Emily Stern is 6 feet tall and resembles her father, radio icon Howard Stern, but she does not aspire to a career in radio.
She says her interests lie in her spiritual and artistic endeavors: attending the Romemu (Jewish Renewal) synagogue and its Red Tent women's group in Manhattan; integrating Jewish practice into the Transcendental Meditation her entire family has practiced since she was young; studying the use of Balinese masks to create theater; performing and recording her original songs; and, currently, playing the lead in an offbeat science fiction rock musical, "Earth Sucks," a meditation on global harmony.
In the musical -- which runs Oct. 4-Nov. 2 at Art/Works Theatre in Hollywood -- Stern, 25, plays Echo, an Earthling who falls in love with a fugitive alien and uses her music to save civilization from an evil pop diva. All the while, the character struggles with her relationship with her distant, if well-meaning, father.
"The element I like most is that the character comes to see things differently, and feels she has a voice and a place through her music," Stern said during lunch. "And of course the relationship between the father and daughter ... the elements of healing and wholeness that come through." Stern's personal journey, in some ways, echoes that of her character.
She said she identifies with stories of transformation and revelation, in part, because she was raised in an atmosphere of "extreme concealment ... a lot of things were private because it was the public eye."
Stern experienced her father as a loving, protective parent; she says she was not explicitly forbidden from tuning in to his program (famous for its naked women and other outrageous scenarios).
"But there was the sense of 'You wouldn't want to listen; it's not your father.'" The suggestion was that Stern's public persona was an act, and that the real Howard Stern was an intensely private family man devoted to his then-wife, Allison, and three daughters.
When Emily secretly watched the radio show's late-night TV broadcast, she was confused by her father's high-energy, improvisational performance.
"I remember being like, 'That isn't my dad. Who is this?' Then once I reached the age when it was maybe acceptable to listen ... it really just wasn't what I was interested in, in seeing my dad that way, and also the content."
As a child, Emily first performed in the choir at her Reform temple in Roslyn, N.Y., where she sang at children's services and Jewish camp. She continued to perform in high school; but studying acting at New York University did not mesh well with her intuitive approach to theater, she said.
She further felt lost then, she said, because her parents had recently divorced: "All the time there was my dad on the radio with women, doing whatever, I had such a strong knowingness and belief in my parents' marriage," she said. "The loss of that bond between mother and father -- I can't tell you how shattering that was."
Asked if she foresaw the divorce, the actress responded, "Living this character on the radio, there's only so much you can say, 'It's not me' before you embody it -- I think that's a bit of what happened." She said she has come to understand that her father has been in the process of "integrating all selves," which is important for every person to do.
After graduating from NYU, however, Stern said she "was spiritually at a point of real distress." Besides the loss of her family life -- including the celebration of Jewish holidays with all her grandparents -- she felt artistically uninspired until she was cast in the play "Kabbalah," at the Jewish Theatre of New York. The religious satire touched on celebrity obsession with Jewish mysticism, and Stern was cast as the female lead, pop superstar Madonna. Since the play involved revelation, the cast was required to appear nude at the end of the show.
Despite her father's warnings that the press would have a field day if Howard Stern's daughter performed naked, she said she accepted the role because she loved the production. Then "Kabbalah" received a terrible review in The New York Times and nude pictures of her surfaced on the Web. Emily said the director broke his promise to her by using her image and singling her out as Howard Stern's daughter for promotional purposes. She quit the show, the director spoke out against her in the press and Howard Stern's attorneys threatened to file a lawsuit in order to stop the director from continuing to trash her, she said.
At the time, her father said the nudity was not the issue: "[Emily] made a deal with a guy, and he betrayed her," he told Larry King according to a CNN transcript, adding "In a kid trying to find her own identity, it's got to be rough. She's got a father who's very infamous ... And I think it would be difficult to figure out who you are in life and all of that. And I think she has done a beautiful job of it."
Emily Stern is aware that in Los Angeles the spotlight will again be on her as Howard Stern's daughter; cruel remarks have already appeared on at least one Web site.
But, she said, "I don't necessarily have to be an image of any person. I can be a human being and that's a good thing.... That's huge for me to feel."
Click here to read Emily Stern's blog.
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Posted on Sep. 29, 2008 at 12:30 am
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