Broadway Actress Returns to NWU Stage to Choreograph "Spring Awakening"

Nebraska Wesleyan University alumna Emily Kinney hasn’t forgotten what opening night on Broadway feels like: nerves, excitement and more nerves.

“It was so satisfying,” said Kinney who made her Broadway debut in summer 2008 with the production “Spring Awakening.”

Now the young actress is sharing that excitement with current NWU theatre students who will perform their version of “Spring Awakening.”

The Tony Award-winning rock musical is based on the controversial 1891 play about teens caught up in their sexuality and the consequences that result from it.

On Broadway, Kinney was cast as Anna, the best friend of the lead character. She was also an understudy for the lead role of Wendla. Kinney performed eight shows a week for seven months.

When Nebraska Wesleyan’s Theatre Department decided to perform “Spring Awakening” this year, they knew exactly who to call on to choreograph the show.

“The excitement of producing “Spring Awakening” grew when we were able to contract Emily to come in and choreograph the production,” said theatre professor Jack Parkhurst who is directing the show. “Not only did we challenge our students with Broadway choreography but they were also able to learn from someone who is doing the art.”

Kinney reviewed all of her videos and notes from her days with “Spring Awakening” and headed to Nebraska Wesleyan’s McDonald Theatre over Christmas break.

“I’m so excited to bring the elements from Broadway to McDonald Theatre,” she said. “I love the show. It was such a huge part of my career and to share it with Wesleyan’s theatre students is an incredible opportunity.”

On Broadway, Kinney spent eight hours a day in rehearsals. She expected the same with NWU’s theatre students. Days started with music rehearsals followed by hours of choreography.

Kinney said returning to the stage where she got her start was comfortable. As an undergrad, she learned the theatre ropes as a stage manager for main-stage productions, developed her choreography skills in student-directed plays, and starred in Anton Chekov’s “Three Sisters.”

“But what I got most out of my Wesleyan experience was discipline,” said Kinney, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in theatre performance. “You were expected to know the script, have your lines down and know how to turn it on no matter how tired you were. Nebraska Wesleyan gave me an amazing starting point.”

She said the opportunity to work alongside her former theatre professors also made for a great experience.

“When you’re a student, you’re always looking for their approval,” Kinney said of her professors. “It’s a nice change to work as colleagues. I found myself giving students the same advice that my professors gave me.”

While working with the theatre students, Kinney said she fielded questions of what Broadway was really like.

Her response: “Exciting, but it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Kinney moved to New York City just days after graduating from Nebraska Wesleyan. It took nearly two years to land a role on Broadway, and that came after seven long months of auditions for “Spring Awakening.”

“The reality is it takes time,” she said. “You’re not done when you graduate. You’re just beginning.”

Kinney’s life has evolved in the six years since leaving campus. She has an agent and has earned membership in both the Actors Equity Association and the Screen Actors Guild. She guest-starred in TV’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” Following “Spring Awakening,” she went on a national Broadway tour of “August Osage County.” Now she’s a regular on the AMC TV show “The Walking Dead” and is working on a spring project at Radio City Music Hall. She balances her time between Atlanta — where “The Walking Dead” is taped — and New York City.

And on top of her busy theatre schedule she has released her first album, “Blue Toothbrush.” While on her national tour with “August Osage County,” Kinney taught herself guitar and met a musician in Rod Stewart’s band who helped her write her album.

Nebraska Wesleyan will perform “Spring Awakening” February 9-11 and February 16-18 at 7:30 p.m. with matinee shows at 2 p.m. on February 12 and February 19.

Due to her busy schedule Kinney said she likely won’t make it back to see “Spring Awakening.”

“But when I left, I felt a definite ownership of the production,” she said. “They’re going to do great.”

Admission to Nebraska Wesleyan’s “Spring Awakening” is $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and $7.50 for students. Order tickets online or call the box office at 402.465.2384.

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NWU alumna Emily Kinney works with the cast of "Spring Awakening."
Kinney watches the NWU cast perform a musical number during rehearsals.
Kinney (right) in "Three Sisters" while a student at NWU. She has since gone on to be a successful TV and Broadway actress.
Kinney at the premiere of AMC's "The Walking Dead."