career. She was initially very impressed with a public speaking class taught by David Fregoe, a professor in the Department of English and Communication, so she just kept taking more classes until she had a second degree. “I thought, ‘Whoa, this man has a lot I can learn from, and I just really loved what he was teaching and I took every class that he taught—he was a very generous teacher that I loved learning from,” she said.
Now Simon is the one teaching others. In addition to her clowning techniques workshop, she also sat down with professor Donald Borsh’s dance students to discuss her recent performance in “Pride & Prejudice,” career as an actor and living in New York City. After answering all of their questions, she told them to take advantage of everything that SUNY Potsdam has to offer. “It can offer you so much and you will 100 percent get out of it what you put in, hands down. Be brave, try new things and create,” she said.
With the “Pride & Prejudice” tour coming to an end, Simon is preparing for her next step and looking to move out of New York City. She’s interested in possibly joining a touring Shakespeare company in Montana or Wyoming or possibly moving to the Pacific Northwest.
“The idea of bringing the arts to less served communities has become increasingly more important to me, especially in our country’s current state. I’m seeking more opportunities for that to happen. New York is wonderful and I’ve loved living there, but it’s full of artists, it’s completely saturated with that, I’m surrounded by like-minded people. I think that going to places where I’m going to have more difficult conversations is where change can start to occur,” Simon said.
Article and photos by Jason Hunter, Video by Molly Siematkowski and Cory Williams