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Duggan celebrates passion for comedy

By Theresa Gaffney

Section: Features

October 9, 2014

With the fall semester in full swing, seniors all around campus are settling in for their last year as undergraduates before they head off into the real world. Some, however, have decided to embark on that journey a bit earlier than usual, by graduating a semester early and packing up this December.

Emily Duggan ’14 is one of these brave souls. Duggan arrived at Brandeis as a first-year in the fall of 2011, after already completing two semesters at two different secondary institutions. Her credits did not transfer, despite the semester she spent at Bryn Mawr College, and another at Suffolk University. She finally chose to attend Brandeis because of its specific creative writing major.

“It was the only school that had its own creative writing major,” Duggan said. While Emerson College had a writing major that she also looked at, she appreciated the interdisciplinary requirements, such as a studio art class, for the Brandeis creative writing major. Duggan is a single major in creative writing, but enjoyed taking a wide variety of courses in all different subjects throughout her time at Brandeis. “I just don’t have six majors to show for it all,” she joked.

If she was going to have another area of study, it would have been theater, Duggan said. She took some theater classes, but also had her full share of theater experience outside of the classroom. “Every time I get on stage at Chum’s, I think, ‘That’s something I want to do for a long time.’”

Duggan has acted in various plays at the university including “Rabbit Hole,” “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Almost, Maine.” She also joined an improv troupe and the sketch comedy troupe on campus. As a first-year, she joined Bad Grammer, and she was accepted to the sketch troupe Boris’ Kitchen at the beginning of her sophomore year.

While she had gotten involved on campus by performing in comedy troupes, it took more time for Duggan to see that it was comedy she was interested in pursuing after graduating. One of her most significant comedic scenes took place during a straight play—Brandeis Player’s “Rabbit Hole,” which she acted in during her second year at Brandeis. “Rabbit Hole” is a tragic story of how a family mourns the death of their young son. Duggan played a grandmother in the show, and in one scene, she sat on the grandson’s bed and spoke, quoting another character. During one of the last rehearsals, she took a stuffed animal from the bed and held it as if it was talking, as she quoted the other character. Her director loved it, and they kept it in the scene.

“Every time we did it the audience laughed, a lot. It was my signature thing. The thing I brought to [the show] was this lightheartedness in this moment,” she said. It was moments such as these that led Duggan to realize how she wanted to use her own “weirdness.” This was when she realized that she wanted to pursue comedy after college. “I saw that there was a function, it wasn’t just weird for weird’s sake,” she said.

Her experience on stage is not the only thing that has helped her along the way. “I did things that I was really good at, and I did things that I really wasn’t good at.” While improvisation and acting came somewhat naturally, often it was the activities that she struggled with that opened her eyes.

During her first year at Brandeis, she took a painting class. “I was very concerned with realism,” said Duggan, “I just wanted it to look like exactly what I was seeing … and I’m just not that good of a painter.” Part of the problem, her professor noted one day, was that she was painting too lightly. Afraid to make a mistake that she couldn’t go back over, her strokes were so light that the canvas could still be seen through the color. He told her to use bolder strokes. Duggan took this advice to heart, carrying it into her daily life.

“If you are wishy washy about stuff, and too afraid to go all into it, you don’t really get anywhere,” she said. “I learned how to be satisfied with doing the best that I could.”

Three years later, Duggan is a co-president of Boris’ Kitchen and Bad Grammer as well as a co-writing coordinator for Boris’ Kitchen. She consistently writes sketches for the troupe to perform. Her success at Brandeis is tangible in the laughter she creates when given an audience. But with only a few months left of school, Duggan is beginning to consider the next big question: What comes next?

Ideally, Duggan will be able to explore new scenery after graduation. Having grown up in Melrose, a town less than an hour from Waltham, Duggan is looking to branch out this winter by either doing volunteer work, or perhaps obtaining an unpaid internship. While she would like to travel somewhere such as Chicago or even Europe, she has no definite plans yet. No matter where she is going or what she is doing though, she is determined to be write.

“I’m trying to decide if I want to be in a big city, or in a quieter area…so that’s what I’ll be figuring out in the next couple of months,” she said.

As for the long-term, Duggan has a vision of what sort of career her passion may lead her to. She wants to work in a collaborative creative environment, most likely for a tv show—a comedy, of course. She could be a writer, an actress, a director or perhaps all three.

If one thing’s for sure, it’s that Duggan loves what she is doing. “If we all felt that we were on stage a bit more,” she said, “if we all felt that same freedom … we would all feel happier. I would feel happier.”

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