UMass Boston’s Ema Almon wins Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship

Ema Almon, a senior at UMass Boston.

UMass Boston student Ema Almon recently won the prestigious Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship. Along with winning a $500 scholarship, Almon is now set to represent UMass Boston at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. The Mass Media sat down with her for an interview. 

Question: What is your year and major at UMass Boston?

Answer: I am a senior in my last semester, and I am a Theater Arts major with an English minor.

Q: What was the application process like for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship?

A: So, it's less of an application process and more of a nomination process. So at the end of every performance that UMass Boston puts on, generally two students from that production are selected as actors to represent the university at the Kennedy Center Festival. And then, depending on the size of the cast and the people we have, they'll usually try to pick at least two alternates in case one actor or both actors can't participate. So after our Zoom production of "The Party Hop," I and my friends Phaedra Ferrini and Lola Balogun were nominated, but Lola could not participate so Phaedra stepped in.

Q: What does winning this award mean to you?

A: It means a lot! That's such a cliche answer, but I've been going to the festival every year since I was a freshman, and so it means a lot to me just because it's something—even though I haven't been nominated four times, I feel as though it's something I've been working towards for four years, because I went as a partner, a partner, a nominee, and then a nominee again. So it feels like a culmination of everything I've been working on for these last four years.

Q: So you're going to be representing UMass Boston at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in Washington D.C. in April. How are you feeling about that?

A: I'm feeling unbelievably excited. More than anything else, my partner Sky and I have been saying we're just excited to get back on our feet again, because this whole process has been online, so it just doesn't feel the same. And that is sad, but at the end of the day we're making it back to where we always wanted to be, so I'm very excited.

Q: And what happens at that festival in D.C.?

A: I believe it's going to be—I don't know exactly how long, but the KCACTF splits the country up into eight different regions throughout the continental United States, and so it will be me and Sky Chin, plus seven other nominees and their partners from different parts of the U.S. all flown into D.C., to—for lack of a better term—compete against each other again with the same material we brought to our original regional round. But, I believe from what I heard that there's more of a focus on the community aspect and the learning and the workshops than the competition—not to say that that's not also a big part of it, obviously, but I'm most looking forward to getting my feet back into the art of theater.

Q: How has your time at UMass Boston helped you hone your acting skills?

A: Oh my god—how hasn't it? UMass Boston—[...] people will look down on places like UMass Boston I think in terms of being an "art school" because we're not an art school, we're a state school, and I think that's a whole load of baloney. We provide such a really—I don't know if this is the right word, but I've been calling it a secular approach to theater arts. So had I chosen to go to some place with, for example, a conservatory style teaching, like Emerson, or BU even, or BoCo or something like that, I would've shown up as an actor and I would've left as an actor, whereas with UMass Boston, you're a Theater Arts B.A. as opposed to B.F.A., so you learn a little bit of everything. And I think that—you know, you think that specialized training is what's going to make you better, but I think that my inclusion in all aspects of theater has actually helped me more-so [than], not almost anything else, but it's helped me in ways I wouldn't have known otherwise. So I showed up and I learned acting from Carrie Ann Quinn, I've learned costuming from Rafael Jaen, there's been set classes and design classes and everything. If you only know one aspect of the theater, you don't know the theater. And so I think that you have to know something else in order to be a good actor, and I think that's so much of what's made me feel better about my performances today.

Q: So you're going to be playing Lizzy in this semester's production of "Pride and Prejudice," can you tell me a little bit about that?

A: Yes I can, it's going to be so much fun! It's a super whimsical [...] production; not your grandmother's Austen, or whatever they call it. It's really goofy and fun and wholesome and fresh, and I'm really excited to be taking on the role of Lizzy because she's new for me. We tried to put this up like two years ago when I was a sophomore, and then he who shall not be named [COVID-19] hit, so everything got cut off short and I played a different character then, so we all came back and re-auditioned, and I think everyone that came back is in a new role, so it's a completely new experience for everyone involved. There's old faces and new faces, and the script is brilliant, and Carrie Ann is brilliant, so it's going to be wonderful.

Q: What are your plans following college?

A: Well I would like to stay in Boston because I think that the Boston theater scene has a lot to offer still, and I think the only way for the scene to grow even beyond what it already is is for people to be willing to stay, as opposed to go[ing] somewhere like New York or L.A. I'd like to look into grad schools at some point in my life, but I'm not stressed about doing that right now, because I think I need to figure out a more specific track to take. But other than that, I'm just going to keep working and trying to make art whenever I can.

"Pride and Prejudice" opens on April 7 in the University Hall Theatre; stay tuned for ticket information.

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