While his high school friends could be found playing sports, Elijah Cox, a recent Loyola graduate, could be found in the theater practicing for the next big play. It’s no wonder you can now find him playing a role in the ongoing fifth annual Chicago Musical Theatre Festival (CMTF), which started Monday.
In an interview with The Phoenix, Cox said he thanks his education at Loyola for broadening his acting experience and teaching him how to be a good collaborator. The wide range of classes he took, from directing to design, also allowed him to appreciate other aspects of theater.
“Since I’ve taken classes in many different theatrical disciplines, I have a general appreciation for those disciplines and understand what other members of a production team might need me to do as an actor,” Cox said. “I feel very well-rounded after leaving Loyola.”
Cox, 22, graduated with a theater degree from Loyola in May 2018, and he’s already found success. A recent work includes his short play, “Admittance,” a story about two high school seniors coming to terms with their imminent separation.
Cox wrote “Admittance” during his senior year of college. Having been assigned to focus on the theme of acceptance, Cox said he thought immediately of college acceptance.
“My college decision process didn’t go exactly how I planned in high school, so I imagine this play as a letter to my younger self assuring him everything will be okay,” Cox said. “At this point in my writing journey, I absolutely plan on at least partly drawing on my own emotions and life experiences. I am, of course, only 22, so this is why a lot of my writing is about teenagers.”
Cox said Dr. Kelly Howe, a fine and performing arts professor at Loyola, taught him a lot about dramatic structure and how theater has been used throughout history as a tool for entertainment, political action and community building.
“I took her course on ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ — a theatrical practice that explores how theater can be used by marginalized communities to combat oppression,” Cox said. “Her classes have informed my understanding of how theatre and performance can shape public space.”
Cox is also a teaching artist at Windy City Performs, mainly teaching children from third to eighth grade. He focuses on having his students learn fundamental skills, such as teamwork, communication and diligence — skills they can utilize throughout their lives.
“I’m very aware many of them may not go into performing theatre professionally, so my main goal for them is to learn that through practice and collaboration they can create something they can be proud of as a group,” Cox said.
Cox’s interest in theater first emerged in elementary school when he was cast in the play “Politically Correct Fairy Tales” as one of the seven dwarves in Snow White. He continued to participate in plays throughout high school and college.
When it comes to role models, Cox said he looks to people in his personal life rather than famous actors and actresses. He looks up to his parents andtheir artistic backgrounds, and credits them for his artistic sensibilities.
“My dad would take me to see musicals at area high schools starting in elementary school, and I always went to my younger sister’s dance recitals,” Cox said. “My parents have always encouraged my development as an artist and I’m really thankful for that.”
With the fifth annual CMTF currently taking place, Cox said he’s excited to a part of it. The theater festival takes place Feb. 4 through Feb. 24.
“Honestly, just being in a musical again is a lot of fun,” Cox said. “Getting a chance to sing and tell a story through music is something I’m looking forward to.”
Cox will play a supporting role, Tony, at multiple ages throughout “Brooke Astor’s Last Affair,” a feature in CMTF.
“I didn’t think I’d be playing age again after college, so working on Tony’s voice and physicality has been a fun and surprising challenge,” Cox said. “The creative team and I have worked to create a balanced, more nuanced version of Tony. His story is pretty sad, but he can also be very funny.”
To best embody Tony, Cox and the creative team discussed how to properly show the changes to his character throughout the play.
“The creative team and I have talked about embodying old age rather than playing old age,” Cox said. “A lot of the changes I make to Tony are slight so I don’t look like a cartoon character.”
The CMTF will be at The Edge Theater (5451 N. Broadway St.). Tickets and festival passes are available at www.cmtf.org.