Grosland is ‘as unassuming as her talent is conspicuous’

Over the past two years, Emily Grosland has become a virtual one-woman design shop for the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences.

In addition to creating programs for every show on the 2004-05 calendar, Grosland designed and illustrated posters for Euripides’ The Trojan Women; Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods; and the regional American College Dance Festival (ACDF), which the PAD hosted in March.

Her set for Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine took third place at this year’s regional American College Theatre Festival.

Emily Grosland as Laura with Matt Shapiro as Jim O'Connor in the Performing Arts Department's production of Tennessee Williams' *The Glass Menagerie*. The production was the centerpiece of an international symposium on the early career of the playwright, who was a student at Washington University in the mid-1930s.
Emily Grosland as Laura with Matt Shapiro as Jim O’Connor in the Performing Arts Department’s production of Tennessee Williams’ *The Glass Menagerie*. The production was the centerpiece of an international symposium on the early career of the playwright, who was a student at Washington University in the mid-1930s.

At the same time, Grosland has emerged as an outstanding performer, starring as Laura in Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie — the centerpiece of an international symposium on the playwright’s early career — and as Little Red in Into the Woods. She choreographed and performed works for the ACDF, winning a coveted spot on the gala concert finale, and even danced professionally, as part of Dance St. Louis’ Contemporary Moves 2004.

Today, Grosland will receive degrees in dance from the PAD and in visual communications from the School of Art, part of the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

“It might be assumed that the purveyor of such an enormous array of talents would be a ‘larger than life’ personality,” says Henry I. Schvey, Ph.D., chair of and professor in the PAD, who directed The Glass Menagerie. “The exact opposite is true. Emily is extremely modest, considerate and altogether charming to be around. She is as unassuming as her talent is conspicuous.”

A native of Elgin, Ill., Grosland began dancing at the age of 3.

“I did tumbling, ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop… pretty much all of it,” she says. She also drew constantly. “My mom is a teacher, so I grew up surrounded by art supplies.”

Grosland began performing in grade school with the Children’s Theatre of Elgin. (Her first role was a fork in Beauty and the Beast).

In high school, she graduated to Elgin Community College’s Encore Musical Theatre, though she continued choreographing for the Children’s Theatre. Lunch hours and study halls were spent in the art studio; afternoons and evenings in rehearsal.

“I was very much a musical theater girl,” Grosland quips, noting that Laura in The Glass Menagerie was her first dramatic role. “I started out as a dancer who kind of sang and tried to act, but at WashU I’ve become a singer and actor who also dances.”

And draws — children’s books, to be exact.

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School of Art

For her visual communications thesis project, Grosland wrote, designed, illustrated and even hand-bound The Loneliest Cranberry, a Christmas tale based on her grandfather’s bedtime stories. She’s now developing Pierce the Porcupine, written by classmate Monica O’Malley, a pop-up book that follows the title character’s dogged quest for a hug.

“I worked with children a lot in high school and enjoy them as an audience,” Grosland explains. “They’re brutally honest.”

She typically works in pencil and watercolor, then scans finished art into a computer for layouts.

“Watercolor is a little unpredictable, but that’s good for me because I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” she says. “My work tends to be better when I don’t have time to nitpick.”

In addition to her PAD and visual communications workloads, Grosland has, for the past three years, served as a board member for All Student Theatre (AST), handling design and publicity.

“I’d say All Student Theatre is the most challenging thing I’ve done, mainly because we run it ourselves,” muses Grosland, who performed in AST’s Once Upon a Mattress and choreographed Pippin and Cabaret. “We have to decide what shows we’re doing, build sets, hire designers, secure copyrights… all those things you don’t really learn as an actress.”

This summer, Grosland will do summer stock with the Theatre L’Homme Dieu in Alexandria, Minn., starring in The Diary of Anne Frank, Rumpelstiltskin and Hello, Dolly while choreographing You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown.

And after that?

“I just auditioned for Sesame Street Live, which is a 10-month bus-and-truck tour, and I’ve sent letters to publishers about Pierce and The Loneliest Cranberry, so we’ll see if anybody bites.

“Otherwise, I’ll move to New York, find some illustration work and start auditioning.”

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