The lights dim, adrenaline runs, all clear is given, and the actors step out onto the stage. Lights come on. The show has begun.
This is the passion of Ralph Waldo Emerson III : theater. Dressed in a grey suit, cherry red vest, and grey bowler hat with hair slicked back in the style of the day; he is prepared to deliver his lines in the play “Great Expectations,” by Barbara Field. Emerson gives quick handshakes or pats on the back to his fellow actors as they wait their cue to go on stage. He steps out from behind the curtain and delivers his lines with the precise diction of an experienced thespian. Emerson’s deep clear voice booms across the stage, into the audience, and backstage where his fellow actors await their own cues. Lines complete, he strides off-stage, behind the curtain uttering an emphatic whispered “Yes!” and fist pump in excitement for nailing his lines precisely on cue.
Emerson, 23, was not always the confident outgoing man he is today. Descendent of the writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, the native Oregonian from Medford, Emerson grew up a shy child. This is hard to believe as he casually spills out the details of his life to a writer he barely knows. He rolls along, traversing from one event of his life to the next, barely pausing. His deep voice, somewhat reminiscent of a mix of a good natured Santa Clause and Orson Wells, inspires trust and confidence. For this change from a nearly silent child to outgoing college student, Emerson credits theatre.
Emerson took a drama class in the 7th grade and “it broke me out of my shell,” he said. He fell in love with drama and was involved in every play in school after that. He acted in many productions, was technical support in two, and even directed one. This change also affected other areas of Emerson’s life as he became outgoing and involved in student government – holding the positions of treasurer and vice president. One of his favorite roles was that of a villainous character. “He was such a jerk, so much fun to play,” he added with a guilty grin and chuckle.
Up to this point, Emerson was not a Christian. He attended an acting competition in Eugene Ore, got in some unnamed trouble, and saw the need to get his life turned around. But on a church youth retreat right after this he decided – no, I don’t want to be a Christian. But soon after that Emerson gave his life to Christ. As a result of this decision, Emerson thought he couldn’t be involved in theatre or acting. He gave up theater.
After working for several years, he decided to come to Corban University to pursue a degree in math education. “If math doesn’t kill me first,” Emerson said with a chuckle. Here he decided to audition for the fall play “I’ll Leave It To You,” and was cast as the leading character, Uncle Daniel. On the cast retreat, Emerson was stunned into a new way of thinking as the director spoke to the actors about using their acting to glorify God. This rocked Emerson’s world. “I didn’t have to separate the two anymore,” speaking of his passion and beliefs. “It’s just incredible!” he exclaimed, a broad smile upon his face.
Theatre is where Emerson feels at home. “I love just the very idea of playing another person…I love the community of it. I found out there are other strange people like me!”
Fellow actor Kimberly Liu exclaimed “It has been simply tremendous working with such a splendid person as Ralph,” in her best theater language.
Emerson compared theater with a wrestling match – in true theatrical language. “In wrestling it’s like a play. It’s a story with beginning and end and improv in the middle.” Theater proclaims the stories that make up life. They show people.
Emerson has a deep passion for people, shown as he greets his fellow students by name everywhere he goes on campus. Personalities are fascinating to him, “It’s such a blast to be so different from one another…I think it’s really important to find some common ground,” he said.
This passion for people will serve Emerson well next year as he is taking on the role of RA – or resident assistant on campus in leadership over a hall in Van Guilder. Fellow student Gabby Payne said, “Ralph is going to be a great RA.”
Emerson’s fellow Corbanites had nothing but good things to say about him.
Anastasia Newman, who worked backstage in both of the Corban productions Emerson was involved in said, “Ralph is one of the great guys of Corban…I just feel safe around him.”
Corban sophomore Jenna Harbeck had high praise of her fellow student saying, “He’s kind. He always has such a happy expression and I’ve never seen him angry! He is always so friendly and hilarious without even trying. I was so surprised to hear he was 23! He also doesn’t really act his age, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be mature!”
In case you’ve been wondering all this time, yes, Emerson is indeed a descendent of the famous writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson. But where his ancestor spoke his thoughts into books and writings, Emerson speaks his upon the stage. Emerson used to not think of his ancestry of much importance. “I thought, ‘So I’m related to this famous guy. Who cares?’ But then I found out more about him and it’s pretty cool.” Emerson may not have cared much to begin with, but his professors did. “They all love you! It’s great! I do enjoy being the center of attention,” he finished with a contagious laugh.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Every man is a quotation of his ancestors.” The descendant – or the quotation of Emerson is making his own quotations for the world. After graduating, Ralph Waldo Emerson III shall again step on to the stage – the lights will come on. But his audience will be a classroom of young people, and he the sole chief player – the teacher. Mathematics will fill the room as the booming voice shall rise over the young audience and the lessons of life shall be taught in the language not of theater, but mathematics.