Cox DiGiovanni has appeared in Days of Our Lives, The Young and the Restless, and Argo. She also co-directs the nonprofit Mixed Roots Stories.
Alumna’s one-woman show finds an audience outside of school
Fanshen Cox DiGiovanni (’13) is living her dream: performing a show she is passionate about, and doing it with the help of friends and fellow producers, Ben Affleck, Chay Carter, and Matt Damon.
Just one year after her master’s thesis performance of the solo show, “One Drop of Love,” she is booking performances in schools and regional theaters around the country and it all started at Cal State L.A.
Cox DiGiovanni wasn’t sure about her husband’s idea for them to enroll in a Master of Fine Arts program for acting. After all, the couple had moved to Los Angeles to work in the entertainment industry, so shouldn’t they just get out there and act?
“I found it really attractive because of the price, and I really liked the demographics of campus at Cal State L.A.,” Cox DiGiovanni says. “It’s important for me to be with people of diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Also, the M.F.A. included TV, film and theatre. I hadn’t ever heard of a program like that and I thought it would be a perfect way to learn a little bit more about all the things I had a passion for.”
The couple applied and enrolled in the 2010 cohort, both focusing on the performance/acting option.
Cox DiGiovanni was auditioning for roles in New York theater when she moved to Los Angeles to try to land roles in television, like so many before her. Unlike many aspiring starlets, though, she had a steady income teaching English as a second language at local community colleges.
Through the M.F.A. program at Cal State L.A., Cox DiGiovanni found a way to make her performances more personal and really stand out from the crowd.
“During the program, I realized that maybe part of what was holding me back from fully being an actor was that I wasn’t melding it with my other passion, which was social justice. So even while I was teaching and acting, I wasn’t thinking of the acting as also teaching,” she says.
Influenced by Professor Kelly Madison’s “Race, Justice and the Media” class and being on Cal State L.A.’s diverse campus inspired Cox DiGiovanni to do creative work that included pursuing justice for more people. For her thesis project, she produced and starred in “One Drop of Love,” a solo show that explores mixed racial and cultural identities.
In the show, Cox DiGiovanni, who is Jamaican, Danish, Blackfeet Indian and Cherokee, incorporates filmed images, photographs and animation to dissect the notion of race in America and how it affects her relationship with her father.
After months of fine-tuning and publicizing the project, Cox DiGiovanni performed the show live on March 8 and 9, 2013 at The Arena Theatre to a full crowd that included friends Affleck and Carter.
“After the show, Ben emailed me again and said he thought it was a really important show and more people in the world should see it. It felt really nice to hear that from an old friend and someone whose work in the arts I respect and admire. I had some ideas on what I wanted to do with the show after graduating, but what better way to start than to partner with friends knowing we all feel passionate about it,” she recalls.
So Cox DiGiovanni partnered with Affleck, Carter and Damon as producers of “One Drop of Love,” with she and Carter handling much of the day-to-day work to bring it to a wider audience.
“I’m pinching myself,” says Cox DiGiovanni. “I really made a show that I thought was kind of personally important, politically important and I would’ve been more than thrilled if I had just taken it to Cal State L.A. and gotten it to other universities and sparked important conversations about race and racism around the show. I never could have dreamed that this would have happened.”
Her success is an example of the kind of media projects that can be created through the program, says John Ramirez, chair of the Television Film and Media Studies department.
“Fanshen’s success is exceptional, but she’s helped us set the bar for our students to show them that these kinds of achievements can be done within the program and our resources,” says Ramirez. “It’s just a matter of getting in touch with yourself and letting the program release that creativity.”