As a prostitute, she donned a miniskirt and stilettos, strutting in front of the men. This wasn’t her way of life, just an act – a part she played for a high school production. Exploring characters and learning from the many different roles she plays is the beauty of acting for 26-year-old Elizabeth Wessa.
“You get to try out different things without committing to anything,” Elizabeth told MyFaith in a phone interview last week. “I don’t have to have a full body makeover to try on stilettos and fish nets – I can just be in the show.”
But for Elizabeth, acting is about more than being in the show – it’s her passion and a dream that’s taken her most recently to New York where she’s living off of her savings and whatever money she makes from acting jobs.
Though she’s putting all of her energy and money into pursuing this career now, she actually resisted the idea of becoming an actress.
Elizabeth, a graduate of St. Catherine Parish School and Pius XI High School, both in Milwaukee, and St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minn., said she’s been a self-described “showcaser” since she was a little girl. Performing songs or dances for her family was second nature, but acting was never her first choice for a career path.
“I, for a long time, didn’t consider going into acting because when I was little I was like, ‘Well, that’s too clichéd, every girl wants to be an actress,’” Elizabeth said.
You may have seen her!
Elizabeth Wessa, a 26-year-old Milwaukee native, currently pursuing her dream of acting in New York, has appeared as an extra in:
Whether she was narrating a production about Italy as a student at St. Catherine, or playing the part of Recha, in “Nathan the Wise,” as a student involved in the theater program at Pius XI, Elizabeth loved the theater. But she resisted – even in college she waited until the second semester of her sophomore year to declare a major.
“I took all of the proper courses for acting, if it was going to be my major, but I didn’t declare until second semester sophomore year because I was like, ‘Well, what if I find something I like better? I don’t want to get tied into this job,’ because I was trying to be practical,” Elizabeth said. “… It’s difficult. It’s hard to make money – so few people percentage-wise actually succeed in this field…’ but ultimately, what it came down to is that nothing drives me like acting does. It’s just my passion and I’ve always enjoyed doing it.”
She had considered other options while attending St. Mary’s: She’s pretty good at science and OK at math, though she doesn’t care for it, and she likes English, reading and writing – she’s written two novels for fun in the last two Novembers for National Novel Writing Month.
“I could have gone into a different field, but nothing drew me like theater and acting…. It’s what I love to do and, basically, what it comes down to – if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, the money doesn’t matter. You should really love what you’re doing. I was like I could become an accountant and hate my job, but make tons of money, or I could go into acting and maybe still make enough money, but love what I’m doing.”
When Elizabeth’s college friends in the theater department were being told by their families that they needed “a real job,” Elizabeth’s parents, June, who was pastoral associate at St. John Neumann Parish, Waukesha, for 12 years, but is right now volunteering at two parishes, and Michael, an insurance underwriter, were encouraging her to do what she wanted.
“When I said, ‘I want to be an actress, they were like, ‘Awesome, go for it, yes, we will support you in that. Do it, that’s a great idea,’” said Elizabeth, who graduated with degrees in theater and French from St. Mary’s, and whose education took her to France, England and Ireland. She was greeted with the same support when she announced she was moving to Rhode Island.She spent two years in Rhode Island, performing with the Beechwood Theatre Company and doing Living History Tours, as if it were 1891, of the Astors Beechwood Mansion, the Astors’ summer home in Newport.
When Elizabeth told her parents she was moving to New York in January 2010 and that she wouldn’t have a job, they still applauded her decision.
“They’re like always supportive, regardless of how crazy my choices might seem to them.…It just speaks for itself to me of the type of love that my parents always said that God has for us,” Elizabeth said, referring to her sister Jessica, who’s two-and-a-half years older.
While her parents taught Elizabeth and Jessica about morals and Catholic beliefs with words, Elizabeth said their actions spoke louder.
“They’re such wonderful examples of what a loving marriage should be about and they’re such good role models,” she said, explaining that Michael also is the landlord of the properties they own and volunteers weekends at Habitat for Humanity, while June also lives by example, with her involvement in the church organizing retreats, fundraisers, talks and being Elizabeth’s go-to person for faith questions.
“She’s always reminding my sister and (me) that we are children of God and God loves us, exactly who we are, and neither of my parents ever pushed us to be something or another; they allowed us to grow and become our own people, but they had instilled such a solid foundation of love and trust and goodness that they didn’t have to worry about how we turned out,” Elizabeth said.
June and Michael not only sat near the front of church while their daughters were little so they could pay attention, but they also sent them to the parish school.
“They know that church is who we are,” June told MyFaith. “It’s our community of faith and it’s really, although they’ve traveled to different places, this is really the primary community that they’ve known as a community of faith.”
The sense of a church community is something that June said has followed Elizabeth to New York as she attends Mass and sings in the church choir at St. Joseph Parish in Astoria (Queens), N.Y.
“I think faith means something to her, because she goes to church. I mean faith is bigger than church, but she goes out of her way to be part of a community,” June said. “She doesn’t just show up – she’s participating in it, because she has a sense of belonging to the church, and that’s what we have raised them as. They knew that we went to church not because we had to but because we were part of this community….They’ve both grown up within a sense of having a sense of belonging to a community bigger than just their biological family.”
While June wishes Elizabeth lived closer, Elizabeth’s moves have allowed her and Michael to travel to France, England and New York.
“Part of me would say why don’t you work here? Because she’s 1,000 miles away,” June said, laughing, “but as any parent will tell you, you know that your children have to leave the nest and they have to pursue their dreams.”
In addition to being supportive, June said that she and Michael admire Elizabeth’s determination as she pursues her dream.
“She’s trying (to make it work), and the good thing is, if she isn’t successful, because really it almost seems like in order to get ahead in New York, you have to know somebody, and she doesn’t really have that in, but she’s doing her best and if she doesn’t make it, then at least she will know that she tried and it’s a part of her dream and if she does make it, well, it’s because she tried very hard, because she worked very hard,” June said.
Elizabeth faces rejection, more often than not, as she auditions against the full supply of talent in New York. With each rejection, she tries to remember that everything happens for the best and works out because God has each person’s best interest in mind.
If rejection gets to Elizabeth, she said she remembers what she’s learned in school and from her parents about how God gives people talents that are meant to be used.
“I feel that my talent happens to lie in the field of acting, so I feel that I didn’t just choose this field,” said Elizabeth, whose fiancé, Bryon Krueger, recently moved from Wisconsin to New York to also pursue a career in acting. “I feel like I was – destiny is almost too strong a word – but like I was designed to be in the acting field. … So, when I start to get discouraged, I just remember I’m in the right field because this is where I’m called to be. It’s my calling. Just like people get called to become sisters and brothers and priests and whatever profession, the lay people get called to their jobs as well.”
As she continues to pursue her dream, she hopes to encourage children and adults to follow theirs.
“I hope I really encourage people, not just children, but just people, in general, to live their lives and do the things that they want to do,” she said. “(To) find their passion and stick with it.”