Supporting creative work by women
Elizabeth Claire Taylor shares more than a name with the one-time “most famous woman in the world.” The plus-size model, actress and activist even owns a pair of La Liz’s earrings that she purchased at auction after the icon’s death last year. Elizabeth Claire Taylor (ECT) will take the stage at the New York International Fringe Festival next week in Finding Elizabeth Taylor, a one-woman homage to the original Elizabeth Taylor as well as the the trials and tribulations of living up to such a famous name.
Last summer, the show wowed audiences at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity, winning the Outstanding Solo Show Award. Since then ECT has worked with renowned director Cheryl King to further develop the play.
ECT spoke to Works by Women about living up to her namesake’s magical life, how she contacted the screen icon and why Project Girl Performance Collective rules.
WORKS BY WOMEN: When did it click that you wanted to act? And did your namesake Ms. Taylor inspire you in any way?
ELIZABETH CLAIRE TAYLOR: Well, I have certainly always been a ‘ham’ – as my father likes to say! My earliest memories are of my parents putting on their old Elvis LP’s and me dancing around the living room when we had guests over. I started community theatre around 11-years-old and just got the biggest kick out of it. I immediately felt connected to the theatre and the entire community. But it really kicked into gear in high school, learning the craft and taking bigger and bigger roles. And most certainly, Ms. Taylor was an incredible inspiration. It is totally addressed in my show, but her movies were on in my house growing up all the time.
WBW: Why should fans of Elizabeth Taylor see your show Finding Elizabeth Taylor?
ELIZABETH: We use Elizabeth Taylor’s life as a frame work for mine, and all the ways that I have tried to live up to it. There are a lot of ‘inside’ references that her die-hard fans will get along with a solid introduction to her that ‘newbies’ would also love. Having been to the auction of her estate last year, along with buying a pair of her earrings (still paying those babies off!) is a major part of the show, and I know that was a really big deal for all Elizabeth Taylor fans, myself included!
WBW: You never met Elizabeth Taylor. What would you liked to have said or done with her if you’d had a chance?
ELIZABETH: I actually was able to get a letter I had written to her read to her. I’m very close with Camryn Manheim, and she graciously offered to get it to her. The story goes, Camryn and Ms. Taylor shared the same dentist so she told the receptionist to have the letter read to Elizabeth by her assistant the next time she came in. The letter basically said what I say in my show – that the name is a blessing, not a curse and I’m proud to have it – however rocky at times, it felt. Well, her assistant did read her the letter, and the receptionist cried as it was so beautiful! Elizabeth as reported to have said “Ohhhhh….well isn’t that nice???” and was then wheeled into the dentist’s office. Although it would have been nice to meet her in person, I feel very connected to her, especially now that I have some of her jewelry, and we all know how much meaning she put into those!
WBW: How is it working with Cheryl King, the piece’s director?
ELIZABETH: Cheryl has been AMAZING! I literally feel like I am back at NYU drama school when we are working together! She has really shaped the show for me into something that I am so proud of and excited to perform. We clicked immediately and have had a blast working together. Not only is her dramaturgy work amazing, but the acting and vocal coaching is top notch. She has quite a reputation around town for working with solo performers and now I certainly see why!
WBW: You are also an activist for women, girls and body image. What inspires you to do this work?
ELIZABETH: Having thought for many years that I was failing in being a woman, just because I was not incredibly skinny, is not something that one can get over that easily. If it had not been for feminism and the concept that it was not MY fault, rather that I was part of a huge societal machine that encourages women to adapt to unrealistic archetypes, I might have still been anorexic, bulimic or hospitalized. I had an incredibly supportive family, so that goes to show how strong culture is in influencing how women (and men) think about themselves. Thus, the importance of alternative role models to exist, dialogues to be opened up, and some real listening to take place in order to prevent another generation of young women from hating their bodies. And actually I just heard that eating disorder rates are dropping in younger women, but growing in middle-aged women. I think that has a lot to do with the fat acceptance blog movement, plus size fashion and it’s reach to teens as opposed to the “Real Housewife”-esq concept of what a middle-aged woman ‘should’ look like. And believe me, I have had body image talks with women and men of all ages. I know it is my destiny to use this name for good, and I think Elizabeth Taylor would be proud of me for keeping her legacy of activism alive.
WBW: What challenges do women in American theater face?
ELIZABETH: Like in most of the media, women are forced to fit into certain ‘boxes’ or ‘types’. I have had a few agents tell me that I was “too fat to be the pretty girl, and too pretty to be the fat girl. Now let’s think about that statement for a second. Does that mean there are no “fat, pretty girls”?? And if not, is that because women only serve one purpose and that’s to further the story for the male protagonists? I have had a hard time over the years auditioning as agents often send me out for parts that on paper look like may fit, but when I get there it is obvious that they want a caricature of a plus-size woman. And I want no part in mockery or belittling what full-figured women go through so I have found the greatest challenge is finding roles that allow you to be multi-faceted – to show all of the aspects of one’s mental and physical life – and not just a shallow, one-dimensional sketch that only serves to enrage half of your audience! I hope I don’t sound too angry! Well actually, I hope I do! And that is exactly why I wrote my solo show to give myself a voice after years of auditioning in NYC, still loving the theatre, but feeling excluded and not exactly knowing why.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
ELIZABETH: What gives me hope are collectives like Project Girl Performance Collective – which creates a space for girls to write and perform their own work. I saw them at Estrogenious a few years ago and was BLOWN AWAY! I imagined how differently I may have felt about myself if I had seen or participated in something like that when I was growing up. If you haven’t heard of them, check them out at www.projectgirlperformancecollective.org.