Life on the Verve

Alumna Elizabeth Davis talks acting, reacting and helping the homeless

Elizabeth Davis

PHOTO: Joan Marcus (c) 2011

Elizabeth Davis was asleep in her apartment when a neighbor clambered upstairs with the announcement: Davis had been nominated for a Tony Award for her first-ever Broadway role. A 2006 graduate of the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts in Acting program, Davis had received wide acclaim for her role as Reza in Once, a musical version of a film about two star-crossed lovers. The university’s first Tony-nominated actress, Davis describes her days since hearing the big news.

Q Was it totally unexpected getting nominated?

A It was completely unexpected. I didn’t even believe it until my husband [Jordan Richard, a freelance TV director and tour manager for rock band Atomic Tom] confirmed it on the Internet. I collapsed into a puddle of tears at that point. I’m in such a tight-knit, talented, beautiful ensemble. I was just mostly concerned that the leads in our show would get nominated, and they did [lead actor Steve Kazee won a Tony]. We had no stars, and they were hoping the show would make stars.

Q We all know fashion is always a big part of any award show. Did you get to wear some bling for the Tonys?

A It was a much bigger ordeal than I had anticipated, and making sure you’re dressed well is important. A good friend of mine used to work with [Project Runway Season 4 winner] Christian Siriano, and she turned me on to what a wonderful designer he is. I ended up wearing a beautiful strapless, dove-gray gown of his and Verdura jewelry. The dress had a full train, so maneuvering was a bit tricky. Luckily I had my sweet husband on my arm on the red carpet.

Q Once is a unique musical in that the characters do everything—right down to moving furniture. No one leaves the stage for the duration of the play. Every night you’re dancing, you’re singing, you’re playing the violin and you’re acting. Are you exhausted by the final curtain?

A I am struggling from some physical challenges. I have some tendonitis just from the wear and tear of doing this show consistently. I put a lot of pressure—all my body weight—on my wrists in several particular parts: throwing myself over the table, throwing myself up on the bar. My body is essentially going through a pounding every night, so I have to be careful to maintain my strength and take good care of myself.

Q You’ve been in more than 200 performances of Once, both off-Broadway and Broadway. How do you keep your character fresh?

A I have to go back to the basics of acting, which means connecting with the other actors. It’s not just acting, it’s reacting. It’s looking in the eyes of the other people onstage and making sure that you’re doing the job of not making the scene about yourself, but about the others.

You find material to make your character new and alive. Live theater has that beauty. Also, we have new audiences every night, and they feed us as well. I happen to have a character who’s got a lot of verve, and that’s fun for me. She’s a very sexy, dangerous woman of the world, but with a broken heart.

Q What’s your favorite New York thing to do in your free time (not that you have much right now)?

A I love Central Park. I live right on the park, so I love just wandering in and going into the garden and just running around and getting lost in the beauty of it all. On my nights off, my husband and I enjoy discovering new restaurants. The Upper West Side is one of our favorite parts of the city. And we love the music scene on the Lower East Side.

Q What’s next for you?

A I’ve written a one-woman show that I’m going to be doing for a two-week run at [New York’s] Cherry Lane Theatre in February. The play is loosely based on a Native American homeless man that I met when I was a freshman at Baylor University— he’s no longer homeless, and he’s a dear friend of mine. He was living under a bridge, and I crossed the freeway to see him. The campus was on one side, and the homeless population on the other, but they never interacted. It seemed strange to me. I went to a Christian school where we believed that we were to love our neighbors as ourselves. I wanted to join with the others in the community already making a difference. The play is about how he has shaped me and what is home and what is family and what is land and what is beauty.

My focus and passion is theater—that has always been the case and will continue to be the case. But I’ve been auditioning for films, and I would like to focus a bit more on television if time permits. I’ve been so focused on getting to this point that I haven’t really had time.