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From the Director's Chair: Debbie Emling

In this edition of From the Director’s Chair, we talk with KVTA director, Debbie Emling, who is directing her 8th production with KVTA’s Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins JR.
Debbie, you have been involved on and off-stage with KVTA for a number of years now, but for anyone not already familiar with you, please tell us a little about yourself!

I was born in Chicago and I live in Herscher. I have been married for 25 years to my amazing husband Kevin. I am the mom to Jordan, Drew, and Stephanie, and Grandmother to Kynnleigh, Hudson, and Haven. I am also the mom to our fur baby, Buddy. I currently work as a paraprofessional at BUGC in the Special Ed Department.

What first drew you to directing?

I have fun telling a wonderful story, creating with others to bring it to life on stage, and watching others enjoy and fall in love with theatre!

As a director, what do you see as the biggest challenge to putting on any production?

We all have many other commitments and passions other than theatre (shocker I know) and often people are blessed with many things they are good at and are also involved in, so cast conflicts can be challenging at times to work around. Theatre people are multi-talented and we do celebrate the days we have all of the cast present for rehearsals where they can all share that talent together!

What advice would you give to someone considering getting into directing?

Have a clear vision when going into directing, do your research of the production, surround yourself with creative/passionate/positive people, and always be open to hearing other talented people’s suggestions! Get involved in being on staff for a production before directing. The more experience you have in theatre then more you can bring to your experience. Also, everyone has something to offer and share, so go for it and give directing a chance!

What do you think makes for a great audition?

There are so many talented people in our community and auditions can be very exciting but also can be full of difficult decisions. We had over 80 kids audition and we could have cast many of them. A great auditioner comes in very prepared knowing the material, audition song, dance, reading, etc. and shows us character. They smile, speak confidently, make eye contact, and have fun. We also watch to see if auditioners are respectful to others auditioning and to those working the auditions and follow directions/instructions well.

If you had a dream ensemble and no financial constraints what show would you want to produce and why?

Wow that is a hard question! I really would love to do Wicked! I also would love to do a musical that has all Journey or Fleetwood Mac songs, or 70s and 80s songs, so basically Glee on stage, I guess! I would also absolutely love to direct a musical that has many iconic dance numbers in it from different movies/musicals! I would also jump in if 13 Going On 30 became a musical! Last, I am moved by a great straight show that is about true events or things that continue to happen in our society like prejudice, hate, suicide, depression, bullying, etc.

Tell us a little about your current production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins JR.

Mary Poppins JR. is a Disney classic that is loved by many! It has some catchy songs, wonderful dance numbers, fun characters and family issues that people can relate to today. We have 48 talented cast members and an amazing staff that are practically perfect in every way! They have all been a blessing to work with and we couldn’t ask for a better Poppins family to create this magical musical… with them anything can happen if you let it and we cannot wait to have you enjoy our heartfelt journey on Cherry Tree Lane as we bring Mary Poppins JR. to life!

What made you want to direct Mary Poppins JR?

I costumed the KVTA adult production a few years ago, cried in the wings every night during the song Step in Time, and have always adored the movie! I was so excited about sharing this musical with our youth and feel this is a great story to show the young people that family is one of the most important things to fight for in their lives and nothing is too hard to overcome and at times may require a little outside assistance. I also absolutely enjoy creating with a young cast, helping them continue to enjoy their love for theatre, and providing a safe/inclusive environment where they can grow and flourish! I am hoping everyone who comes to experience this production loves every adventure you are taken on just as we all have during its development!

Has this show presented any particular challenges?

Oh wow, where do I start? We canceled our first attempt at this musical one week before tech week due to the pandemic. We are grateful we were given another opportunity to create this magical classic but we have had to overcome some challenges with COVID-19, a broken leg, venue concerns, and training understudies. Adding flight to a production can be challenging but who doesn’t love a healthy challenge, right? I am thankful for our flight sponsors that helped make this magical element possible: Taylor Ford of Manteno, Taylor Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, Embrace Consignment, SKDO P.C., and the Sutter Family. Also, our youth productions do not have an intermission, so we are working hard on streamlining and easing transitions for a fun showing for all the patrons that we appreciate supporting us! We have been long awaiting being able to see all the hard work poured into this show finally on stage for others to enjoy! The staff and cast's resilience echoes “Anything Can Happen If You Let It”!

Do you have a favorite line, character, or moment from Mary Poppins JR?

I would say my favorite memory is that I have enjoyed every moment working with every one of the 48 cast members and watching their growth! They have made me smile, laugh, tear up (in a good way), and burst with pride. They all were very receptive to direction and I believe we were blessed to find the best group to display all of the Mary Poppins JR. characters! We know you will love them too on stage! I also enjoyed laughing and creating with our awesome staff and watching them share their talents and lovingly care for the cast! It takes a dedicated family to put on a magical production and we love our Poppins family!

Is there anything else you want the public to know about this production of Mary Poppins JR?

I guarantee you do not want to miss this Practically Perfect Disney classic full of magical moments, outstanding vocals, exceptionally fun dances, irresistible characters, wonderful costumes, marvelous sets, and a heartwarming story for all ages! The talent on and off the stage are excited to share with you this amazing production we have created together so get your tickets today and support them all and the Arts!

We’d like to extend a “thank you” to Debbie Emling for taking time out of her busy production schedule to talk with us! Get your tickets now for this Practically Perfect production from KVTA, of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins JR. Performances are at Lincoln Cultural Center on Friday, April 8 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, April 9 at 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, April 10 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available online at or by calling the box office at 815-935-8510.

KVTA’s production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's Mary Poppins JR. is sponsored by The Daily Journal, Riverside Healthcare, Taylor Chrysler Dodge Jeep RAM, Taylor Ford of Manteno, Bourbonnais Township Park District, and Embrace Consignment.


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