EOU graduate nominated for top acting honor

By Dick Mason, The Observer April 04, 2014 11:00 am

Emily Nash, left, appears with actor Sean Cook in a production of “Almost Maine’’  in Bellingham, Wash., last summer.
Emily Nash, left, appears with actor Sean Cook in a production of “Almost Maine’’ in Bellingham, Wash., last summer.

Emily Nash is a finalist for the Irene Ryan Award

Emily Nash, an actress with deep 

La Grande roots, is six minutes from an acting pinnacle. 

A graduate student at the University of Idaho, Nash is one of 16 finalists for the Irene Ryan Award, named for the actress who portrayed “Granny” on the CBS TV show “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Few if any collegiate acting 

acting awards are more prestigious.


"It is huge  honor to be chosen (as finalist),” said Nash, who grew up in La Grande and is a 2003 Eastern Oregon University graduate.


Nash, 33, will represent a 10-state region in the  Irene Ryan competition  April 14-18 at  the American College Theater Festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.


All finalists will be judged solely on how they  perform two acting scenes with a partner and  a monologue, all in a period of six minutes. The performances are ones Ryan and the other finalists have been rehearsing for months.


The American College Theater Festival is a magical event, Nash said, one which brings performers together with a competitive yet supportive environment.


"It is a huge celebration of college theater. It is a celebration of our work as theater artists,” said Nash, the daughter of Ron Nash and Peggy Nash, both of La Grande.


Nash was nominated for the Irene Ryan Award  because of her performance in a production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth  Night” at the University of Idaho in 2013.


Nash, 33, has been performing in plays since she was about 8 and auditioning for parts  even longer. Nash was 4 when she made her first audition, one for a part as a munchkin in a Wizard of Oz  production at EOU. She did not get the part.


"I was disappointed but it did not stop me from pursuing my love of theater,” Nash said.


Nash  credits the theater experience she gained while growing up in La Grande and her time at Eastern with playing an important role in her success. Faculty who influenced her at EOU include theater professor Ken Bush, who taught Nash the Constantin Stanislavski method of acting. She also learned from Bush said that acting is not about putting on a character.


"It is about staying as close to yourself as possible by revealing parts of yourself in different circumstances,” Nash said.


Nash said she was also influenced significantly at Eastern by theater professors April Curtis and Mark Kuntz, who has since left EOU. Curtis, now a communications professor at Eastern, first worked with Nash when she was a high school student


"She was just amazing, even then she was luminous on stage,” Curtis said.


Curtis remembers what it was like having Nash in an Acting I class.


"She was probably the most creative person in the class. She had an ability to transform herself into just about anything,” Curtis said.

Curtis added that Nash is a remarkable makeup artist.


"She can transform a face the way she can transform herself into a character on stage,” Curtis said.


Curtis describes Nash as a delightful person to be around and work with.

"She is always looking to help people. Some people in entertainment have large egos but I never saw that in her,” Curtis said.


Nash has used what she has learned via her studies in more than theater. She recently made three  30-second three television commercials for Washington Trust Bank.


"(Making a television commercial) requires a different skill set. It is a smaller more intimate setting,” Nash said.


The time pressure is greater in commercial making than in theater.


"You have to respond to direction more quickly because your director and everybody is working on the clock,” she said. "I loved doing the work but it is hard  to watch myself on TV. It is a surreal experience.”


Nash, a single mom,  is earning a master of fine arts degree at Idaho, while raising two children, performing in a production each semester and working as a theater instructor at the university. Nash does not know where her career will take her, but she is fairly certain she  will stay in the Northwest.


"I am a huge Pacific Northwest fan. I don't want to go anywhere,” Nash said.


Nash hopes to remain close to theater for the rest of her life, working as an actress, teacher and  a dance choreographer. She speaks like she can not imagine getting away from theater because of the ambience of the environment enveloping it.


"The feeling of a  sense of community (in the theater world), there is nothing else like it in the world,” Nash said.