Frances Lee McCain ’66 dishes about theatrical success

One of Ripon College’s most successful theater alumni is Frances Lee McCain ’66. She has had a steady career in stage, television and film work for more than four decades.

At Ripon, she majored in philosophy but also appeared in theater productions. “I started out in the Red Barn,” she says. “Then it burned down, and I was teased that it was due to my final performance there in ‘Antigone.’

“I really had no plans to go into theater professionally,” she says, but Philip Clarkson, professor of speech and drama at Ripon College, suggested that she consider acting as a career. “I was amazed and asked if he were serious. ‘Yes, I think you can do it,’ he said.”

So, at Clarkson’s suggestion, she auditioned for and was accepted into the Central School of Speech and Drama in London and found she loved the world of theater. “I discovered a heightened sense of being alive on stage,” McCain says. “I like the camaraderie, the process, discovering text and doing plays together. It opens you to others — why we do what we do, what motivates us. It gave me access in a way I wouldn’t otherwise have had.”

She says this same connection is what makes theater important for everyone. “We love stories, and we love to have ourselves reflected back to us,” McCain says. “It gives us the opportunity to see ourselves with an interpretation we might not be able to make otherwise. It’s a shared communal experience that is essential in community.”

On stage, she first appeared on Broadway in Woody Allen’s “Play It Again, Sam.” She also has been active with the American Conservatory Theater’s acting company, ZSpace Studio in San Francisco and Alter Theater Ensemble in San Rafael, Calif.

On television, she has appeared on numerous shows and costarred with Ronny Cox as the female lead in the series “Apple’s Way” in 1974.

During the 1980s, she appeared in several major films, including “Gremlins,” “Footloose,” “Back to the Future” and “Stand By Me.”

In the 1990’s, she received a master’s degree in psychology. Among a lifetime of myriad projects, she remains content in the present. “I tend to enjoy whatever I’m working on at the time,” she says. “The things I remember the best are not necessarily the starriest moments but the people and the quality of collaboration on any given project.”

Currently, she focuses most of her time on community activism, as well as the visual arts, at her home in Albuquerque, N.M.“I find it is absolutely an extension of what I’ve been doing all my life in performing arts,” she says. Ripon College awarded McCain a Distinguished Alumni Award in 1984 and an Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts in 1988.


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