The Prepared Mind: An Interview with Emma Van Lare

By Claire L. Wong and Alejandra Maria Rivas

Emma Van Lare grew up in Spring, Texas, 22 miles from Houston. Her parents immigrated from the Republic of Ghana in West Africa. “I’m first-generation Ghanaian American,” Van Lare says, “so I think I’m of two places, actually.” When planning out her career, Van Lare sat her parents down and told them, “Look. I am not going to business school. I want to be an actor.” Her mom said, “Okay, but you have to treat it like a business. It can’t be a hobby.”

Emma Van Lare. Photo by Deborah Lopez. 

“I appreciated that,” Van Lare says, “because my mom’s a doctor, my dad’s an insurance business guy. Their background was, [dramatic voice] ‘Education is the way! The truth and the light!’ I appreciated them telling me that, because it showed that they were not rigid, they were very supportive. In creative work, you have to be your own engine and treat it like a business even if you’re not making money from it. It’s the only way you’ll survive.” Van Lare recently graduated from A.C.T.’s three-year MFA Program and we spoke with her about her time here.

Can you describe your experience in the Program?
This program has really expanded my breadth of expression and taught me to trust my expression, however extreme or small. It taught me more about truth, and expressing that no matter whether it’s prickly or not.

Emma Van Lare in California Shakespeare Theater's 2019 production of House of Joy. Photo by Kevin Berne. 

What’s your favorite part of the Program?
The people. I’ve been very lucky to have a class that is supportive, but also challenges you to do [laughswhat you must do. To work through difficulty. And not just my class, but also the people who work at A.C.T. They’re awesome. I appreciate this place for the community it has given me. In terms of my training, the thing that I appreciate the most is the movement curriculum. It was very hard, but it helped my work in ways I didn’t expect.

Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by people that really follow their passions, because I feel like that’s what I’m trying to do.

What’s your dream role?
I want to be in some sci-fi fantasy [sweeps arms], some magical, Afro-futuristic kind of world. They’re coming, those worlds. We’re seeing a lot more of it in television and film. In the theatrical canon, I want a bigger breadth of expression for Black people and people of color and marginalized groups. I want stories about us existing, not just out of oppression. I want big concepts, I want like, Star Wars, but Black people. That’s cool.

Jeff Wittekiend (A.C.T. MFA 2020) and Emma Van Lare in A.C.T.'s 2019 production of A Christmas Carol. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Do you have a personal mission statement?
I have two things. My mom says, “Don’t get lost in the forest.” Don’t get bogged down by day-to-day minutiae. As long as you know what your goal is, that can refocus you to stop worrying about what this person’s doing over here, what they’re saying to you.

The other is a quote from the scientist Louis Pasteur (he came up with the pasteurization process). He said, “In fields of observation, chance favors only the prepared mind.” I think it really applies to creative people. We always hear stories of people that are super successful in entertainment, and people make it seem like they became good at this thing overnight. And that’s not true; they have years of experience that we don’t see. If they hadn’t had all of the successes and failures behind them, they wouldn’t have been prepared for that moment. “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

Check out A.C.T.’s MFA Program Class of 2020 here.

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