Graduate Realizes Musical Theater Dream at UM

By Kyle Spurr, UM News Service        

A photo of Emily Albright
Emily Albright accomplished a life-long goal by graduating from UM with a bachelor's degree in musical theater.

MISSOULA – Emily Albright was at a crossroads in spring 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic began. She earned an associate degree in musical theater from a Wyoming college, but had to finish her classes online. 

Albright, who grew up in the small mountain town of Nederland, Colorado, dreamed of pursuing musical theater but the pandemic kept her from the stage. She decided to take a year off from her studies and in that time took advice from her college voice teacher. The teacher encouraged her to apply to the University of Montana’s School of Theatre and Dance, where he was an alumnus. 

“He suggested I look into this school, and I fell in love with it,” Albright said. 

Albright enrolled at UM in fall 2021 and made the most of her time on campus. She performed in shows every season and discovered a passion for choreography and entertainment and theater management.

Two years later, Albright will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in musical theater, realizing a life-long goal. Her passion for theater and dance began at a young age when her grandmother took her to a production of “Mama Mia!” From that day on, Albright said, she would dance in her living room, create her own musicals and follow that enthusiasm through high school and college. 

“It’s so corny but I’ve dreamed of getting this degree my whole life,” she said. “Coming up to it is very surreal. It’s always what I wanted to do and I did it.”

Before she arrived in Missoula, Albright connected with UM’s School of Theatre and Dance faculty. She remembers talking with Erin McDaniel, program coordinator with the School of Theatre and Dance, and immediately felt at home. 

“I talked with Erin and she was so welcoming and I could just tell the program itself was like a family,” Albright said. “Just hearing about the school from her, it seemed like a perfect fit.”

McDaniel was just as impressed. She hired Albright as her “office elf,” the endearing name given to student workers who take on the clerical duties of the school. 

“I could just tell there was something special about Emily even before she formally interviewed with me for the student-employee position, but that first hour of getting to know her more fully solidified what I hoped to find: Emily is creative, centered, thoughtful, disciplined and a heck of a lot of fun,” McDaniel said. “All the things that make her a delight to watch on stage also make her a dynamo in the office.”

McDaniel admires how Albright handled balancing a packed academic schedule, and work obligations – all while pursuing her artistic craft. 

“She’s a young woman with true vision and agency about her future and the myriad paths it can take,” McDaniel said. 

It’s hard for Albright to pick a highlight of studying at UM. There are so many to choose from. She notes the opportunities to be the dance captain for “She Loves Me” and the assistant choreographer for “Cabaret.” And she recently finished performing in “Men on Boats.” Such performances can take 20 hours a week outside of class time for five to six rehearsal weeks along with the actual shows. 

Albright also found time last fall to work as the head of production for a Los Angeles-based podcast, “What Are Friends For Podcast,” which allowed her to gain real world experience. Working on the podcast complimented Albright’s interest in entertainment management. She will graduate with a postsecondary certificate in entertainment management, along with a dance wellness certificate and dance minor. 

“I was interested in the podcast because I’m going down that road of entertainment management and I’m really interested in those kinds of roles,” Albright said. “It was one more thing that was added to my plate, but it was such a great opportunity.”

Pam Stiehl, an associate professor in UM’s School of Theatre and Dance, said she is in awe of Albright’s ability to do so much and remain a positive force in the school. 

“Given Emily’s completion of multiple degrees in theater, dance, media, entertainment management, she exemplifies a template as to what the 21st century performance artist looks like,” Stiehl said. “Our school owes her such a depth of gratitude for her contributions, both onstage and in the trenches.” 

After she walks across the stage at graduation, Albright will have several career options such as casting director or a theater’s business administrator. She remembers hearing from naysayers in high school who questioned career opportunities in theater and she even considered becoming a veterinarian or lawyer instead. 

She credits her mother for always backing her dream of a life in theater. It’s support she doesn’t take for granted today. 

“I went through so many different ideas and paths and then I just came back to it,” Albright said. “My mom always told me to do what I love and this is what I love and this is what I wanted to do.” 


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,