By Katie Powers | @katiepowers_6
Photo by Phil Chester
When Erin Whitehead chose Emerson College, a college right in the middle of Downtown Boston, she did so for its creative writing program, the city, and nostalgia for where her parents had met—that, and she had a strong love for Cheers and Good Will Hunting at the time she was looking at colleges. Though she realizes she may have liked attending a school with a real campus more, she was able to find people at Emerson who “completely shaped [her] creative voice” as a comedian, writer, and actor.
She joined Emerson’s long-form improv team This is Pathetic, which gave Whitehead her introduction into improv, something she has continued to be involved with to this day. Similarly, Whitehead spoke of her creative writing professor, Steve Almond, saying “he really influenced the way I write.” Almond taught her at a time before his books were published and before he joined Cheryl Strayed on the Dear Sugar advice column podcast.
During Whitehead’s senior year, she traveled to Wesleyan University with her improv team for a weekend workshop run by the newly formed Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB)—an improv and training theatre founded by Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, and a couple of other comedians. That weekend, founder Matt Besser taught them to take a life story, “pull the unusual details from it, and make those funny.” Whitehead says that, at that moment, she was like, “Oh, this is how my brain works, and now it’s being articulated.” A couple years after UCB was started in LA, Whitehead took a class there that made her fully realize comedy was the right fit for her.
The road to career and self-discovery has not always been clear to Whitehead. She explained that sometimes instead of finding inspiration in people, she “tend[s] to covet” them. Meaning that, at times, she’s wanted to have the lives of or be people like Claire Danes, Toni Collette, or Phoebe Waller-Bridge (and really, haven’t we all?). She explains that she alternates between having a “strong core self” and wanting to “throw it all away and try to be whatever new shiny person” she sees. In the creative field, this sentiment seems to be fairly common—it’s hard to feel completely comfortable in one’s creative or personal identity when everyone in the industry seems to keep creating and evolving.
Whitehead seems to be finding her way, though. She is currently one of four members of the improv group Wild Horses, who perform regularly at UCB Franklin in LA and have a podcast called The Perspective. The other members include Stephanie Allynne, Lauren Lapkus, and Mary Holland—and together the four of them truly create some of the funniest, laugh-out-loud content around. Before they were Wild Horses, they were on separate improv teams at UCB, but that all changed in 2013 when Lapkus was asked to assemble an all-women team for a comedy festival in Portland called All Jane, No Dick. They were not expecting to continue as a foursome after the festival, but they enjoyed themselves and performing together felt natural, so they continued on. They’ve evolved since then, but Whitehead says the “ease is what makes it fun” still after six years.
In addition to her work with Wild Horses, Whitehead has had various acting roles and is currently working on her own material. She’s been able to perform her work at various theatres—including UCB—and she loves how it makes her feel. To her, it has been thrilling “to get that high of not only getting laughs off [her] performance but the performance of [her] own words.” She hopes to be able to continue to do this in film and TV, as she would love to be able to create and act in her own projects. Her ultimate dream job? To work with people she loves and admires on a daily basis.
College students and people in general should try their hardest to further their careers and foster their sense of creativity if they have even an inkling of inspiration. It won’t always be easy, but it won’t hurt to try. By creating and performing her own material, Whitehead is the embodiment of this. She has a gift of creativity that can be seen when she performs, which is why it is so exciting that she is continuing on with her own material now, too. Drawing on her own experiences, Whitehead has some honest advice for college students pursuing careers in (or outside) of the arts. She lays it out frank: “People who say, ‘You have so much time!’ are liars who miss their youth and are trying to ruin your life. You have no time. Act now. You’re only going to get more tired. Was that inspiring?”
No, the sentiment of having limited time to pursue dreams does not instill boundless hope. But, it is honest, and it is what needs to be heard. The sentiment—like Erin—is inspiring.