Arts & Culture

UK Theatre Senior Takes Audiences on Journey of Self-discovery in ‘Bike America’

photo of person riding bike past trees
headshot photo of Emily Norris
photo of poster for UK Theatre's "Bike America"

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Feb. 10, 2020)  When theatre senior Emily Norris pedals onto the Guignol Theatre stage this weekend, she will take audiences along on a ride of self-discovery in University of Kentucky Department of Theatre and Dance's “Bike America.”

Written by award-winning playwright Mike Lew, “Bike America” captures the story of a millennial woman looking to have her own "Eat Pray Love" experience through her cross-country bicycle trip from Boston to California. While adventuring across America in a modern-day bicycle odyssey, Penny creates her own unique right-of-passage exploration as she cruises through small towns and big cities and encounters a lively bunch of fellow travelers.

UKNow recently caught up with the Lexington native to find out more about her own personal theatre journey and self-discovery as an artist.

UKNow: Tell us a little bit about your role in “Bike America.” Why does she go on this journey? 

Emily Norris: I play the role of Penny who is a self-described “screwup.” She chooses to go on this adventure across the country to find herself because she’s not satisfied with the life she has. Penny is strong, independent, bold, adventurous, impulsive and very, very blunt, but she has a lot of uncertainty about her life. 

UKNow: How long have you been acting/interested in theatre? 

Norris: I’ve been acting consistently since I was 11, but I was in my first play in second grade and I loved it! 

I grew up doing LCT (Lexington Children’s Theatre) and attended SCAPA (School for the Creative and Performing Arts at Lafayette) for high school. 

UKNow: What made you decide to choose UK's theatre department? 

Norris:  Quite frankly, I picked UK in general because it was the best decision financially. I originally came in undeclared, though, because I didn’t know if I could actually do something with theatre. I ended up choosing this department after taking Marianne Phelps’ scene study class. I wanted to learn more from her, and I really liked the other students in the department. 

UKNow: What do you plan to do after graduation? 

Norris: After graduation I plan on staying in Lexington for at least another year so I can work and save up money. I plan to follow a path in stage combat. I want to be a fight director, and I plan on pursuing certifications and all my weapons and becoming a certified teacher and then eventually a fight master. 

UKNow: Any highlights from your experience at UK, person, place, play, etc.? 

Norris: Marianne Phelps (a visiting assistant professor) and A-Ray (Andrew Ray, a part-time stage combat instructor) were really the big highlights of my time here at UK. They are both such spectacular instructors, and I truly enjoyed learning from them. They have both shaped me into the person, actor and combatant that I am today — and I am truly grateful. I’m so glad to have been a part of this department. 

Catch Emily and the rest of the cast of “Bike America” as the play races into the Guignol Theatre spotlight 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 13-15, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16.

Tickets to “Bike America” are $10 for students with a university ID and $15 for the general public, plus additional processing fees. Seating is reserved. To purchase tickets to UK Theatre and Dance’s productions at Guignol Theatre, contact the Singletary Center by phone at 859-257-4929, online at, or in person at the ticket office.

The Department of Theatre and Dance, part of UK College of Fine Arts, is an accredited institutional member of the National Association of Schools of Theatre. Students in the department get hands-on training and one-on-one mentorship from professional faculty and renowned guest artists in acting, directing, playwriting, theatrical design and technology. From mainstage productions to student-produced shows, students have plenty of opportunities to participate on stage or backstage. Special programs include a musical theatre certificate, education abroad, as well as a thriving dance program that emphasizes technique, composition, performance and production.

Bike America is presented by special arrangement with Samuel French Inc., a Concord Theatricals Company, and with the support of production sponsor Broke Spoke Community Bike Shop.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion three years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for four straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.