Arts & Culture
Emily Stern, daughter of Howard, became the object of many Internet searches when she appeared nude as Madonna in the satirical play, Kabbalah, at the Jewish Theatre of New York in 2006. Though she pulled out of the production as … Read More
Emily Stern, daughter of Howard, became the object of many Internet searches when she appeared nude as Madonna in the satirical play, Kabbalah, at the Jewish Theatre of New York in 2006. Though she pulled out of the production as soon as compromising photos began surfacing—and her father’s company threatened to sue the producers for exploiting her—she’s never stopped performing. Now she’s starring as Echo, an alien-loving teen in Jonas Oppenheim’s Earth Sucks, at Art/Works in Los Angeles. We emailed with Emily about how musical theater is like sex. Favorite television shows: Being in this body is so much stimulation… Good thing I can change channels with my breath and mind… Otherwise I’d be getting up all the time! Guilty pleasure: Being Advisor. Last book read: I have been staying with a friend who also houses amazing books! I have been reading Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim. Was blessed in picking up Leonard Cohen’s Book of Mercy, and just found a copy of Carlos Castaneda’s The Art of Dreaming next to my bed! Favorite new-ish album: Coming in October 2008, Rabbi Andrew Hahn’s album Kirtan Rabbi: Live! (I am also chanting on it as a member of his "posse").
Favorite old-ish album: New, but timeless, Shir Yaakov’s EP, Shir. Best part of New York: There are lights everywhere. Best part of LA: Being here. Favorite Jewish holiday food: Manischewitz. Worst vice: Facebook. Something you truly can’t stand: on Stilts. Something you truly can’t live without: Awareness. Big hope: That I Am. Fantasy mate: Soul Connecting Psychic Expansive Supportive Love. Your idea of hell: Forgetting…. Just For Getting. Or…Anyone other than President Obama in the White House. You’re a lifelong New Yorker spending a few months in L.A. for your new play. What’s the transition been like? What do you miss most? What’s been the best discovery? In terms of transition, I notice first the air. I know people talk about the smog, but I did not notice, which made me reflect on the possibility of some psychic smog for me in New York. I am enjoying California very much largely for this reason. It feels that there is a lot of space out here. Very physically, metaphorically, all in all. Of course, in Earth Sucks, I play a space-obsessed teenager. What differences do you see in the theater communities in New York vs. Los Angeles? Do they parallel the stereotypical differences between New Yorkers and Californians? Each show feels so unique, and I have come across exceptionally beautiful and permissive working environments in New York. This show, however, holds a kind of joy because much of the cast identify as musicians. I enjoy acting with them because a lot of the time they just speak on stage, and are also easily impressed. Musical theater isn’t exactly the hippest genre in performance these days—how did you decide to pursue a career as a singing actress? Were you one of those kids who came out of the womb singing and dancing? I remember thinking one day in High School that the songs in musicals were kinda like sex… that the feelings gets so heightened that they must spill over into a song. This is an interesting question because in Earth Sucks the aliens end up teaching us Earthlings about "The Age of Song" where song is mode of communication. My character, Echo, uses song because she must express herself, and this is her voice. All the characters have some kind of very telling relationship to song. A main thing for Echo is that her father, Superscientist Max Bell, is unable to sing with her. All the healing takes place through song. Tell me what you mean by "being in this body is so much stimulation?" How do you "change channels with [your] breath and mind?" Breathing, loving, imagining, feeling… any of these human things. What is a Being Advisor and what do they do for you? What a wonderful way to view this. When I wrote that my guilty pleasure was "Being Advisor" for my friends and family, I had meant assuming that I know what is best for another human being. I love this "Being Advisor" position because I now understand that it is about being a "being advisor", which puts being ahead of I am right. You’re obviously well-versed in Jewish fiction. Did you read a lot of it growing up? I like to read, and was drawn to stories of magic and symbols. I found a home as a child in musical theater for these reasons. A foundational element of most American musicals is that it be set in some fantastical context because it is typically a escapist genre, but these symbolic stories, where light usually prevails, were spiritual snacks for me growing up, and so I continue to look to them. I feel, for instance, that Peter Pan is the story of the pieces of Wendy all vying for a voice, on the eve that her father mandates that she transition from sleeping in the Nursery with her younger siblings. Traditionally, the role of Captain Hook was played by the same actor playing her father. I do not deem one realm as more important or significant than another. Stories like Rent, Oklahoma, or West Side Story reclaim and glorify "every day life" with song and dance. "Earth Sucks" carries all these elements because it deals with the new frontier of Space as a means of dealing with a generalized cultural "Is this All? Eternity inside a mall?" A teenage Echo Bell sings "The Universe is Expanding. Some thing’s landing, something good," Of course, her universe is expanding, her body, her desires, her questions, her mind, and continues to expand throughout the play, even through all the angst. Culturally speaking, it is important to think of Earth finding her place in the cosmos, expanding, and shifting towards a new consciousness. Talk to me more about songs in musicals being like sex. I don’t think many of us commonly associate the two. Most things are like sex if we are thinking about Unification, and practicing wholeness. This is why eating is so highly erotic. It’s all about the joy of release, so this is what the songs are. I am answering this question now in a different context than when I first brought this concept up. In "Earth Sucks", The Alien lead singer, Fluhbluhbluh (his name is even sounds like a release, like a horse sigh) says multiple times, "allow me to explain. In song." Even violence becomes un-doable in the play, and so it is all about releasing into song, flow, joy, light, love, expression, which eventually elevate or transport, much like the songs in a musical. You talk about eating as erotic. What’s your favorite meal? Whatever "hits the spot!" I know you have a solo album in the works –what’s it like? Like an adventurous suppertime snack.
And now, the elephant in the room – your dad. I would be remiss not to ask about him. Is he a musical theater fan? No.
What music did he expose you to growing up? Some heavy metal. Do you think being his daughter has made your career easier or more difficult to embark on?
I don’t know. it feels like a big lunch with way too much salt, but the leftovers seem to be getting better.