Elizabeth Evans: Frida Be Who She Wants to Be
Cyndee Rivera and Elizabeth Evans in Ex Voto
Photo by Ginger Berry
With her dark unibrow and shadow of upper lip fuzz, Dallas actress Elizabeth Evans looks eerily like the title character in the Ochre House's latest production, Ex Voto: The Immaculate Conceptions of Frida Kahlo. Her resemblance to the iconic Kahlo isn't why Ochre House founder and artistic director Matthew Posey decided to write and direct the new play, now onstage through November 19. According to Evans, who's been part of the otherwise all-male "Ochre House Boys" creative ensemble for a couple of years, Posey had been working on an idea about Kahlo for a long time. But look at her in the role - come on.
On the tiny Ochre House stage, where Posey's play re-creates life-sized versions of some of Kahlo's best-known works, Evans, 27 and a graduate of Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, gives a fiery, focused performance that's her best work at this theater yet. For much of the play, her character speaks directly to the audience, telling the artist's life story, full of pain, betrayals and occasional artistic triumphs. She also gets naked. Twice. That's something we just had to ask Evans about, among other things, in a chat shortly after the play's opening weekend.
The company calls itself the "Ochre House boys," but do they treat you like a lady? Elizabeth Evans: I am very lucky that they consider me one of the boys. We've found a groove and something that works as an ensemble. There is a little bit of magic. You do know how well the other person works. You understand where they're at. Being one of the boys is kind of fantastic. There are those moments when you're like, all right, listen, I am the only girl and I will speak my mind.
Did you know much about Frida Kahlo before this play? You do bear a striking resemblance to her. That's a coincidence. I started looking at pictures of her when she was younger and was like, well, yeah ... . When I was in college, I studied her a little bit in humanities or art class. I had watched the movie [starring Salma Hayek] but I don't remember any of it. I did look at a lot of her paintings. And I studied the diaries from the last 10 years of her life.
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In Ex Voto, you're onstage alone, talking to the audience for much of the play. Scary? A little at first. I do know all my lines and you have to trust that. You just have to make sure you have the ball at all times. There is a lot of pressure that comes with it. But once you're in the moment and living and breathing and taking in those things that are happening, it doesn't feel like being onstage. You're the character.
What do audiences not understanding about the craft of acting? People do have this misconception about acting. I've heard people say, "Yeah, of course, you're a good liar; you're an actor." But I'm a terrible liar in real life. And you're not lying onstage. You're giving the truth in that moment. People think you're trying to be a person. But you're not. You're pulling things out of yourself that can happen and would happen. Anything can happen in life. For a character your greatest obstacle is not judging them. You're literally using what you know and what that character is and living the part. People think it's a pretend game and it's not. What you're seeing, if it's good acting, you are watching people going through those moments of truth.
Matthew Posey is a complete auteur, writing, directing and often starring in his own plays. What's he like to work with? Every rehearsal with Matt is like an acting class. You just learn so much. For this play, I was overwhelmed the first two or three days of rehearsal. Matt would say "It's all above your head." The second week, "It's in your head." The third week, "Now it's in your gut." For Frida, I had to start asking questions. Why am I telling this story? What's the reason?
You're closely associated with the Ochre House now, but do you want to work at other theaters, too? I go to auditions all the time. Matt encourages us all to audition other place. I still go out and audition and it helps. Being at the Ochre House has opened more doors. I now get asked to do projects that three years ago, I'd be like "Really?" It's an honor and a blessing that we get a strong response from our peers - but you can't just keep making art for yourself and your buddies. You gotta be putting something out there.
So you have to take all your clothes off in Ex Voto, about five feet from the audience. Do you ever get used to doing that night after night? It was scary for the first 48 hours. It wasn't a random decision. It was a process, a discussion. You can't just do it to do it. I really took my time to decide on it. The thing about it is, because it's within one of her paintings, "Henry Ford Hospital," which we're re-creating onstage, it feels natural. It almost feels like a costume. I feared it and then I was over it. You are in the moment, living and breathing it. It's just the next step.
Every actor remembers his or her first role onstage. What was yours? I was the Christmas Star in a school play when I was very young. I narrated the play. That was my first memory of having the pressure to really carry a show.
Ex Voto: The Immaculate Conceptions of Frida Kahlo continues through November 19 at the Ochre House, 825 Exposition Ave. Tickets are $15. Shows are at 8:15 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday. A pay-what-you-can performance is at 8:15 p.m., Monday, November, 14. Box office, 214-826-6273.
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