Q&A: Mark Emerson from “The Phantom of the Opera”

As an actor in “The Phantom of the Opera,” UCSD alumnus Mark Emerson introduces his view on the spectacular new production of the ever-popular Broadway classic that is currently touring across North America. The cast will be performing in San Diego from Oct. 7 to Oct. 18. Mark plays the Auctioneer and understudies Monsieur André, one of the principal roles in “Phantom,” and is a part of the male ensemble.

G: This is a “spectacular new production” of “The Phantom of the Opera.” How is the production “spectacular” and “new”?

M: This is a different production than the previous one, which is the brilliant original production that’s on Broadway. It is in honor of the 25th anniversary of the [musical], and it’s still the same great score that everyone has yearned for and fallen in love with, but it’s got different design aspects and it’s got all the technology that’s been updated for 2015. So the chandelier does some pretty spectacular things. And it’s being directed with a slightly different sensibility. It’s a little bit more naturalistic, and a little bit more toward today’s audiences.

G: What is your favorite part of the show?

M: I feel really lucky that I have a pretty full part of the show that I do every night. As the Auctioneer, I introduce and call in the chandelier, which is the iconic fixture in the show. You’ll see when you see the show that our chandelier sends from the ceiling and I get to be on stage when that iconic overture is played. That’s my favorite part.

G: What kind of life experience has helped you portray your character?

M: I definitely couldn’t have done the show without my MFA training from UCSD, that’s for sure. I got my MFA in acting from the UCSD program and spent three years there. You know, it is one of the most renowned and highly regarded acting programs in the country. I spent three years studying acting, voice training, physical training, and all of those aspects just prepare you for anything that’s thrown at you. We do “Phantom of the Opera” eight times each week, every single week, and I’ve done the tour for almost three years. So I have been trained in the show eight times each week, every single week, for three whole years. This allowed me to have that endurance both vocally and physically. The training also brought me the artistic chops to find new things and to make it seem like you are creating these people and the circumstances in the moment. That is something [for which] I definitely got the tools in my UCSD training.

G: How’s working on “Phantom” compared to the things you’ve worked on in the past?

M: I mostly have been doing small plays around the country, plays in New York City, for friends and for almost no money. This is quite shocking and [it’s a] blessing to be able to go across the country to all these truly spectacular theaters that have between 1500 and 3000 seats and different performance stages to perform on. It’s very different from my normal acting days in New York City. It’s being able to meet people, a lot of kids across the country. Many teenagers are very excited about Broadway shows coming to their towns — they can’t come to New York to see all the shows they want to see. They love theaters and musicals. Now they get their chance to see what they want to see. This is also the exciting part of touring.

G: What inspired you to become an actor?

M: In high school I was always in the bands and the choir. One year they did a musical and I was a drummer in the band. They needed someone to play the drums for the production of the musical. I watched everybody have fun every night. We got one line as the band to say in the show. The feeling of being a part of the show was exciting for me, and it made me want to audition for the next show that they had. That got me into performing, and once I started doing it, I just felt it was a natural fit for me. It was fun to perform with my friends and to explore all these other characters. And then I went to undergraduate at Northwestern University, outside of Chicago. I was a theater major there. Just seeing the musicals in Chicago and having my mind broadened by what kind of different plays there are out there was really inspiring to me, and kept me wanting to pursue acting.

G: Do you have any specific advice for aspiring actors studying at UCSD?

M: It is a great idea to get training as an actor, and they have great training at UCSD. It is the matter of trying out all the different tools that acting teachers can provide you with, and finding which ones are helpful to you. Try to get as much experience as you can, figure out what works for you, what doesn’t work for you, try to get as much work as you can, which is really, really difficult. Foster your relationship with people you are going to school with — a lot of them are the people you end up working with later on. I worked with a lot of UCSD grads in New York City and those relationships are really important.