Like many children, Emily Laughridge and her brother, Zachary, along with their cousins, Addie and Ann Taylor, choreographed their own shows in the carport of their family’s home on Shady Lane. Emily’s stage has since become more glamorous. In 2018 and 2019, Emily performed at Tokyo Disneyland, and she spent most of 2022 in the cast of the Disney Junior Dream Factory in Disneyland Paris.
Emily’s parents, Junie and Philip Laughridge, now live in Gilbert on Lake Murray, and Emily has an apartment in Paris. She hops on a city bike to ride to the Arc de Triomphe, where she catches a train to Disneyland Paris to perform in as many as five shows daily. Emily’s upbringing helped make this adventure possible.
“All of my family was either in the neighborhood or within a 5-minute drive, so I grew up surrounded by family,” Emily says. “My parents made the decision to switch to home schooling when I was entering fourth grade and my brother was entering second, and we never looked back. Home schooling provided us flexibility, which was extremely important to me as I pursued the performing arts. My dad’s an entrepreneur, and for much of my childhood, his office was our home.”
A certified public accountant, Philip helped Emily and Zachary with math, while Junie, a visual artist, found creative ways to incorporate art into her children’s education.
Camden’s Arts Center of Kershaw County gave Emily her big break in The Music Man. “It was my first lead role, and I didn’t get another lead role for 16 years. I performed in ensembles and featured dance roles in a variety of shows between Town and Workshop theaters. My favorites were Cats, directed by Pam Inabinet at Town Theatre; High School Musical, directed by Walter Graham at Workshop; and White Christmas, also at Town, directed by Shannon Scruggs,” Emily says. “And I have to make a shoutout to Agnes Babb. She was my carpool buddy and designated theater mom, and she played such an important role in my life. She’s still performing at Town, so it’s always fun to see her pop up in their advertisements.”
At an early age, Emily sang in church with her maternal grandmother, Beverly Taylor, at the piano. She learned to read music and develop vocal technique at church choir and theater rehearsals. Rhoda Paschal, a close family friend, also provided vocal instruction for Emily. Emily’s dance education started with Susan Anderson when she was 4 years old, then she studied with Cari Kirkland at Bailey Fine Arts. Later, she worked with Pam Bailey and McCree O’Kelley.
Emily earned a bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma City University, a school she chose mainly because Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth is an alumna. Initially studying dance, Emily switched to theater in order to have the flexibility to participate in the Disney College program. Since graduating in 2015, Emily serves on the OCU alumni advisory board and as a student mentor, and she is an active alumna of Alpha Chi Omega.
Emily moved to Paris in January 2020 to work for six months as an au pair for a French family before auditioning for her dream job at Disneyland. After the pandemic changed everyone’s plans, Emily ended up staying with the family for 18 months, learning to overcome not only a language barrier but an array of cultural differences.
That year was bittersweet for Emily, who had to miss the funeral of her paternal grandmother, Phyllis Laughridge, because of the quarantine. Once travel restrictions were lifted, she spent Christmas at home in 2021 and celebrated New Year’s Eve with another cousin, Anna Wolf, after a glitch with her work visa delayed her return to Paris. In 2022, Emily enjoyed visits in Paris with her mother; her cousin, Addie; and her lifelong friend, Mary Palmer Tucker.
While Emily was an au pair, her employers spoke to her in English most of the time, and Emily was charged with teaching the children how to speak English. A fellow au pair from Argentina spoke only Spanish and French, and, as she and Emily became friends, they found that French was the best way to communicate. While Emily polishes her French-speaking skills, her French boyfriend, Antoine Spezzatti, is learning to speak English. In September, Emily brought Antoine, who had never been to the United States, to South Carolina for a few weeks.
In 2021, while performance venues remained closed in Paris, Emily found herself lacking motivation to practice music because no auditions were being held. So, playing off the Netflix series, Emily in Paris, Emily wrote and staged her own show, “La Vrai Emily, comédie musicale,” at the theater Com die Nation. Framing the narrative with some of her most meaningful journal entries, Emily inserted songs and found a jazz pianist willing to learn the style of musical theater to accompany her.
“Musical theater is an American concept,” Emily says. “The French enjoy it, but they don’t quite understand it.” Emily is part of a group of musical theater enthusiasts, “American Musical Theatre Live,” which hosts monthly open mic performances in Paris. During lockdown, the group posted select videos online, including Emily’s “Happy Quarantining Song,” a hilarious riff on Stephen Schwartz and Alan Mencken’s “Happy Working Song” from Walt Disney’s Enchanted. Emily’s video attracted more than 4,000 views online.
Having earned the title of Columbia’s Junior Miss in 2010, the year the program’s name was changed to Distinguished Young Women, Emily was invited to be a judge for the 2019 Miss South Carolina Teen pageant. The experience confirmed her desire to work as a performing arts coach. She taught classes at Oklahoma Children’s Theatre while in college, and, during the 2016-17 school year, she taught drama at Foundation Academy in Winter Garden, Florida, and also performed at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando Resort, and SeaWorld. She continues to coach students privately.
While working at Disney theme parks, when Emily has time off, she often plays the part of tourist. “Performing the same show daily is repetitive and tiring,” Emily says, “but every audience is different. I may be on my 500th show, but someone is seeing it for the first time. I still visit Disney as a guest so that on days when I’m tired, I remember what it feels like to experience the magic.”
Attending other shows is good preparation for Emily’s next career goal. “I aspire to work as a casting director one day,” she says, “so it’s important that I familiarize myself with all of the entertainment offerings across the resort and learn what works, what audiences respond to, and how we can make it better.”
A conversation with La Vraie Emily in Paris:
Q. What is your favorite restaurant in Columbia? What do you like to order?
A. Rush’s — cheeseburger basket and a chocolate shake.
Q. Is there a part of the city that you miss most when you’re not home?
A. Lake Murray.
Q. Do you water ski?
A. Yes. I can even slalom. My dad was throwing us off the back of the boat as soon as we could kick our feet around. It probably took me until about middle or high school before I could slalom.
Q. Is your bathroom counter messy or neat?
A. So, I don’t have a bathroom counter. My apartment is very small. I have a little baby sink, and underneath, I have a cabinet, which I keep very neat.
Q. Have you read any good books lately?
A. I’m in a book club here in Paris. It’s made up of some girls that I met while I was working as an au pair, and our group’s very international. We have girls who have never read Jane Austen, which I think is just a shame, so we had a very Jane Austen summer, which included Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion.
Q. Do you have a favorite movie?
A. Yes — The Prince and Me. It’s an early 2000s rom-com.
Q. Did you have a car when you were in high school? If so, what was it?
A. No, I did not get a car until I went to college, but it was a 2003 Chrysler 300, and my dad and I drove it to Oklahoma my sophomore summer.
Q. What’s your favorite comfort food?
A. Breakfast food, hands down. And don’t get me wrong — I love a good croissant, but there’s nothing like a sausage biscuit, and you just can’t find that here.
Q. Do you cook for yourself?
A. I do. I love to cook, but I only have a stovetop here in my apartment so I’m limited in what I can do, but I’ve got friends with kitchens, so whenever the mood strikes, I have access.
Q. What’s your go-to dish?
A. My mom’s chicken stroganoff, just because it’s easy. I had it for dinner tonight.
Q. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
A. So, here’s the thing. I’m definitely an extrovert. I love people. But as my career has progressed, I’ve had to become a little more introverted because my job is so physically demanding. It goes against my nature, but I have to prioritize rest on my days off.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. When I have time off, especially if I have a day or two, I like to work through my France bucket list and go to a new city, visit yet another old castle, and eat some new food, really trying to take advantage of living in Europe.
Q. Is there one particular moment when you realized that you wanted to be on stage?
A. I grew up singing and dancing along to Disney movies, but my parents brought home a DVD of Cats after they saw it when they went to New York on their anniversary. They took Zachary and me to see it before it closed, and they were terrified that I was going to jump up out of my seat and go join them on stage. I knew every word. So, if I had to choose a particular moment, that would be it. I think I was 8.
Q. What advice would you give to a young person who is starting out in the performing arts?
A. You have to have thick skin. You’re going to hear “no” more often than “yes” in the audition room. But keep showing up. Put in the work. Realize that everyone has talent, but it takes so much more than that to have a career in entertainment. By regularly attending auditions and showing improvement each time, you communicate to the casting team that you’re passionate, that you’re consistent, and that you’re capable of growth because that’s what’s important.
But also, don’t forget to be yourself. I spent years trying to be what I thought the casting team wanted. I mean, yes, stay within the guidelines and the theme of whatever show you’re auditioning for, but don’t try to be what you think they want. You have no idea what they want. Show them what you do best, and then let them make the decision. Also, don’t quit ballet. It’s really important.