My name is Emily Abma and I graduated from St. John's University in 2015 with an Adolescent Biology Education major and Film Studies minor. During my time at St. John's, I served on the Chappell Players elected board as Secretary my junior year and President my senior year. Along with the enormous help of my fellow e-board members and advisors, I implemented new programming to expand the reach of the Chappell Players both on and off campus including the Alumni Banquet, Play Reading Series, theatre workshops, and the monthly CPTG newsletter. I also (like all Chappies) contributed some blood, sweat, and tears to the Little Theatre.
How was the transition from college to the real world? How was life after graduation?
A little strange and terrifying but mostly exciting. We spend about the first quarter of our lives attending school, which almost always flies by. Once it ends and we actually have to start making decisions and applying the knowledge we've gained, it's kind of like oh, is this it? Is this adulting? I start now? The greatest part is the freedom to now create your own path. The worst part is that same freedom that takes a lot of focus and initiative to harness and actually make moves.
Did being involved in the Chappell Player prepare you for life after college? How so?
Apart from all of the major aspects that participation in theatre teaches you- working as a team, listening, collaborating, developing creativity, and all of the technical aspects of theatre- being involved in Chappell Players prepared me for many, many things, especially life after college. So, I'll just mention a few as coined by Chappies once upon a time:
1. #Go hard in the paint. CPTG taught me an immense amount about the power and potential of people with a vision. Working with peers who were insanely busy college students and with a (small) budget, CPTG showed me how hard work and passion can truly produce miracles. Your physical, mental, and emotional limits sure get tested when involved in theatre. Every time I face a difficult challenge I remember what I accomplished as a student with CPTG, and life seems easier. I also learned from many mentors and the students around me to treat what you're doing with thoughtfulness and respect, whether or not it's a "hobby" and especially if it's art. The more serious you treat your work and craft, the more serious the world will take it.
2. #Fake it till you make it. Most of life happens before you're ready for it and the real trick is to act like you are. Whether it's a a job you don't think you're prepared for, an audition you don't feel confident about, or even opening night, lead your life with confidence and trust that you'll figure it out along the way. With Chappell Players, having to work with (small) budgets, short schedules, limited resources, and often little experience, you learn quickly to say, "yes, I can do that (or at least I'll google it and work it out)".
3. #Do it live. At a certain point in the life of a production, you need to stop focusing on the technicalities you've (hopefully) drilled in rehearsals and sit back and enjoy what you've created. This means living in the moment as an actor when you perform onstage. Chappell Players, like college, taught me that eventually shows end, sets come down, and life goes on. The best part is always the journey and staying as present as possible in the moment helps you to cherish it.
What was your favorite CPTG memory?
One of my favorite memories is cleaning out the prop juliet for the sheer craziness. It was my first theatre clean-up and I had no idea what to expect. With two other alums (Hutch & Kevin K), we cleared the entire storage room (6 foot high piles of props that hadn't been organized in at least 5 years) by taking every item down a ladder and laying them across the stage. Then we cleaned the room, installed shelves, and inventoried and put back every single prop. As tired and dust covered as we were, it was pretty great to have accomplished. Plus we ate tons of free bagels.
Another favorite memory was when we were doing the children's show Alice in Wonderland. In this production, a group of actors are trying to put on a show but can't find their main character, Alice, to begin. Either we weren't grasping the concept or weren't acting with high enough stakes, so our Artistic Director Sam decided to get us there a little faster. She told us that the actress playing Alice was given an extraordinary opportunity that she couldn't turn down and now wasn't able to attend a few shows. Sam turned the dilemma to the cast and asked us how we could still put on the show without her- could we record her voice, could we make the character of Alice a big metaphor, how could we solve the problem? We were essentially freaking out and brainstorming like crazy to figure out this impending and tangible problem. After 10 minutes or so of insane conversation (could we have a mannequin Alice?!), Sam reveals that the whole thing was a ploy for us to experience what our characters should be feeling- panic. We were all extremely relieved but thankful for the insane lesson.
Have you been able to remain involved in theatre as much as you hoped/wanted?
After college and because of my work with the Chappell Players, I knew that I wasn't finished with theatre but I didn't know in what capacity. I attended graduate school and began freelancing in theatre in NYC basically taking any job I could get in stage management and costume design. I worked a ton of small shows and festivals, many from connections with theatre artists I worked with at St. John's. However, I wasn't feeling particularly fulfilled. Something wouldn't let me leave the theatre realm but I was pulled towards a more creative path than tech and design. Long story long, with the support and inspiration of another SJU alum who followed a similar path, I enrolled at a performing arts conservatory for musical theatre dance. I am currently halfway through the program and I couldn't be more happy with my decision to attend. My longterm goal is to teach musical theatre and dance, after Broadway of course (#fakeittillyoumakeit #fullcircle).
Currently, I work at a long running off-Broadway show and am choreographing the Addams Family with the Chappell Players. It's been incredible to return to the Little Theatre and work with a group that shaped so much of my life. Chappell Players essentially launched my involvement with theatre and has kept it up ever since.
What is professional theatre like compared to what you accomplished with CPTG?
Although Chappell Players can be casual or seem amateur at times, it always strives to run as a professional operation and there's a lot to be said about that. I was constantly surprised at how prepared I felt or at least a little knowledgeable about a topic when working in the professional world. I always liken being involved with Chappell Players and taking every experience it can offer you with completing a theatre major (the hours at least probably match up). The environment that the advisors Nick and Sam have created and that the e-board maintains with the Chappell Players is not something to be taken lightly and is an absolute great source for preparation in theatre and any career.
Though, with all that aside, the professional world is predictably a lot tougher and cut-throat. Auditions are rough and people and teachers are unforgiving. Pursuing theatre as a career is extremely different than as a hobby, however serious it's taken with the Chappell Players. I'm learning to treat is as such and build a thicker and more objective skin.
Do you have any advice for Chappell Players who are going through college or have recently graduated?
TONS! Don't wait to audition for shows. You'll never feel 100% confident about any audition and it'll be senior year before you know it. Step out of your comfort zone and take any opportunity that is given to you whether it's tech, the lead, ensemble, etc. Every moment can be a learning opportunity and will only strengthen the area you are partial to. Cherish your time as a student and as a theatre artist. Many universities, and definitely not the real world, do not have the opportunities that CPTG offers to participate in every aspect of theatre and have so much creative control as students. College will soon be over and you'll have to start adulting so take advantage of playing and creating! Speaking of adulting, make time in your life for creativity after college, regardless of the field you pursue. Listen to yourself, especially after graduating. If you've always been curious about a field or subject, take the time to explore it. Most importantly, even if you have no clue what you want or what you're doing after college, always have a next action. Have that next job or internship or class lined up and you'll be surprised at how those experiences will inform you of your next move, big or small. Last but not least, always remember: go hard in the paint, fake it till you make it, and do it live.