Some people just can’t help but live and breathe theatre 24/7, and Emilie Baartman, playing Myrtle Mae Simmons in The Naples Players’ upcoming production of Harvey, is at the top of that list.
From a young age, Emilie remembers attending community theatre camps and watching her dad perform on stage. “I’ve been doing theatre since I was a kid. I was first inspired to perform because of my dad. At one point my dad was doing a show called The Sanders Family Christmas. He was sitting in the living room practicing his guitar and singing and going over his lines and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, I want to do what he’s doing. I want to be on stage with him.’”
“My first show was A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I was a fairy, and I didn’t have any lines, but it didn’t matter. After that show, I knew that I wanted to do theater forever. I think even then I just knew that it was going to be a huge part of my life. It makes me feel more human and it’s had an incredible impact on my life.”
Through community theatre, Emilie began working with performers of multiple ability levels. “I love teaching people how to use theatre as a way to express themselves, build their confidence and communication skills, imagination, and help them grow.” Emilie says her background in inclusive performance has helped her in a multitude of ways. “It helped me as an educator and a performer, and discover what I want to do. I’m autistic, so for me to be able to do theater is something that has helped me grow so much, whether it’s backstage, on stage, or working the front-of-house.”
She says, “When I went to college, I was set on becoming a film actor, but randomly one day I was given the opportunity to help out with an all ability production of The Wizard of Oz. I helped the actors backstage and during rehearsals. I had a friend who was in the hospital during the day of auditions, so I went to the hospital and filmed an audition video for her to send to the director. She ended up getting the role of Dorothy. That whole experience made me realize that I was really passionate about inclusive theatre and theatre education. This focus helped me get a job at Black Hills Playhouse right after graduation, and ultimately end up here in Naples. To this date, I will find an opportunity to do inclusive theatre and provide an outlet for those who need theatre as a way to express themselves, and find their confidence and voice.”
For Emilie, there’s no one thing that makes theatre special – but instead it’s a mixture, or “smorgasbord” of all of it. “Honestly, I can’t survive without theatre. It sounds cliche, but I absolutely need to do theatre every single second. Even when I catch myself thinking, ‘I need a break,’ I still somehow find myself coming back to it almost immediately. I can’t imagine not living and breathing theatre 24/7. Everything about it draws me in – the community, the cast, performing. When you’re on stage, you get to be a completely different person. You get to take a step away from reality and live in someone else’s shoes – see someone else’s perspective. It’s really a gift that a lot of us actors overlook sometimes.”
The community here is one of the things that keeps Emilie involved. After moving to Naples in June of 2019 to work as the education assistant at Gulfshore Playhouse, Emilie quickly got involved with nearly every community theatre in the area – The Naples Players and beyond. “The art community within Naples is very intertwined. I love connecting with so many people and knowing their stories and them as human beings. It’s just an incredible feeling all being together. The patrons too! Everyone is so incredible and so supportive! It’s unlike anywhere else! Everyone here, regardless of wealth or background, loves the arts! Seeing everyone’s love for theatre and cooperation through writing, producing, directing, donating, volunteering – everything, collectively brings everyone together.”
After starring in Boeing, Boeing at TNP, and volunteering backstage on multiple occasions, Emilie has been itching for her next opportunity to perform on our stage. “I went into the rehearsal process for Harvey thinking that this would be just a kooky, fun comedy, like the movie. But on the first day of rehearsal, our director, Paul Graffy, pointed out that at the center of this show is a lot of heart. Despite being constantly told he’s crazy or wrong for seeing a six-foot-tall rabbit, Elwood P. Dowd shows kindness to everyone who he meets. He takes the time to talk to everyone, bring them flowers, and really acknowledge their presence. He’s the least selfish of anyone in the show and is the embodiment of compassion and being a good person. Paul’s whole perspective and direction of this show is really exciting, and I think will be a lot of fun for the audience to see. The characters are great. The actors are great. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have a great time!”
Harvey is on stage from Jan. 10 – 28 offsite at Naples United Church of Christ in McSpadden Hall while The Naples Players’ historic 5th Ave S building undergoes a $20 million renovation. General tickets are $49, and season ticket holders are offered a price of $39. Those interested can visit NaplesPlayers.org anytime or call the TNP Box Office at 239-263-7990.