Johnson City Community Theatre performer talks about love for theater

Brandon Paykamian • Jun 16, 2019 at 7:53 PM

Emily Fleenor first realized she wanted to act when she experienced a live production of the “Wizard of Oz.” As a child new to the arts, she said it was a pivotal moment in her life. 

“As my mom tells it, I was literally on the edge of my seat holding onto to the seat in front of me the entire show. I was absolutely captivated by what was going on on stage,” she said. 

After that, Fleenor was determined to take to the stage. She found herself trying her hand at a number of productions after realizing theater was one her life’s callings. 

“A few years later, when I was in elementary school, they had auditions for ‘Cinderella’ at Theatre Bristol, and of course, I went to that. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a lot of child characters, and so I wasn’t cast in that,” she said. “They asked, ‘Would anyone like to read for the wicked stepmother?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’d do that.’

“I was very ambitious and excited to be part of that world.”

On Thursday evening, Fleenor was preparing for a rehearsal for Johnson City Community Theatre’s ongoing production of Noel Coward’s “Blithe Spirit,” in which she plays the eccentric clairvoyant, Madame Arcati. The production, which runs until June 23, is directed by her childhood friend, Will Oliver. 

“Will and I talk often about how theater is almost like therapy for us, as both actors and directors,” she said. “Some people go to the gym and they work out their emotional struggles there physically. Then there are people like Will and I who come to the theater.

“This is the place where we feel like we can express ourselves creatively and dive into our emotions in a way that’s shameless, and we don’t have to put up any fronts.”

The Johnson City Community Theatre and local theater, in general, holds a special place in both of their hearts. Fleenor said it’s all about “bringing joy to those on the stage and in the seats,” and working to give the audience an immersive and often interactive experience. 

“You can come to see a show on Friday and it will be a totally different show experience on Sunday afternoon, and that’s what I think is the beauty of live theater. It’s experiential and something where the audience is almost a part of a production, especially in a place like ours where the audience is right there,” she said. “I think that’s one of the beautiful things about live theater.” 

Fleenor said it’s rewarding for performers to see all the elements of the performances at the community theater come together. A lot of work and effects go into each production, she said. 

“There are so many people who contribute to this,” she said. “Not all of them are actors. Those who are on the stage are just a small portion of the entire crew that makes something like this possible.”

Throughout her time performing on stage, Fleenor said she has taken inspiration from her childhood acting coach, Sabrina King, and her nana, Ilene Simcox, who she said passed away last year.

For the first time, Fleenor said her nana was unable to attend her opening night performance. 

“That was a little bit of an emotional journey for me,” she said. 

“She, as well as Sabrina, both taught me that it was alright to be who I am and that I have something to offer the world creatively,” she continued. “I think that’s really driven my entire journey not only as an actor but also just in life.” 

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