Emily Joe: Interview With A Stage And Art Professional
Emily Joe has been a working professional in theatre, film, and television for just shy of a decade. She gained her experience and knowledge from working in various regional theatres ever since high school and recently made the jump to pursue film and television, holding previous roles of Stage Management PA at the Pasadena Playhouse, Geffen Playhouse and several other regional theatres and more recently as Art Department PA for Netflix and on the Amazon series Hunters. Emily is an all-rounder and ‘jack of all trades’, describing herself as a creative, which manifests in her work and hobbies which include photography and playing drums and guitar. During the quarantine period she was prop master for Laura Bell Bundy’s music video, American Girl.
As part of our series celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, we are shining the spotlight on our AAPI friends working across the Arts and entertainment industries.
Hi Emily, thanks for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! How are you doing, and how are you coping with the pandemic at the moment?
Hey! Thank you so much for including me and celebrating AAPI heritage. I’m happy to be here. I’m doing well, definitely better than last year. It’s feeling like things are returning to some semblance of normal now, so that’s reassuring. 2020 was a really tough year but now, I am fully vaccinated and I’ve returned to work so I am feeling the weight of it all starting to lift.
How did you get your start in the industry, and what first inspired you and drew you to the Arts?
Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be an artist. It took me a while to figure out what form that might take. I learned about backstage theatre work early on, when I was about 11. My mom was involved in theatre doing costuming, and had taken me to see plays at a fairly young age. I’d always had an interest in film, but once that theatre bug bit me I couldn’t stay away. It was also seeing Wicked for the first time at 12 or 13 years old that cemented the idea in my head that I wanted to pursue this full time.
So I went to work wherever they’d take me, and even though I was young I was eager to learn.
That’s when I landed at The Pasadena Playhouse, I started working as an intern then as a PA when I was a senior in high school. From there I was doing miscellaneous community theatre shows and events and eventually moved on to larger spaces and projects. It’s been nonstop from one show to the next since then!
How did your path progress from starting out in the industry to where you are now, and what did that journey look like?
It was tough for me at first because the gig life is a hard one. I started as an intern learning from different stage managers and mentors, learning how it all worked and what the job was about. There were a few theatres I got good work at, but it took a lot of hard work and gaining more experience before I was able to start branching out and working bigger gigs. It took years before I ended up joining IATSE 33 as a union stagehand, and even then I had already started to transition more into film. I spent most of my adolescence doing very physical work for very little money.
It’s also a largely cis-male dominated industry, so those days where I was working with men who didn’t think me qualified to be there made it very hard.
I think it definitely affected my confidence before I realized that feeling that they were somehow superior to me was 100% false. Once I got past that feeling of inadequacy I became much more confident in the workplace and that made me feel a lot better about how I was going to carry myself in my career.
What have been your favourite moments or career highlights so far?
Career highlights for me have always existed within the shows themselves. To be standing backstage, looking on and watching the stories unfold right in front of you is such a unique and irreplaceable experience. To hear the audience’s reactions every night, and how the cast might perform little differences here or there.
The beauty of live theatre is really what kept me coming back. I think I read somewhere someone talked about how theatre is like a ghost, it’s there in one moment and then it’s gone. You can record it for posterity but it won’t be the same, you’ll never have that same experience twice at a live show. There’s no feeling in the world like it.
The shows that have touched me the most that I’ve worked on have been A Night with Janis Joplin, Our Town, and Ragtime. All of them were at the Pasadena Playhouse, so that place obviously holds a lot of sentiment for me.
And conversely, what has been the biggest obstacle or challenge you’ve overcome in your work?
There have been some really hard projects that I didn’t anticipate being that hard, and it was overwhelming. I got through it though, and the biggest takeaway was I could learn what my limits were and how to handle similar situations in the future. Every experience is a learning experience.
I also feel like it took me a long time to get people to take me seriously. And that’s still true even now, depending on the project. I was really young when I started, so I was gaining experience a lot earlier than most people had in their careers. So in a way I got to a certain level at an earlier point in my life than others might’ve, and because of that I felt like I was constantly being dismissed for my age. Also the fact that I am a woman of color in a very white male dominated industry. The fact that the men I work with are so shocked to see I am strong enough to lift whatever heavy thing I’ve probably lifted a thousand times before is getting really tiring!
What advice would you give to your younger self if you could go back in time? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
I would tell my younger self not to be so afraid to ask questions and to really be more aware of the ‘teachability’ of every experience you encounter. I wish I knew that then, to just take more in, ask more questions. And to not put so much pressure on myself to be in a certain place or to be doing certain things.
Don’t compare your success to others! Everyone’s journey is different. Just focus on what you want and how to get it.
And looking to the future, what can we look forward to next from you? Are you currently working on anything?
Yes I just started on the Amazon series Hunters for season 2 in the art department, and I am hoping for the opportunity to join IATSE 44 and pursue more work in the props department. In the meantime I hope to make more of my own stories, to create and collaborate with other people who inspire me and will join me in my efforts to become a filmmaker and really explore that craft.
I am also currently seeking contributors to an anthology I am putting together that highlights the female/non-binary experience working in technical theatre. If you or anyone you know might like to contribute or learn more, please feel free to reach out to me, I’d love to expand more on the project and elevate the marginalized voices of us working in this industry.
@mysonemilyjoe on Instagram