Life's a stage

Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Curtis in her second home -- Rose Theatre. (Don Frazier photo)

If you're any fan of local theater, you've probably seen Elisa Curtis -- the diminutive blonde Southeast Missouri State University theater major who's been in everything from tragedies to comedies.

Curtis just wrapped up performances of "Noises Off," the farce Southeast used to kick off its 2006-2007 season. Most of the time she was on stage in lingerie, since her character is, well, a loose woman. This month the Southeast star sat down with OFF to talk about hectic schedules, acting in her underwear and the perils of being a short actor.

OFF: So where are you from?

Elisa Curtis: I'm from Fulton, Missouri. That's up between Jeff City and Columbia.

OFF: So how did you make your way down to Southeast Missouri?

EC: Trial and error, in college (laughs). I originally was a freshman at Truman State, and it wasn't the school for me, and I started looking and a friend helped me with a college search and Southeast came up in it.

OFF: What are some of the parts at Southeast people would recognize you from?

EC: I was Lady Capulet in "Romeo and Juliet," I was Suzanne in "Picasso," and Cassandra in "Trojan Women."

OFF: What was it like for you, as an actor, during the whole controversy over "Romeo and Juliet" last year?

EC: It was kind of surreal, because none of us thought of it at all to be that risqué. It was the way it was, it was the way Shakespeare wrote it, and to have everybody sort of blow up about it was interesting. It was interesting the see the back and forth sides of things, when people wrote into the paper after seeing it or having not seen it.

OFF: Was that your first introduction into controversy in the theater?

EC: That I was actually in, yes. Earlier in the year my high school was involved in a big scandal because they did "Grease," and my brother was in it. So, I got to see it from his point of view, even though I was an outsider.

OFF: How demanding is theater, and how do you deal with those demands?

EC: It's very demanding. You learn to sleep little, and make the sleep you get count. As far as coping, just realizing you're pushing yourself too hard and saying I need a minute, I need an hour, I need a day -- taking the time to recuperate.

OFF: So what's your schedule like when you have a production running?

EC: During a production, of course, I attend class during the day. On most days I'm in class until 5, rehearsals start at 6. Call for show is 5:30, and I work the other days until 5.

It's a pretty demanding schedule. You learn to eat on the run, and really get up and run in the morning, and not sit down until everything's over with, between 10 and 11, depending on whether it's a rehearsal or show.

OFF: How many years have you been doing that sort of thing?

EC: With the children's production, it was in the summer. So when I first started, it wasn't that bad.

But through William Woods University in Fulton, I was in shows as a community member, and I learned early on that that's the way things were.

When you're younger they sort of treat you special and they try to get you home at a halfway decent time, but it doesn't always happened. So I learned from an early age this is how it works.

OFF: When you decided to be in theater, did you know at first it was going to be like that?

EC: At first, not really. But because I started so early it was much easier for me to adjust, and it just seemed normal. I didn't understand at schools when my friends said "Don't you hate not having time to just sit down and hang out?" No. I don't know what that's like, so I can't hate not having it or miss it.

OFF: In the production of "Noises Off," you spend a lot of time on stage in your underwear. Is that uncomfortable for you?

EC: You really have to put yourself aside, when you're doing a role, and sometimes that helps. Because I've been an actor so long I learned very early on to just be comfortable in any situation, because even if you're not running around in your underwear on stage, half the time if you've got quick changes back stage it's in front of the crew and the cast and God and everybody, so it becomes not such a big deal.

The thing I found odd was, during rehearsal, I would roll up the legs of the pajama pants I wore and took my shirt off and just run around in my bra, just to get used to it. But then, when I put on the layers -- the hose and the corset and the spankies and the underwear on top of those and everything for my costume -- I actually felt more naked in my costume on stage I found. It was a little bizarre.

OFF: Are you worried, being a blonde, that you're going to be cast like that a lot?

EC: It happens, but a lot of it has to do with the personality that people see, and I was a little shocked, because I'm not usually like that, I'm usually a lot more put together.

While the whole blonde thing, I understand, but personality-wise I was a little shocked.

At times the thing I worry about most in being cast is my height, and that that's going to affect the type of roles I get.

It can be a negative and it can be a positive. In "Romeo and Juliet" I really thought my only chance was Juliet and I was shocked when I was cast as Lady Capulet, because the girl who played Juliet was my height. We're the two shortest people in the department, but we're literally the same height.

It one of those things that I've always known was going to be a barrier for me, and yet, as I go on and get out of academic theater and into professional theater, I'll probably be looking at playing roles much younger than my actual age because of my height.

OFF: Will you try to be in any other productions this season?

EC: I plan to audition for every show.

OFF: Are you able to do anything for fun?

EC: Theater is what I do for fun. When I need a break for that, usually we have Saturday nights.

Elisa Curtis was interviewed by OFF editor Matt Sanders.

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