MCS Memories, Friendships Stay Stitched in for Emerson Mack

By Al Daniel

Whether they need it to stay intact or return to its original form, people have a way of getting what they want when they place an object in Emerson Mack’s hands.

One recent undertaking in the latter category awakened a long-dormant skill.

“My grandmother gave me sheets and there was a hole in the pillowcase,” Mack said. “I decided to sew it.”

He did this more than seven years after he last remembered sewing at the station in his Lower Elementary classroom at the Montessori Community School. The key word there is remembered. He retained the lessons with such conviction that he declined his mother’s offer for a refresher.

Those lessons are as present in Mack’s memory bank, as are their tangible testaments in his room.

“I still have a pillow I made at MCS,” he said. And he has recently worked on another project, converting a shirt that belonged to his late cousin Blair. Every autumn, the Macks hold a joint a cappella festival with a fellow former MCS family, the Shahs, raising funds for foundations in memory of their loved ones.

That gathering is a public window into a web of lasting relationships from both Emerson and his older sister Amelia’s first school. When he goes on stage at Carrboro High School these days, he can likely spot an MCS guide in the audience, still boosting his confidence long after any curriculum called for it.

“I love Miss Catherine, who helped me overcome my disability with dyslexia,” he said. “She has been a major part of my life and taught me to read and understand. I literally could not read, and she helped me so much. Teachers kept saying I’d get there, but I literally could not understand. She helped me a lot.”

Among former classmates, Mack traces two of his closest friendships — one with Catherine Biglaiser, the other with Zoe Brader-Araje — back to the ages of two and three.

With 2019-20 being his junior year at Carrboro (as does Biglaiser) and his eighth school year since leaving MCS, those acquaintances have now spanned more of Mack’s post-Mustang life than any other era in his education.

“I love the friendships I made at MCS,” he said. “I love when those friends come back into my life through outside activities. My sister and I are very different, but love each other and get along very well, and we share some mutual MCS friends.”

As with pals, Mack has had proficiencies from early on come back for his benefit later. Besides sewing, geometry took a hiatus in his life after his MCS guides instilled it to him. But when he started taking it at Carrboro, his background in it paid noticeable dividends.

In the interim, it sparked a new interest in architecture, which could cross over with his paramount passion, the theatre, given the versatility he has shown there.

Naturally, Mack found this fervor in Lower Elementary as well. While a second-year student, he set his foundation as a performer at Chapel Hill’s Broadway Bound Studio. Around the same time, he got a boost through a vote of confidence in an MCS production of Hiawatha.

“I was given a ceramic pot when everyone else was given plastic ones because I was told I could be trusted not to break it,” he said.

More recently, Mack operated the lighting boards at the PlayMakers Summer Youth Conservatory. He ensured the proper placement, operation, and timing of 322 lights for the July production of Bright Star. And all under the guidance of seasoned lighting designer Jake Kavanagh, who teaches at Durham Academy and has provided art and design for a host of A-list musicians and other entertainers.

For other plays, Mack has never grown shy about standing beneath the lights himself. This past October, he played Mister Green and two other characters in Carrboro’s adaptation of Clue: On Stage. To mark the occasion, his sister put together a playbill collage in his honor.

As for the long run, he sees himself behind the scenes. Whether it is in the theatre, cinema, or both, he hopes to further his proficiency in the tech department once he reaches college. For that, he may stay in North Carolina by attending Elon University, or he might go north to Boston and enroll at, of all places, Emerson College.

“I know, funny that it has the same name,” he said, “but that’s not why I like it.”