By ADELINE DAVIS
Connection. This is what Amanda Franz, a senior theater major, craves when she performs. For her, the stage provides an escape. Franz has performed in over 20 shows and crafted her life around this passion, making her first escape at 6 years-old with an oversized pair of shoes.
It was the night of her first role. Franz was cast as one of the munchkins in The Wizard of Oz. While on stage, a cast member kept stepping on the heels of Franz’s shoes, causing her to take exaggerated, big steps.
“It wasn’t even meant to be funny,” Franz said. “It was just so she wouldn’t step on me, but people thought it was hilarious. That’s when I knew I wanted to [act].”
More than a decade later, Franz has taken this love for acting and built it into a career. During her freshman year, she played Escalus in Measure for Measure, which won her a Falk theater award as Best Supporting Actress. She has also been in 6 Characters in Search of an Author, The Seagull, and will be playing Karen Wright in this year’s play, The Children’s Hour.
The Children’s Hour tells the story of teachers, Martha Dobie (Beth Botkin) and Karen Wright running a successful boarding school for girls. When a disgruntled student spreads a rumor about the teachers, stakes are raised for both the school and Martha and Karen’s lives.
This role is an intense shift from Franz’s dark portrayal of Arkadina in The Seagull. Karen Wright’s character brings a set of both similar and different challenges. Similar to the twisted mother, Arkadina, Franz must act motherly towards children who are, in reality, only two years younger than her. However, unlike Arkadina’s love/hate relationship with her son, Karen adores every child she teaches. Franz embraces this challenge, and views her job as fun and exciting.
“Karen Wright is very optimistic and bubbly. I’m not even like that normally,” Franz said. “It’s nice to be able to just be sunshine, rainbows, and puppies.”
One of Franz’s loves for acting lies in being able to relate her character back to the audience. At 16, Franz was cast in the musical, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. After relentless rehearsals, the show ran for a month. Emotions heightened on the night of the last show. When exiting through the aisles during the last scene, tears poured from both cast and audience members.
“You could see the audience was there with us,” Franz said. “It’s always amazing when people say you had them at the very beginning. I love that phrase.”
Though her experience in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas varied greatly from the laughter that sounded during The Wizard of Oz, both performances fueled Franz with the satisfaction of impacting the audience. After experiencing the fast pace of the theater for years, Franz’s nerves are not focused on her own performance. Instead, she yearns for the audience to get lost in the stories her characters tell.
However, since audiences only see the carefully constructed character on stage, many are unaware of the physical and mental strength acting requires. The lines written in a script must come across as conversational, the physical cues subtle. Everything must have a purpose.
“ Reacting is a huge physical thing. You have to act like it is the first time you’re hearing the information, every time,” Franz said. “You have to clear your mind, but also remember everything you’re supposed to be saying and doing.”
Being a female in the industry, Franz also endures ageism and sexism. The difference in the treatment between herself and male actors ranges from a director saying, “get on his level,” to inappropriate comments about her body. However, Franz does not take these interactions as discouragement. She lets them go and moves on. Though the discrimination and long rehearsals are intense, Franz’s dedication to delivering impactful performances energizes her to get up each day and try again, taking on the acting job with grit and a realist attitude.
“It is always a fight and you have to work hard,” Franz said. “Acting is so rewarding. To know that you made a difference not just in making somebody’s night, but in conveying a message is an amazing feeling.”
Franz’s experience and determination in theater led up to her playing the role of Arkadina; a feat that was her most challenging and rewarding one yet. Not only was Arkadina Franz’s first leading role, but the character was also double her age. Franz’s mission to connect her character to the audience seemed daunting at first.
Arkadina’s complicated relationship with her son was a source of crucial tension in the play. The relationship had to be believable, despite Franz never having experienced kids of her own. Franz drew Arkadina’s love for her son from her relationship with her eight-year old sister.
“[Arkadina’s character] was this whole thing I had to weave together in my mind,” Franz said. “ That was hard for me to make that up. And to not only make it up, but make it real.”
Franz succeeded. Her portrayal of the complicated Arkadina won a Falk Theater award for Best Leading Actress in a Play, as well as making her the recipient of the Outstanding Theater Student of the Year 2015-2016
As Franz prepares for the sugar-and-spice role of Karen, she maintains multiple part time jobs, goes to auditions, and is a full-time student. Though her schedule can feel overwhelming on occasion, Franz prefers staying busy and focuses on her future ahead. With a double major in broadcast journalism, and a minor in communications, she plans to both act in films and work as a broadcaster, though her primary goal is acting.
“Whatever the last role I was, call me that,” Franz said. “Because if that’s what you associate me with, you see me as that character. You believed it, and you still believe it. I want my character to be recognized in elevators.”
Adeline Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org