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Local girl tries to make it big in Chicago

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By Calen McKinney

Campbellsville residents traveling to take in a little theater might just find themselves watching a fellow Taylor Countian perform.

Eva Swan, a former Taylor County High School student, has spent the past five years living in Chicago pursuing her dream of becoming an actress.

Swan, 26, the daughter of Dr. Terry and Cinda Swan, was born in Bowling Green but spent the majority of her youth in Campbellsville, attending Taylor County schools. She was involved in dance team and chorus throughout middle and high school.

" ... and I felt very passionately about it, as passionate as one could be about dancing at football games. However, the one musical my high school successfully put on was 'Into the Woods' where I was cast as an ugly stepsister."

"Into the Woods" was what Swan describes as an extremely witty, well-written musical that the group performed at Campbellsville College.

"It was such a fantastic experience for us all," she said in an e-mail interview. "Not to mention freeing, as we were performing for our fellow peers, and [that's not] easy to do."

After attending Taylor County High School, Swan moved from Campbellsville in 1998 to Huntington, Ind. to pursue a degree in theater/vocal music from Huntington University.

She says she initially went to Huntington only because she received free tuition assistance there but soon found herself falling in love with acting.

"I didn't have any expectations of Huntington or college itself yet because I had no clue what I wished to do, and I was a little younger going into it."

Swan skipped her fourth and senior years of school. She was a college freshman at the age of 16.

"By dropping in on a beginning acting class, I just fell in love with the experience of acting and the idea that I could study it and receive a degree in the end. I could possibly do this the rest of my life.

"Thanks to Huntington, I got to play many great roles, have lots of time onstage and explore my abilities in an educational way, rather than testing my green self out on the real world and going through the constant rejection I see at auditions."

Swan also learned classical singing techniques when she took voice lessons at Huntington and added a music minor during her remaining two years of college.

"I performed with orchestras, in operas - all on a smaller college budget, of course - but they are still moments I couldn't have gotten anywhere else at that age."

Swan graduated from Huntington in 2002 and attended a year of graduate school in the acting/fine arts department at the University of Louisville.

She moved to Chicago a year later, and, for the past five years, has and continued to pursue acting. She said she always knew she wanted to move to a city larger than Campbellsville.

"Chicago made sense because it was still close to my family, but extremely prominent in the cities of the world. I knew I would find more culture, more food, more life. And I have.

"It's a wonderful place to be when you are from a smaller town like myself," she said. "It still has a friendly and safe mentality that you do not find in Los Angeles or New York.

"I originally moved here to do theater, but found myself first focusing on financial stability in a much more expensive place."

For her first few years in Chicago, Swan commuted to the city's suburbs to be a manager at a clothing store and a Pilates studio in Lincoln Park.

"I was working as much as 60 to 70 hours a week during that time and, like commuting, the time commitments kept me from doing much theater."

Swan said she then got a small role in "The Skin Of Our Teeth" with the nonprofit Chicago acting company Backstage Theater. She stuck with the company and has also performed in "Zombies from the Beyond" and is now performing in "Bloody Bess: A Tale of Piracy and Revenge."

In "Bloody Bess," Swan plays lead character Elizabeth Presberty.

According to www.backstagetheatrecompany.org, "Bloody Bess" tells the story of Presberty, daughter to the governor of the island of Tobago.

"After being taken prisoner by the pirate vessel The God's Love, she returns home to face betrayal and the murder of those she loves. Elizabeth sheds her name and societal status to become Bloody Bess, a ruthless pirate captain who seeks to exact her revenge on those who have done her wrong," the Web site states.

The play is showing at the Storefront Theater in Chicago's theater district.

The Web site includes several reviews of the play, including from "The Chicago Tribune," which says, "It's 'Kill Bill' on the high seas, and it's a blast."

"The Chicago Reader" says, "Sometimes playful and sometimes gripping, 'Bloody Bess' combines brains with brawn - it's exciting enough to make even the most jaded viewer go 'Arrrr!'" and "Eva Swan buries herself completely in Bess' unquenchable rage, hatred and lust for revenge."

"Centerstage Chicago" says, "'Bloody Bess' offers light-hearted fun and over-the-top drama for those who enjoy live-action piracy."

Though Swan has been more focused on acting while living in Chicago, she has dabbled in modeling and also appeared in a movie.

She has signed a contract with Chicago modeling agency Shirley Hamilton Inc. and says they send her on auditions for commercials, print advertisements and some films. One of her recent auditions was for Johnny Depp's new film "Public Enemies," though she did not get the part.

She filmed her first professional movie, "The Intruder," in February. The film was financed by Flashpoint Academy, the world's first digital media arts college.

Swan said the film is currently being edited and is not yet available to be viewed. For more information on "The Intruder," visit www.flashpointacademy.com.

Though Swan has had some acting experience in Chicago, she says it's not the best town for on-camera acting - or even theater.

"Los Angeles does movies, New York does stage, so eventually one will call me to it as opportunities arise. Things are always happening and changing, who you meet, where you go, you never know what will happen next - especially if you work hard.

"I'm hoping to do more film in the future. At this time, I am focused purely on 'Bloody Bess,' which has received amazing reviews. We couldn't ask for more."

Swan says part of what she enjoys about acting is engaging the audience.

" ... I love the engagement and provocation of audience members toward a story or a character. There is a relationship between performer and audience member in live theatre that is irreplaceable."

Swan says acting in movies is nice because of the money, fame and travel involved.

"It's also a different kind of acting, but with many of the same tools and techniques - just smaller, really ... I love learning about all kinds of acting, whether it's commercial, film, modeling, whatever."

Campbellsville residents may not have seen Swan's work just yet, but she says she will continue pursuing theater and film.

"I wish to pursue film and continue learning about the on-camera acting world, though I will never let go of the stage, and welcome more live drama in the future."

Swan says she has always been an entertainer - starting with simply entertaining her family.

"I was always a bit of an entertainer within my family, stealing the spotlight from my brother continually. My parents encouraged my talents, and my brother's, to shape and grow.

"I am still figuring my life out," she said. "All I want is to continue honing my skills and hope for the best ... and perhaps make a bit of money while I'm at it."

- Staff Writer Calen McKinney can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 235 or by e-mail at reporter@cknj.com. Comment on this story at www.cknj.com.