From Ball State to 'Beauty and the Beast'

Few people can say they had as surreal a first night on the job as Ball State alumna Emily Behny, '10. A graduate of Ball State's Department of Theatre and Dance, Behny learned in January 2011 she'd been cast as the lead role of Belle in the national touring production of Broadway's Beauty and the Beast.

A few months later, after countless hours rehearsing with the cast, Behny took her bow on opening night from a theatre stage in Los Angeles. "Hearing the audience roar like that was like being at a rock concert," says Behny, who next was ushered to her dressing room to meet admirers from the crowd—including actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes with their young daughter, Suri. "It took everything in my power not to be completely star-struck in that moment. I couldn't believe they were there to meet me."

Behny's quick rise to the national stage is no surprise to her Ball State professors who know her best. "She was always wonderful in all the shows she did here, and you could tell she had the potential to be a star," says Bill Jenkins, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance. "While we see many of our students succeeding in the business, getting a lead role like this in a national company is very uncommon across the nation. So we are very proud of Emily—she deserves all the success she's achieving!"

Wedding Day Audition

The petite brunette was perfectly cast as Belle, though it took a series of auditions for casting directors to decide the part belonged to her. Behny first tried out for the role in October 2010, only a month after moving to New York City. The casting call was one of her first, and she found herself in a room with hundreds of other women. "We all walked in, looking alike, all of us wanting the part," she says of the scene.

Nerves caused her voice to crack as she began to sing, but a gracious director asked her to begin again, giving her confidence to continue. "He gave me that second chance, and I knew I had to get it right. I nailed it the second time!" she says.

Weeks passed before she received a phone call asking her to read again. The only dilemma? The audition fell on her wedding day.

"I called my fiancé, and he told me I had to do this, that I'd come this far, I had to keep going, and that's when I knew he was a keeper," Behny jokes. "I think the director thought I was insane, but I was just committed to the role. So I went in, auditioned, and then got married that afternoon!"

As she left the plane after her honeymoon, Behny had a voice mail informing her she'd gotten the part. For more than a year, she spent much of her time getting on and off planes and buses as she commuted city to city as part of her cross-country tour as Belle. (The production made a stop at Ball State's Emens Auditorium in November 2011.) 

Dream Job

The Silver Lake, Indiana, native says she cannot believe she was getting paid to perform a job she's dreamed of for years. Her favorite aspect of playing Belle was interacting with so many of her pint-sized fans. "They are the most precious little things, and they come up to me in their yellow dresses with such cute questions, like, 'Is the Beast real?'"

Behny speaks of the mentorship she received from her professors at Ball State—along with opportunities she received as a student here, such as participating in the department's annual acting showcases—as key to establishing her promising career.

"What I learned at Ball State is you have to be a go-getter with initiative," she says. "But everything I did as a student—and everyone who helped me, including all my professors—they all played a role in getting me to where I am today. And it's a place I'm thrilled to be."

Photos by Joan Marcus