Born in Little Rock and raised in Russellville, Honors College alumna Elizabeth France recently returned home to Arkansas with husband Brian McCue after earning an M.F.A. in acting at the Catholic University in Washington, D.C. She’s currently working as the development officer for Fayetteville’s TheatreSquared, recognized as one of the nation’s ten most promising emerging theaters by the American Theatre Wing. This past December, Elizabeth got to supplement her day job by acting in TheatreSquared’s production of Tennessee Williams’ Period of Adjustment, a serious comedy about two couples struggling to connect.
Question: In the play Period of Adjustment, you make your entrance about one-and-one-half hours into a two-hour play. How do you make such a late entrance and hold your own?
Answer: In the first preview, when I walked on stage, it really hit me for the first time that the audience has all of these expectations about my character. Ralph has been talking about me for an hour and a half – how will I compare to their expectations? Earlier in the rehearsal process, the director and I had talked about the fact that the play resolves only when Dottie comes back, which is a pretty big responsibility. In the end, however, you just have to trust the script, the director, and yourself. I knew I was in good hands, and I knew my job was simply to live truthfully under the circumstances and let the rest take care of itself.
Question: When did you first become interested in acting?
Answer: For as long as I can remember I was interested in it – I grew up on the old ‘50s and ‘60s movie musicals, like Sound of Music. I started taking piano lessons when I was 4 ? or 5; I had this great music teacher in Little Rock, Joy Blacklock, a very talented singer herself. In addition to teaching me piano we did some singing. I sang a lot of Shirley Temple, and Rogers and Hammerstein, and Disney stuff. She had this great talent for instilling in her students a sense of what it means to be a performer. I loved it on my own, but her love for performing also encouraged my interest.
I was always putting on plays as a child! When I was 4 or 5, we went to see The Nutcracker at Robinson Center in Little Rock; I think my cousins were in it. After we got home, there’s this video of me directing (and acting with) my brother and sister in our own version of The Nutcracker in our playroom. You know, it was always something that I loved, but growing up I guess I didn’t really think about it as a career; maybe it didn’t occur to me that real people could do that.
When I came to school here, I started out as a music major, in vocal performance. Every time I walked by the theater, I just wanted to be there; so after about a year, I switched my major to drama, and ended up getting a music minor.
Question: Why did you choose to attend the University of Arkansas?
Answer: Largely, because of the Bodenhamer Fellowship. I was looking out of state: my dad got his master’s degree at Notre Dame, and for as long as I can remember I wanted to go there. I got in there, but it’s a rather expensive school! My dad encouraged me to apply for the fellowship, and I was just kind of like, oh, okay, I’ll make my dad happy, I’ll apply for this. But then I came up for the interview weekend, and I completely fell in love with the sense of community and the atmosphere and the people.
I’m really glad I ended up here. Having the fellowship helped; there were a lot of opportunities, for example study abroad, and I didn’t have to worry about earning spending money while I was in school. I could really focus on my classes, which was good, because my first two or three years I took probably 18-20 hours a semester. Music and theater classes require a lot of outside class time – rehearsals and things like that.
I really strongly believe that being in the Honors College made a big difference; it really had the feeling of a small liberal arts school, and I feel like I got a very well rounded liberal arts education. I’m really pleased with the balance between the sense of being part of a small community and having all of the opportunities that a large institution provides.
Question: Do any U of A professors, or classes, stand out as being especially memorable?
Answer: Amy Herzberg, definitely, was a huge influence on me. She’s an incredible acting teacher – I don’t think I’ve had an acting teacher, ever, who was better than Amy. Her passion for theater, and her belief in training, were very inspiring to me. The acting technique and process that she teaches is something that has stayed with me years later, even through grad school and into my professional acting career. She’s actually one of the main reasons why I finally ended up switching from music to theater, because I’d taken her musical theater class, and gotten a taste of her acting and teaching style. Amy’s musical theater class is unique in that it’s really an acting class and you just happen to be singing. It’s not about how well you can sing, it’s about acting through the song and the music, which I really love.
Question: What brought you back to Northwest Arkansas?
Answer: I loved Fayetteville when I was in school here – Brian and I both did. We called Fayetteville home, whenever we would talk about it. We felt like we were done with our time in D.C., and we were looking at what we would do next. We were thinking about New York but we were also thinking about Fayetteville, which are two very different options! The lifestyle in Fayetteville was very attractive: being able to have a house, a five-minute commute, all of the little things that seem not so significant, but when you add them all up, you know, they are your lifestyle. And there’s so much going on in Northwest Arkansas lately, we felt we wouldn’t be lacking in cultural opportunities. We also have a lot of close friends and family in the area and knew we would find the sense of community we’d been missing.
So, we were in town for a wedding, and I talked to Bob Ford [artistic director for TheatreSquared]. He had heard through the grapevine that we were thinking about moving back to Northwest Arkansas. He told me about this opportunity at TheatreSquared and encouraged me to apply. So I did, and here we are!
And now, to be acting as well, is pretty incredible. I’m so grateful that TheatreSquared is here, for the community, but also, for artists, because now it’s possible for an actor to live in Northwest Arkansas and work professionally. I have a handful of other friends who graduated from the U of A, most of them MFA graduates, who work for TheatreSquared on a regular basis. It’s part of TheatreSquared’s mission, to provide artistic opportunities to professional actors who live here, as well as casting actors and designers and directors from the large theater centers you think about, like New York and Chicago and L.A. They do a really good job of balancing where the actors come from. And when it comes right down to it, it’s always about who’s best for the role.