Actress Rebecca Cox Receives an Education in Producing

By Patty Wetli | Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Recognize this face? Someday you may be able to say you knew Rebecca Cox before she was famous. Photo courtesy of Rebecca Cox.

Between acting in a pop-up production of Romeo and Juliet, producing Shattered Globe’s current run of Educating Rita , studying for a certificate in wine making and grape growing, plus working her day job in data entry, you’d think Rebecca Cox wouldn’t have a moment to spare. But the Lincoln Square resident recently sat down with Center Square Journal over iced tea at Julius Meinl where we played a game of Inside the Actors Studio, Chicago style.

Are you Mormon?

OK, that might seem random, but when Cox tells people she’s from Ogden, Utah, it’s the first question they ask. “I’m not,” she answers. “My mom grew up in a Mormon family and everybody just assumed we were.”

What’s an actress like you doing in a place like this?

After graduating from Whitman College (located in the awesomely-named Walla Walla, Washington), Cox broke ranks with her fellow thespians and headed for Chicago in 2007. “Everybody I knew either went to Seattle, which was too small, or New York, which was too big.” After being shown various apartments in Lincoln Park and Lakeview, Cox and her mother struck out on their own and rode the Brown Line to the Western stop. She immediately fell for Lincoln Square. “It had a smaller feel to it, more of a neighborhood vibe,”  Cox says. “It’s relatively quiet but there’s a lot of stuff to do and a mix of young and older people.” Her favorite haunts include The Perfect Cup, Fork, Sulzer Library and the farmers market. “I love Merz,” she adds. “If I had a bajillion dollars, I’d buy everything there. I had mono last year and they were really good to me.”

When will you be a) rich and b) famous?

A) Never. “Only one or two people can actually make a living acting in Chicago,” says Cox. “You’ve got to do something else.” In addition to her data entry gig, she’s also worked as an administrative assistant for Acting Studio Chicago where she took classes after arriving in the city and realizing “I was in no way prepared to get a job. I didn’t even know where to get an audition.”

B) After you finish reading this piece. With a self-described “quirky aesthetic,” Cox seems destined for best friend roles, a la Joan Cusack or Judy Greer. “I’m keeping my expectations realistic. I’d love to do one to two plays a year. I just want to get a callback,” she says. “There are these fabulous actors here and they get cast as ‘concerned neighbor man’ in TV and movies. Some day I’d like to play ‘concerned neighbor lady.’” She comes close in 30 Minutes or Less, due out in August and starring The Social Network‘s Jesse Eisenberg. Blink and you’ll miss her during the movie’s pivotal robbery scene. “I play the bank teller.” Concerned bank teller, we presume.

What exactly do producers do?

Just named an ensemble member at Shattered Globe, Cox was tapped to produce Educating Rita, which runs through August 14 at the Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. “They recognized I’m kind of OCD,” says Cox, whose attention to detail came in handy in her new role. “The producer does all the little jobs like dealing with PR and getting post cards printed,” she explains. “The buck stops with you.” She and co-producer Dan Wilson were recruited just as auditions for the production were being held in late April; the two played a quick game of catch-up, scheduling production meetings and coordinating among the costume, set and lighting designers. “Everything was new for me because I had never produced before.” Challenges included procuring enough books for the play’s set, which consists entirely of a college professor’s office. “We thought we had enough,” says Cox, but they wound up soliciting donations from ensemble members (“If you look closely, there are a lot of acting books”) and, working those Lincoln Square connections, The Book Cellar.

Romeo, Romeo, why art thou voice so high?

While working on Rita, Cox is also appearing in Shattered Globe’s “down and dirty” production of Romeo and Juliet. All the actors have been trained to play multiple roles, with the audience choosing which actor takes on which character. Cox alternates between the nurse and Lady Capulet. “When I got cast, I was like, ‘Really? I’m way too young.’” She warmed to the idea after recognizing the director wasn’t aiming for realism, what with the potential for a female Romeo and male Juliet. Watch for Romeo and Juliet to pop up in Millenniun Park and other locations around the city.

Brad Woodard (Frank) and Whitney White (Rita) star in Shattered Globe's production of "Educating Rita." Photo by Kevin Viol.

Finally, in our best impersonation of James Lipton…What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Nothing screams “fall back career” for an actress like wine making because if ever there were a sure thing, growing grapes in Chicago would be it. “You can source grapes,” Cox is quick to point out. She became interested in wine while attending Whitman, located in the heart of Washington’s wine country. She signed up for the wine making certificate course, via distance learning, to get a grasp of the basics. Ultimately she’d like to model a business after Koval Distillery, and perhaps set up Chicago’s first urban winery. “But that’s way in the future,” she says.

Snapshot review: Educating Rita tells the story of a brash, young hairdresser from Liverpool, hungry to improve her lot in life by furthering her education. She enrolls at the local university, where her burnt-out and boozy tutor, Professor Frank Bryant, ignites a passion for literature. Because it’s a two-person play, any production of Rita will live and die on the chemistry of its two leads and by this measure, Shattered Globe’s is an unqualified success.  Whitney White is pitch perfect as Rita, conveying the character’s spark, vulnerability, intelligence and yearning; it’s an utterly engaging performance in which White subtly transforms from gawky and unsophisticated to polished and self-assured. Brad Woodard as Frank (played by Michael Caine in the 1983 film version), whose facade of world-weary cynicism is punctured by Rita’s hopeful enthusiasm, proves an excellent sparring partner; the pair have a palpable rapport. Both actors are equally at home with the play’s comedic and dramatic elements, by turns entertaining and thought provoking.

Catch performances of Educating Rita Thursdays through Sundays, Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave.; tickets are $28.

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