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Emily Webster moved to Madison from Los Angeles about six years ago with her husband, Derek. The couple has four children. Emily, a former child actress, is a performing arts teacher at the Grove School and a spin instructor at four local gyms. (Photo by Melissa Johnson/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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Emily Webster and her husband, Derek, moved to Madison from Los Angeles about six years ago. The couple had met while working at a talent agency at which Emily represented actors and Derek represented writers. Eventually, Derek left the agency to freelance and Emily decided she wanted to leave the industry—and office jobs altogether—to spend more time with her children.
Derek, an Alaska native, had majored in film at Yale, so the family took a leap of faith and moved to Madison, allowing Emily to realize her dream of growing her family and raising her children in New England. The redheaded couple now have four redheaded children. Lasarina is 11, Maev is 8, Colm is 6, and Lochlan is 3.
Setting roots in Madison hasn’t meant severing them from the Pacific Coast, however.
“Derek grew up in a salmon fishing village,” Emily says. “He goes back every summer to fish. He has not missed a summer since he was nine years old. I used to go with him, but the fishing industry, like all industries, is not doing that well, so his parents can’t afford to bring us all up. So he only gets to bring up one kid every summer.”
Emily says, “I really loved [working in the entertainment industry] until I didn’t love it anymore. Everything is urgent and it’s so silly. I was a kid actor when I was younger, and I really didn’t want my kids to grow up in the entertainment industry, so we moved out here. We didn’t have jobs, we didn’t have anything. We totally moved on faith. Because Derek had gone to Yale, we were hoping the proximity to Yale would help, and it’s, knock on wood, slowly working out, and we love it here.
“The schools are incredible,” she continues. “I just came from Brown where my oldest was doing a middle school performance, and it’s so idyllic, I just love it so much.”
Emily may have been unemployed when she moved here, but these days she’s far from it. She’s a performing arts teacher at the Grove School, and she teaches spin class six days a week at four different gyms—SHiFT Cycling (where she runs special team building rides and benefits and writes their blog posts), the Soundview YMCA, EDGE Fitness in Meriden, and Durham Fitness.
As for her role at Grove School, she says, “It’s really awesome. Part of why I left being a talent agent was because I didn’t like the mercenary aspects, where it’s about negotiating deals or trying to get somebody in for an audition. What I loved was working with the actors. I think all artists come from such different and sometimes extreme backgrounds where the art becomes an expression, to use a hackneyed term, sort of a therapeutic tool for them. I loved working with the teenage population, so I was really, really interested in that.”
Emily did some research before moving to Connecticut, and discovered the Grove School, which she contacted right away.
“It was literally the population of artists I’d always wanted to work with,” she says. “When I met with them, the timing wasn’t right for Grove, and then I had found out that I was pregnant with my third. I had a really positive meeting with one of the executive directors there, Kelly Webster, and we really connected, but the timing wasn’t right. I went off and had two babies and continued to direct theater part-time [at Oddfellows Playhouse in Middletown and the Performing Arts Center of Connecticut in Trumbull], and teaching classes here and there. And then I got an email saying there was an opportunity at Grove, and I was so excited. It was perfect timing; I didn’t have any babies anymore.”
Emily calls Grove’s program “wonderful.”
“It’s a therapeutic boarding school for struggling teenagers, and so the role of theater takes on a really beautiful component where it becomes expression. It’s very healing and so is the camaraderie actors find together. And I’m super appreciative Grove has let me bring some ideas I’ve had.
“We did a children’s theater troupe. We took the book The Day the Crayons Quit [by Drew Daywalt] and converted it into a play, all student-driven. The students wrote it, the students built the sets. And then we took it to some local preschools, we took it to Ryerson, and we’re hoping to really, really grow it in the town—to take it to RJ Julia’s, take it to the library, take it to all the schools, and then adapt other books as well, because there’s nothing more therapeutic than being able to give back and to see that you’re affecting these little kids in a positive way.”
Emily also experienced what she called a “career high” recently at the Grove School.
“They let me do Shakespeare for my play, and they had not done a Shakespeare performance in about 13 years. They’re like, ‘Are you really sure you want to do this?’ and I was like, ‘Totally!’ We did Much Ado about Nothing. It’s all about process, not product, so I was very, again, appreciative of the process. The generosity of the students at Grove is incredible.
“When I’ve worked at other high schools and you’ll tell a kid, ‘Dig deep,’ they’re afraid to do that, or they say, ‘What are you talking about?’ It’s all about surface. The kids at Grove are just these incredible, brave artists and these intrepid souls, and if I say, ‘Dig deep,’ they have so much to bring to the table. So, Shakespeare was amazing and it was not just a career highlight, but a life highlight of mine to be able to put Much Ado on Grove School, it was really awesome. And now we’re doing A Chorus Line.
“I was so happy to find that theater was really thriving all over Connecticut, but it’s so awesome that I can do it right in my town,” she says. “It makes me feel really good. I think it’s important for my students and my children to see that artists and teaching artists are just right in my community, at Starbucks having coffee, at CVS.”
The performing arts are alive and well in the Webster household, too.
“We like to make little films,” Emily says. “Every Christmas, we do a little parody. We did Willy Wonka last year, and then this past Christmas we did, of course, Star Wars. My husband was a film major at Yale, so we take my theater geekiness and his film geekiness and we put together these little productions. We live in this little tiny house, but it’s made us a super close family.
“We do everything together,” she adds. “I love to do yoga with my daughters, and we like to watch movies, of course.”
Derek works in the Office of Career Strategies at Yale, counseling undergrads in the arts.
“It’s really great for Derek in particular because he was one of those kids,” Emily says. “He graduated from Yale with honors in film studies, moved out to LA, and didn’t know exactly where to go. So it’s kind of brought peace to his own narrative to now be in a position to counsel these young kids.”
As for her other job, Emily says, “I’ve been spinning and teaching spin for a really long time. I started when I was a teenager, and then I became an instructor almost 20 years ago, and then I took some big gaps to have my babies, but I’ve always loved it, and much like with the theater I find that it’s an inroad to combating insecurity. You can feel good about yourself and feel good about your body. If you could do that for 45 minutes, then 50 minutes, then 60 minutes, then carry it with you all day.”
She’s quite involved at main gym at which she teaches, SHiFT Cycling in Guilford. They held a benefit last week called SHiFT for SARAH.
“We’re putting together a big ride for them—super fun. SHiFT is one of those places that really gives back to the community, it’s about, yes, taking care of ourselves, but then feeling empowered by that and giving back, which I think is a huge metaphor for working out. It could be looked at as sort of a self-serving way of spending your time, but it’s really what I would say the oxygen mask you put on yourself, like when you’re on a plane—they say to take care of yourself before you put it on your children. That’s what I think working out can be.
“Spinning can be a transcendent experience. It’s just you and your bike. Something that’s really cool that I teach at SHiFT, too, is a team-building private class for my students at Grove. I really loved the opportunity to do that, bring together both fitness and theater, the two things that personally saved me, and bringing them together for Grove School. So that’s been really fulfilling.”
Emily concludes, “I’m really grateful for the opportunities I found in this town to plug in my different interests, and I’m just humbled and appreciative that there’s been a good response. I’m really proud to raise my kids here.”
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