With Houses on the Moon Theater Company, Emily Weiner has been working diligently for the past seventeen years to amplify society’s unheard voices and facilitate conversations with the goal of social change. She has created, developed, performed in, produced and directed acclaimed new works that address current complex and sensitive human rights issues in partnership with community organizations, and with a talented company of artists that she has nurtured over the years. The company’s original works include Building Houses on the Moon (dealing with LGBTQ youth issues), Tara’s Crossing (focusing on refugees seeking political asylum due to persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity), De Novo (a documentary theater piece about an undocumented immigrant teenager fleeing gang life), TRANSformation (about gender identity issues as they relate to family), The Assignment and gUN COUNTRY (both developed through workshops with people whose lives have been touched by gun violence).
Emily is also a teaching artist who has been facilitating creative workshops in the NYC public schools for the past two decades, specializing in programs with teenagers going through the criminal justice system. She is currently workshopping a new piece on prison reform, Shared Sentences, which focuses on the personal and community loss felt by those close to those who are incarcerated. Earlier this year, Emily received the Josephine Abady League of Professional Theatre Women Award, presented annually to an emerging professional director, producer, or creative director of a work of cultural diversity.
Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
When I was 6 years old, I joined a children’s theater troupe in Boston called The Freelance Players, founded and run by a magnificent woman, Kippy Dewey. She taught me about embracing everybody’s differences and learning how to empathize with others through the magical world of characters and theater. This has always been what theater is really about for me. And I never wanted to do anything else.
What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
I am very grateful for the opportunity, through my work, to meet and collaborate with so many different people from all walks of life. Also, the projects are always growing and changing, so it never gets boring in that fashion. I was never interested in or able to do the same thing in the same place day after day. Every day is different and I find that quite appealing.
What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
That education/training began at 6, and I stuck with it. I pursued an acting specialist degree in college and then moved right to New York City. I studied here with the inimitable Wynn Handman (Artistic Director of the American Place Theatre). He really got my career started.
The opening night curtain call for De Novo, presented as part of the inaugural season of Next Door at New York Theatre Workshop in December 2017. © Russ Rowland.
Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
People are mostly encouraging. There are always the few that try to bring you off course, but my passion was always specific enough in terms of WHY I love theater. My course of direction changed a few times, but once I started my company, the mission was so clear there were no doubts in terms of moving forward and trying to be better.
Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Not doubt. But, yes, I have had fantasies on and off about becoming a veterinarian (too much school/work) and working with wild animals. But no actual attempts yet!
When did your career reach a tipping point?
About a year and a half ago, Houses on the Moon’s Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director, Jeffrey Solomon, moved to LA and had to step down as my day to day artistic partner. I had a lot of anxiety about going “solo,” especially since I knew our company was starting to really thrive and grow in some amazing ways. That was tough. But it was also an exciting time for me, in terms of looking in at myself. At such times, you start to really feel what you are capable of.
Emily presenting the 2018 Leyton Award to immigrant rights activist Ravi Ragbir, Executive Director of The New Sanctuary Coalition, at Houses on the Moon’s 6th Annual Benefit Fundraiser “Amplify 2018” © Russ Rowland.
Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
I would say this is a very common challenge . . . When something you created and built over time starts to gain the attention, interest and passion of others in a larger way — what a wonderful thing to have growing support and help—but, the challenge is in how to hold on to the core of what you created. To maintain your original vision while letting go and letting others in at the same time.
What single skill has proven to be most useful?
I was voted “most friendly” in high school – as silly as that is. I think I have always had very strong interpersonal skills and am able to recognize and embrace people’s strengths. Attracting wonderful individuals and building relationships has been essential.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Generally speaking, following my guts and sticking with it. Specifically with my company, I am most proud of the creation of the Leyton Award. After the sudden passing of my close friend and company member, Mauricio Leyton, we created an award that we give annually to an individual or organization that champions the unheard voice through community service. I feel it honors Mauricio well, and I am grateful to be able to present it.
Any advice for others entering your profession?
When I was growing up, I was laser focused on wanting to be an actor. One track mind . . . That was all I gave my attention to. That is not very interesting. It wasn’t until I was into my 20s that I got turned on to reading in a serious way. READ. Absorb yourself in music. Spend time with paintings and sculptures. Learn about as many different things as you possibly can. Broadening your mind and experiences makes you a fuller person and inevitably a better artist. Tunnel vision may serve you in some ways, but it lessens what you have to offer.