Distinguished Teaching Award
Director of Theatre, Associate Professor of Theatre
Elizabeth Cox loves words. “I love the way they sound, the way they look on a page, all the different ways you can use your body to portray a word,” she says.
Fostering her students’ appreciation for words is one of Cox’s many goals as associate professor of theatre and director of theatre at PSU. A member of the faculty since 1995, Cox teaches acting, voice and diction, stage dialects, and other theatre courses. She also teaches courses in American Sign Language for the language and linguistics department, an endeavor she sees as being closely linked to her work in theatre.“Sign is about conceptualizing thoughts into a pictorial language,” she says. “As with acting, there are many physical nuances that indicate emotion and meaning.”
Cox’s teaching responsibilities reflect her own diverse background, which encompasses speech pathology, counseling, and working with the deaf. An actor since high school, Cox earned her bachelor’s in speech and dramatic art from the University of Missouri. She then earned her master’s in rehabilitation counseling with a concentration in counseling for the deaf and hearing impaired.
While she began her professional career working with the deaf and hearing impaired, she realized after a few years that something was missing from her life. “I loved my work, but I wasn’t feeding my creativity,” Cox says. Compelled to return to theatre, she enrolled in the MFA acting program at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where she was also a graduate teaching assistant and instructor in the communication and theatre department.
As an instructor, Cox strives to make her acting lab a nurturing environment in which her students can make a psycho-physical connection to their characters, and understand and gain insight into themselves prior to taking on a character. “These insights allow them to make bolder choices in characterizations,” she says.
Cox knows about bold choices: among her most recent roles at PSU was the volatile Martha in Edward Albee’s emotionally charged drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? “It was fun working with Paul [Mroczka, associate professor of theatre] and two students,” she says of Woolf. “But it was a tough play and a demanding role.”
Balancing her teaching and directing responsibilities with her acting—not to mention family life—can be a challenge, but for Cox, the benefits are manifold. “It’s important for my students to see me work; I have my own way of working, my own struggles with character that they need to see,” says Cox, who also performs professionally with area theatre companies. “And it’s important for me to feed my creativity. Besides, it’s fun.”