Elisabeth McCallum Polleys’ passion for acting has exposed her to diverse roles, giving her insight into different eras, ways of thinking, and styles of interacting. Her love for theater is among the many facets of Elisabeth’s life that have made her an informed, well-rounded person, attributes that helped her become the 2019 Army Military Child of the Year®.
Elisabeth attends two schools in Michigan – L’Anse Creuse High School North for core courses in science, math and history and the Frederick V. Pankow Center for classes in performing arts and English, which requires an audition for admission. In her first year of high school, Elisabeth, now a junior, was selected for best debut performance for portraying Ginette in “Almost, Maine,” an uncommon honor for a freshman to have played a lead role. She landed the part in her first audition after moving to Michigan from Hawaii when her mother, an Army major, was reassigned.
Initially, Elisabeth was uncertain about immersing herself in teenager Ginette’s character because it’s a love story, and she was afraid it would be awkward playing opposite her friend, another freshman, in the role of Pete. But looking back on it now, she is proud of her performance.
Elisabeth also was inducted into Pankow’s Thespian Troupe 7494, another rare honor for a ninth grader. She earns her place not just by acting but by helping with fundraising, working back stage or in the box office, ushering, building sets, and helping with costumes, makeup and hair. As a member of the troupe’s executive council, she and other students work hard to raise money because otherwise, they cannot produce performances. Serving also gives her the chance to mentor younger actors.
In 2018, Elisabeth played a wildly different role, a mother in 1917 England, in “The Light Burns Blue.” Again, it took time for her to embrace the role she initially could not relate to – a wife and parent to a teenager during World War I. The character evolves into “being that strong, independent woman that doesn’t need to just follow what her husband says,” Elisabeth said, which was easier to identify with. She said she channeled her own mother because she’s a good role model, raising Elisabeth as a single mom, with help from Elisabeth’s grandparents, while also serving in a demanding military job as a command judge advocate at Detroit Arsenal.
That same year, Elisabeth and two other actors received second place in a group acting competition at the Michigan Thespian Festival for a scene from “Crimes of the Heart.” Elisabeth portrayed Meg, a 27-year-old singer, sister and one-time mental health patient.
“I love acting so much,” said Elisabeth, agreeing that it’s fun but also a growing experience. “It’s opening my eyes to different perspectives. I’m opening my mind.” Being involved in all aspects of theater has led to her positive attitude. “It won’t be a show unless we have all the help we need. Everyone plays a part. We’re taught that you can’t have an ego because being an actor, you’re just one part of the whole play or musical. Everyone chips in.”
Maintaining a good attitude has not always been easy for Elisabeth because as a military child, she has endured multiple moves for her mother’s career and missed her mother during extended absences. She empathizes with other military children, especially those who don’t live near bases with other kids who understand their challenges and sacrifices.
“I learned Hawaiian history in seventh grade, not Michigan history, but I am tested on that now,” Elisabeth said, citing one small example of the trials military kids face. “My mom travels all the time. My mom went to Afghanistan. My friends do not know what it is like to have your mom fighting in a war. My mom has missed so much of my life. She has missed so much because she was deployed or is always [traveling for work]. Military kids do not get to choose this life.”
Still, she feels patriotic having a mother in uniform. “I feel that I am a part of this country’s success because my mom is fighting for our freedoms and our rights. Without people like her, this country would not be as great as it is. People have fought and died for this country. I am proud to say that I am an American and that my mom is a part of making this country the best in the world.”
Elisabeth is also happy to represent military children as a MCOY recipient. The process “helped me realize how the military has blessed me with many opportunities,” she said. “If it was not for the Army, I would not be who I am today. I really think I am stronger because of my life as a military child.”