BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Emma Morse went to Bloomfield High School’s production of “Grease” in 2011 and decided that she wanted to do that eventually.
An elementary school student at the time, she had to wait another few years to audition for a BHS theater production, but she eventually did make it to the auditorium’s stage and then some: Morse was in all 11 productions that the BHS thespians put on during her four years in high school. This earned the 2021 graduate the high school’s inaugural Thespian Society “All-In Award.”
The award is given to a cast, crew or production-staff member who has done every show during their four years of high school. BHS theater arts teacher Brandon Doemling said in an email to The Independent Press on June 17 that, “The person who embodies this award is consistent, in terms of their committed participation in the program; they are persistent in the pursuit of excellence in their own craft; and they are resistant to the distractions of offstage drama, or ‘too small’ parts, or an inner call for ‘down time.’”
Aside from forensic reading in middle school, Morse hadn’t done a lot of performing before she got to BHS. And unlike a lot of other high school thespians, she wasn’t involved in theater productions outside of BHS.
“We had so many talented people,” she said in a phone interview with The Independent Press on July 3. “With the teachers and the crew, there were so many people to watch. I don’t know whether it was a conscious decision, but I didn’t feel like I needed to find something else. I had everything right at school.”
BHS puts on three shows per year: a play in the fall, a musical in the winter, and a spring production written and curated by students. Aside from the 2020 spring show, which was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Morse was in all of them, from the fall of 2017 through this spring.
“People tend to be more familiar with musicals than they are with plays,” Morse said. “But no one worked harder because it was a musical. Every show we did, we put in the same amount of work. We’re all here to have fun and put on something that we would want to see as well. We just think, ‘OK, now it’s a different show.’”
Eventually, Morse started writing and working on behind-the-scenes production for the performances. Morse wrote a lot of the material for this year’s spring show, “Six Feet Apart.” She had taken screenwriting classes before, and was looking forward to being able to see her friends perform work she’d written.
“When we were writing it this year, we were thinking ‘Do we want to be in it?’” Morse said. “When you’re on stage, you’re thinking about what the work means. On the production side, you’re thinking about helping the actors and lighting and other things.”
Morse did end up performing in the show that she helped write, so she got to be on both sides of the curtain.
“Being able to perform and be in conversation with the director was interesting,” she said. “Having feet on both ends was a big learning experience for me.”
Of the 11 shows she performed in, Morse said it’s difficult to choose the one she liked the best, but a couple of them stand out. This past year’s play, “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein,” imitated a radio play with foley art, which was something BHS had never done before. “The Drowsy Chaperone” was staged right before the pandemic closed schools, so it was the last show anyone saw for a while.
“That gave me the chance to experiment with different things,” she said. “I got a lot from that show, and the feedback was so great. A lot of people didn’t know anything about it but then loved it.”
Morse is heading to Los Angeles in the fall to study screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University. She’s excited to switch gears from stage to screen and learn something new; that was all she ever wanted to do in the first place.
“I just did the shows,” Morse said. “It wasn’t a goal to do every single one and have people look at me. I was lucky enough to get cast in them all, and I left with so much.”
As for the award, she said, “I’m honored to receive it, and I’m glad it’s starting a tradition. I just was a part of the program, and am happy to leave it for the people who will continue to carry it on.”