Hard Work Is No Act

Portrait of alumni Emily Kinney“What’d you do last night?”

For months, Emily Kinney (’06) answered that question the same way: “Grabbed some supper. Sang on Broadway.”

Since Kinney finished her run as Anna on the Tony Award-winning musical, “Spring Awakening,” she’s transitioned from Broadway to the big screen, shooting a scene with Meryl Streep.

Yes, that Meryl Streep.

“It is a romantic comedy with Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin and HER [Streep],” Kinney wrote in an e-mail to Professor of Theatre Arts Jack Parkhurst. “I got my own trailer with my [character’s] name on the door!”

Before she worked with Streep and mingled with Martin, before she sang on Broadway, Kinney, originally from Wayne, Neb., guest starred on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” And before that was her role in “Aunt Tigress,” a horror short that made it to the Cannes Film Festival.

Success may have come quickly for Kinney, but that’s not to say it came easily or undeservedly. Before Cannes was a demanding string of roughly 20 shows on campus as a busy NWU theatre major.
Yes, 20 shows. In four years. While going to college. Fulltime. Parkhurst put it this way: “Tenacity. That one word is why she’s doing so well.”

Nebraska Wesleyan’s burgeoning Department of Theatre Arts is designed to feed its tenacious students as many experiences as they can cram into four years. (Considering what Kinney accomplished in just three years after graduating, you can imagine what she fit into four.)

“It’s the practical experience” that gets NWU students noticed, said Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Mike Reese. A class on stage management is great, he said, but a résumé including a dozen stage managed shows says more.

“We emphasize the laboratory,” said Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Joan Korte. “That’s where everything from the classroom comes together.”

And that’s where everything came together for Kinney. She stage-managed for Nebraska Wesleyan’s production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 2004. “I remember she was standing by the light board watching two very talented actors rehearse,” said Parkhurst. “She turns to me and her eyes are big as silver dollars, and she says, ‘I get it.’”

What did she get then? “She saw the work ethic,” said Korte. “She saw the difference between a performer and an actor.” Kinney the performer wants the audience to see her. Kinney the actor wants the audience to see her character.

Kinney told backstage.com, “One of the biggest things that I’ve been taught is that [a character is] always fighting for something. You’re not just sad; you’re fighting not to be sad…. That doesn’t mean it’s over the top. Just in small ways, you’re always trying to fight for something.”

Don’t let the cute face fool you. Kinney can fight.

“She’s so nice and she’s so sweet,” said Parkhurst. “But get in her way and she will run you over like you weren’t even there.”

Whether it’s on Broadway or from Hollywood, TV, stage or film, audiences will continue to appreciate both Kinney’s sweetness and her tenacity for years to come.