Erin Dilly
AnnaErin and AnnaErin and Stephen Wedding DayStephen and AnnaErin and Anna as a babyStephen tosses Anna in the airMom and Dad are TIRED

Broadway & Babies:
Are Parenthood and a Performing Arts Career
Mutually Exclusive? A Conversation with Erin Dilly.

Erin Dilly, BFA ’94 (musical theatre), has seen the world from the bright lights of a Broadway stage. She’s been in the audience at a Tony Awards ceremony, in a designer gown, shoulder to shoulder with some of the biggest names in the industry, nominated for a best actress award. She’s appeared on the silver screen, in regional theater, as a guest on highly rated TV series, on national tours with big-name musicals.

And now she’s the mother of two little girls, a four-year-old and one-year-old. How is this possible? Wouldn’t the career come to a screeching halt? Isn’t a fleet of nannies required?

Dilly’s career took off in a big way the minute she hit New York, and it never let up: Nellie on the national tour of South Pacific, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Bertrande in Martin Guerre, the latter garnering her a Helen Hayes Award nomination. The list goes on: Babes in Arms, Follies, The Boys from Syracuse, Into the Woods, Finian’s Rainbow.

In 2005, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her turn as Truly Scrumptious in Broadway’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In fact, she was six months pregnant with her oldest, Anna, when she finished her run. “I felt like I was at the top of my game,” she says. “I’m not sure I even intended for things to work out that way, but once it happened for me professionally, I thought, okay, I want to take a moment now.” Three years later, second daughter Catie was born.

“A family was always something I dreamed of having,” she says. “I was surprised my alarm didn’t go off sooner, but I was so career driven. I was very ambitious. I wanted to serve that master for a while. I didn’t really heed the call of motherhood until it was crying so hard, I couldn’t ignore it.”

Juggling a career and two children is made easier—or further complicated, depending on how you look at it—by the fact that her husband, Stephen Buntrock, is also in “the business,” some ten Broadway shows to his credit. He’s currently in A Little Night Music, eight performances a week.

An aside: “When Stephen got the part, he asked me if I knew anything about Night Music,” she laughs. “It was my freshman show! The show I had to work crew on. I told him, ‘It’s more like what I don’t know.’”

But the two have made it work. Stephen is a dedicated father, and, as it turned out, Erin was ready to transition to film and television. “I love musical theatre,” she says, “but my real passion is for acting. The minute I had Anna, I knew I couldn’t be gone every night when I’m supposed to be putting her in the tub and tucking her in to sleep. The lifestyle of episodic TV and film work is far more livable.”

So while Bentrock is engaged nights and weekends on Broadway, Dilly is shooting commercials or appearing in TV episodes during the day. She’s had guest spots on Fox’s Canterbury’s Law and The Return of Jezebel James. She’s appeared in Nurse Jackie with Edie Falco and in episodes of Law & Order, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Criminal Intent is filmed in the Chelsea Piers,” she says. “SVU is shot in Jersey, right across the Hudson, a 20-minute drive from my house. When you commit to an episode of a television series, they give you a lovely fee and say we’re going to buy you out for these 8 days and you have to be available.” Some shoots take the full eight days, others fewer.

In a recent episode of Law & Order: SVU, Dilly played the role of a woman who lives in the projects and has degenerative MS. “It was like nothing I would have had the opportunity to do on stage right now,” she says. “When I got the role I was like, MOTHER. It was a challenge. I had to commit to this woman’s circumstances and her condition, but I did. I got inside. And I think it was the kind of commitment they were looking for.”

Some offers may not fit into the perfect plan but are too good to pass up, like a role in the 2009 movie Julie and Julia, with Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Dilly played the role of her editor Judith Jones, vital in launching Child’s career, publishing her Mastering the Art of French Cooking at a time when no other book house would touch. But film roles require more creative childcare planning.

A recent weekday found Dilly and her two girls in downtown Manhattan, near the Flat Iron Building, filming a Starbucks commercial that called for a Mom with an infant in a stroller and a toddler. Perfect fit, right? But that shoot happened to be the same week her husband, understudy for the lead in Night Music, was called into duty, center stage, playing opposite Catherine Zeta-Jones.

“When I got the good news about the Starbucks’ ad, I was like, are you kidding me? This week? The week we’re going to give to Daddy, make sure Daddy gets eight hours of sleep?”

On what would have been Stephen’s richly deserved day of rest, “My heroic, remarkable husband said, ‘no no no, I wouldn’t be anywhere else’ and came along. I don’t think I could have done it without him,” she says. “By being there, the girls were in balance, just hanging out with the two of us in New York. It helped enormously.”

“So far, we’re been pretty happy that we’ve been able to raise our children ourselves,” she says, “just pass them back and forth. It’s been a phenomenally joint effort; Stephen is such a hands-on parent, it’s in his skin, it’s cellular for him. I think I’m doing a good job, and then I watch him and think, oh. That’s how you do it.”

When does she get time to practice her craft? “Raising children is about the most creative endeavor I’ve ever been involved in,” she admits, “demanding constant improvisation. And I’m not saying I’m studying to be an actor by raising my kids, but who these little people become in the world is my priority. So I think, okay, I’m going to serve you and that’s going to have to serve my work, because this is what I want to be doing.”

And now Dilly’s teaching and coaching the next generation of musical theatre kids, in a program called Making it on Broadway. “Teaching helps me remember why it is I love to do what I do,” she says. “As you’re explaining to somebody how to do something, you’re actually mentally honing how you do it.”

Thanks to long-time friend and fellow MT graduate Danny Gurwin (BFA ’94), she still gets to flex the golden pipes, in Gurwin’s own “Miracle of Miracles: A Concert in Celebration of Jewish Musical Theatre.” Just last September, they did the show in Bloomfield, MI; in a few weeks she’ll join Danny in La Jolla for a reprise.

“Danny was my first boyfriend, my first love, my best friend. We met in 8th grade, went to Interlochen together, hung out in New York when we first got there. He really is like family,” she says, “I’d read the phone book with him. And he makes me sing again, which I appreciate.”

Erin has known Brent Wagner, head of the musical theatre department, almost as long as she’s known Gurwin. “He’s been a mentor and a friend and is about the dearest heart,” she says. “Whenever I’ve been working hard and am stressed out, I think of him. When I think about Michigan, I think about what Brent has built and what the program has become. Now, if anything I’m even fancier for having gone there than when I graduated. It’s just got such prestige and is so highly respected by professionals in the business in New York.”

In the end, “you give up sleep, any sense of a regular rested quality in your life, because you’re giving away so much of your energy to little people and your career. And I can’t say I’m always the temple of bliss”—she couldn’t live without yoga—“because it’s incredibly hard; it’s the hardest work I’ve ever done. But you get back so much, quiet moments that no one’s ever going to see.”

“Steve and I took the girls to the zoo today and they fell asleep in the car on the way home,” she says. “And they just looked like angels. But we were so relieved they were asleep. We ended up driving around for a while before heading home.”

And tomorrow’s another big day.