Hi there! I’m Emily.
I currently live in New York City, but grew up in Virginia and consider myself a southerner at heart. I majored in Theater and English at Boston College and received my Masters in English from the University of Chicago before pursuing my MFA from the University of Iowa’s Playwrights Workshop. I have been fortunate enough to have my plays developed and produced around the country, including with The Acting Company, Actors Theater of Louisville, Alliance Theater, NNPN, Orlando Shakes, NJ Rep, TimeLine Theater and others.
In my personal life, I’m a fan of romance novels, period films, tarot cards, red wine, teen soaps, chocolate chip cookies, sundresses and anything involving my family.
At the Iowa Playwrights Workshop, I was contemptuously labeled “pathologically hetero-normative.” Ironic, I thought, for someone drawn so strongly to society’s unlit corners and unheard voices. So I leaned in: Here comes Emily with her pink bows and new pages for her play about sex offenders and the prison system — I am drawn to these unexplored corners.
I grew up in rural Virginia, a girl raised by strong women, chief among them my loudly opinionated matriarchal mother. I learned to mentor my two younger sisters, and encourage them to be their own women as well. My aunt and her daughter occupied the home behind ours, and Grandma was never far away. Dad was there too, bless his heart. The house was cacophonous (and still can be), echoing with the shouts and squeals and laughs and tears of so many women; family meals were our own personal appointment dramas. It’s a happy, warm place in which I don’t quite fit: They’re Southern conservatives who love the Commonwealth of Virginia more than the greater good (and will tell you so). It’s not a safe space for me, politically, in terms of the social justice conversations I would like to have, and yet I love to visit. It’s familiar and vibrant and reminds me what so much of “America” looks like. This is the world I come from, and it inspires the art I want to make.
My work is fed by my desire to understand others, especially people on the fringes, and uncovering what motivates them; I like to turn my characters on their sides and see what shakes out. I approach my plays from a place of perpetual curiosity, wrestling with the questions polite society is afraid to ask. Prior to playwriting, I pursued a PhD in literature where I discovered a love for research, conversational interviews and archiving, all tools that have proved invaluable to my process. Sometimes these questions lead me down dark paths. Other times, my work is inspired by history, such as in The Grand Illusion Show, which tells the story of the first female magician. The subject matter of my plays varies widely, but they’re invariably driven by complex women and their struggles, frustrations, victories and desires.
The theater I write often takes the shape of an academic argument — I want my audience to be left with questions, ones which they’ll hopefully ask themselves again, and which will inform reconsiderations of their pre-existing perceptions. The theater experience places strangers in a room, side-by-side, to share an experience, and then ask, “What did you think?” I aspire to surprise, evoke, and delight my audience. My greatest wish is for my work to create genuine conversation and discussion, encouraging my audience to empathize with a character they might never have considered caring about before.