Conant’s singing star of the stage: Emma Schuth
Theater has always been a part of Conant senior Emma Schuth’s life. You could even say it’s in her blood. She comes from a family that is very passionate about the arts; her father is an actor and her mother is a full-time singer, which has helped expose Schuth to the worlds of theater and music very early in her life.
“[My mom] has the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard. [She] has pretty much taught me everything I know, and I can’t help but copy her sometimes,” Schuth said.
Schuth’s parents serve as some of her greatest inspiration, helping her with both her singing and acting work. It was in third grade that Schuth first found herself performing on a stage. She played Young Cosette in a concert version of “Les Misérables.” Little did she know then, from that moment on, performing would become an immensely important part of her life.
A few years later, Schuth joined a choir for the first time at Margaret Mead Jr. High School. Choir helped to shape Schuth’s love of theater as she grew older by enhancing her vocal skills and exposing her to new opportunities like working with theater groups such as Marquee Youth Stage, Christian Youth Theatre (CYT), Schaumburg on Stage (SOS), and Conant Theatre.
Schuth has been involved with eight shows at Conant, four in which she performed and four in which she worked backstage with costumes. It was during her sophomore year that Schuth got her first lead role at Conant.
“[It was] very exciting. It was a Sunday morning. I remember it vividly. I woke up to the cast list, and I ran into my mom’s room because my mom had gotten the lead her sophomore, junior, and senior years, so it was very important to me that it happened to me too,” Schuth said.
Schuth had always dreamt of that moment. As it was happening, she felt the nerves bubbling up inside of her along with immense excitement for what was to come. A lead role in a musical is a big responsibility to take on as a sophomore, but Schuth was prepared.
“The nice thing was that I’ve had leads in the past with other theater companies, so that kind of softened the blow because I had learned to take on that kind of responsibility,” Schuth said. Plus, Katherine Apperson-Skobel, director of Conant Theatre, saw the talent and skill that Schuth possessed.
“When Emma is onstage, she is in her element. She is the character,” Apperson-Skobel said.
Schuth channeled this skill during her junior year, when she played Rona Lisa in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” and senior year when she played Anya in “Anastasia.”
“Anastasia” was a big moment for Schuth. After months of preparation for this role and years of training in the art of theater itself, it was time for Schuth’s final performance with Conant Theatre.
“The difference between opening night my freshman year to the opening night for “Anastasia” was pretty tremendous. In an odd way, I almost felt ready for ‘Anastasia.’”
Every show, Schuth has become more confident, thanks to both trust in herself and the support of her friends and family.
“Having a community around you that believes in you makes all the difference. I’m really thankful to Conant Theatre for that.”
Beyond Conant, Emma has also been involved with a couple prestigious theater and vocal groups, one of which is The Illinois High School Musical Theatre Association (IHSMTA), a competition group overseen by Broadway in Chicago. Dozens of schools across Illinois participate in this competition. There are five different awards that a school or its students can be considered for: Best Performance in an Actor Role, Best Performance in Actress Role, Best Production, Best Direction and Best Ensemble. For the Best Performance awards, each school is allowed a certain number of applicants.
From those applicants, twenty-four nominees (twelve each) for the Best Performance in Actor and Actress role awards receive tickets to a Broadway in Chicago production and get to perform on stage at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place in downtown Chicago.
Last year, Schuth was one of those nominees.
This gave her the unique opportunity to rehearse at the James M. Nederlander Theatre in downtown Chicago. There she and the other nominees worked with the dance captain of the then-current North American tour of “Wicked.” The group learned a group dance number to the song “One Short Day” from “Wicked” that they performed only a few days later at Broadway Playhouse.
Before then, however, the nominees spent the rest of that Sunday night practicing their dance, then on Monday went to the Broadway Playhouse and continued to rehearse their dance. Additionally, all the nominees gave press interviews and performed a second round of individual auditions to decide the top six and then finally, the top two. For the performance, all of the nominees performed the group dance, then the top six sang individual songs.
“Even with just performing the group number—I mean it was so surreal to be around everyone who was there,” Schuth said.
The high stakes of being involved in a state-wide competition made Schuth reconsider what she was really capable of.
“You come out of it with a different expectation of yourself,” Schuth said. “[That expectation allows you to] go at things with the goal of raising the bar higher.”
As a whole, this experience gave Emma more confidence in submitting her 2023 application for her role in “Anastasia.”
“Last year I approached it with the idea of ‘there’s no way I’ll ever get in’. This year I feel the same, but I think I submitted my application with a bit more confidence,” Schuth said.
There is no doubt that this confidence helped Schuth in her application because she has been named an IHSMTA nominee for the second year in a row.
Schuth is also extremely involved with choir both in and outside of Conant, and these groups are grateful to her for everything she has done. Conant choir director and teacher Timothy Koll emphasized how what makes Emma special goes far beyond her musical prowess.
“Another thing that stands out about Emma is how she is so consistently kind. She’s got a pairing that is really special. It’s really great to have someone as talented and as kind as she is,” Koll said.
Schuth has worked with Koll for all four years that she’s been at Conant and finds herself in a place of comfort while in his class. “Choir is the safe space for everybody through their classes; it’s the period people look forward to,” Schuth said. “They get to do what they love and be around people who genuinely care about them and comfort each other while doing art, which is very vulnerable in and of itself.”
Earlier this year, Schuth participated in the Illinois Music Education Association (ILMEA) State performance. Anyone from any school in the state of Illinois is able to audition for the choir group. Applicants are provided with songs, and they must submit a recording of their voice part for the audition.
There are multiple levels of ILMEA. The first level is district; there are nine districts within the state. From there the top five singers of each voice part go on to state. Schuth was designated as one of these top five in her voice part, soprano two, so she got to go on to state at the Civic Center in Peoria, Illinois.
“It’s always a cool experience to sing with a very experienced choir and to have everyone already know the music and just need to work out the little kinks.”
Working with this choral group not only allowed Emma the chance to work with a highly skilled group of singers, but it also gave her the opportunity to make new friends and discover new things.
“With this experience, I gained a lot of inspiration for future projects, to be able to start things by myself,” Emma said.
This drove her to meet up with a group of students from across the district one night to discuss possibilities of what they could do to take their individual theater departments to an even higher level.
All of these experiences have allowed Schuth to discover her own unique interpretation of the art of theater and what it means to her.
“It’s all about sticking through it, trusting the process, and throwing yourself into it. Everyone in theater has the biggest hearts, and you will find where you belong,” Schuth said.
This at its heart is what keeps Emma going: her genuine love for her craft and the community she finds within it.
“Being able to create happiness and smiles on peoples faces and brighten audience members’ eyes is a special gift all performers have,” Schuth said.
Emma hopes to use this gift for as long as she can into the future because, despite all the struggles, she believes the magic that is produced on stage is more than worth it.