Sometimes the memorable teachers are the ones who scare you most.
Emily Putnam recalls an acting professor at Ithaca College who walked in on the first day, stoic and scarily calm, who didn’t say a word. “We were all sitting there terrified, you know? Twelve sophomore students, and she creates this atmosphere of the highest stakes imaginable,” Emily describes. “I’ll never forget that class.”
While Emily wants to emulate the educational environments she thrived in, I don’t think she’ll be walking into one of her classes at Rochester Brainery with the intention of scaring her students. Still, we think she will be just as memorable. Through her monthly play-reading series, Emily aims to expand students’ breadth of knowledge of dramatic literature by introducing works previously unknown in the Rochester community.
After completing her degree in Drama at Ithaca College, Emily moved back to Rochester. As a Webster Native, Emily is well known in the local theatre community. She currently works the front desk at Spectrum Creative Arts and the box office at Geva Theatre Center in addition to performing in area productions. Her introduction to Spectrum Creative Arts was through her title role in “The Rainbow Fish,” an original musical composed by former Spectrum Creative Arts staffer, Alec Powell.
Unlike many of her classmates and theatre students nationwide, Emily didn’t make the move to New York City. She tells me that though she “caught the bug” to perform at an early age, “there’s so much to be said about bringing art to your own community.” While Emily recognizes the number of theatre and dance companies popping up each week in Rochester-- or so it seems-- she identifies a “serious need” for theatre art in this community. Emily explains, “I’m constantly trying to figure out how I fit into the bigger picture, and how I can work with my friends and colleagues to identify what the need is for theatre art in this city, and how we can help make that happen.”
Emily is successfully backing this mission through her classes at Rochester Brainery. Growing up, Emily admired teachers that pushed her out of her comfort zone. For her series specifically, she aims to use the texts that have affected her the most in class. During her first session, Emily brought “The Taming” by Lauren Henderson. She felt this was perfect, because the play is an “edgy political comedy, and it was one that not many of the students had heard of before.” This allowed her to “push students with the material.” For her next class, students will be reading “God of Carnage” by Yasmina Reza.
This is Emily’s first time as a formal teacher, though she did have a couple of opportunities to assistant direct or work in auxiliary roles growing up. She admits, “whenever I got the opportunity to lead a section of rehearsal, it sort of felt like I could finally put my fingerprint on something, make it my own.” For her, teaching a class is very similar. She goes on to say, “I think part of the reason so many artists switch over to teaching is because in order to be an effective performer, you have to really have an intimate understanding of how to teach and how to learn.”
“Obviously,” Emily laughs “teaching a play-reading series isn’t a full time job, but I would love to continue teaching and see where this takes me.” Education becomes a test of self discipline as you grow older, but Emily recognizes that teaching others offers an opportunity for her to learn as well. She may even settle into teaching here in Rochester. Emily explains, “I’m not writing off the possibility of relocating, but this has been a very welcoming place in the post-college limbo.”
No matter where Emily’s career takes her in the future, you can bet she’ll be performing in some capacity. She says, “I’ve gone through periods in my life without performing and it’s just been-- the creative energy gets halted. Performing is something I will always do.” She continues her stint in Rochester theatre as Peggy Sawyer in RAPA’s upcoming production of 42nd Street (April 21-30th).
Favorite play: How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel
“I'll never forget the way that play resonated with me -- I saw it exactly when I needed to.”
Favorite musical: Next to Normal by Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt
“I picked it off of a random list, went to it and was floored.”
Favorite spot in Rochester: The Playhouse & Swillburger
“Delicious food and lots of games -- what's not to love? I'm waiting for the day they get Skee-ball, though. That the day I move in.”
Check out tickets Emily’s January and February sessions of The Play’s the Thing: A Monthly Play Reading Series here.