Alumni Profiles
Liz Mikel
Television actress, "Friday Night Lights"

"I absolutely loved El Centro," she remembers. "There was a tremendous sense of community. You weren't just a face in the crowd."

Liz Mikel loves to perform. Always did, as a local girl singing, dancing and acting her way through Dallas' Arts Magnet and Carter high schools. Still does, as a multitalented performer who not only continues to blow away local theater audiences but also appears on the Emmy Award-winning NBC television series "Friday Night Lights."

"I was always the one up on stage, wanting to perform in front of people," she says. In her teens, she performed with Dallas Black Dance Theatre and the Junior Players Guild, and was named Carter High School's "most talented girl" her senior year. Then she was faced with a decision: how to develop her performing talents in college and beyond.

"At 17, when I graduated from high school, I was absolutely not ready to jump into a university setting," she says. So she chose El Centro College, in part because of its well-known program in dance, her chosen major. "It was centrally located, and the tuition was affordable too," she says.

In classic Liz Mikel style — that is, with hurricane-force energy — she threw herself into college, taking two levels of English courses concurrently while singing, dancing and acting in as many of the college's performances as she could. An accomplished seamstress herself, she also modeled for El Centro fashion design students in exchange for custom-designed clothes. ("I've been 6'1" since I was 13," she says, "and stylish clothes haven't always been that easy to find.")

"I absolutely loved El Centro," she remembers. "There was a tremendous sense of community. You weren't just a face in the crowd. Those instructors legitimately cared about each of us students and were interested in not only what we brought to the table, but what we took away from it."

"It was a great starting point to do my first couple of years of college, before I transferred to Texas Southern University in Houston," she says. First a dance major, she soon changed her major to theater and cinema. "I thought, if I stay in dance, I'll have to either own a dance company or be a choreographer," she says. "I knew I wanted to be on stage, but I didn't think I could make a living out of performing." Fortunately, she found that she could — and she has ever since.

She's been a treasured fixture in local musical theater for years, performing in productions such as Dallas Theater Center's "Ain't Misbehavin" and playing the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present for years in its annual production of "A Christmas Carol." She also starred with Gavin MacLeod in Casa Maρana's production of "Annie Warbucks."

Last year, she played the lead role in Theatre Three's critically acclaimed production of "Caroline or Change," a powerful musical portrayal of one woman's awakening at the beginning of the civil rights movement in the Deep South. She also landed the meaty role of Corinna Williams — Smash's mother — on the NBC television series "Friday Night Lights," the critically acclaimed small-town Texas football drama that has earned a Peabody Award, an Emmy Award and a Television Critics Association Award.

A multifaceted performer who acts, dances and sings jazz, gospel, R&B, blues, rap and scat, she's been recognized repeatedly for her force-of-nature stage presence. Liz was named D Magazine's best actress of 2004, won the Theater Critics Forum Award for best actress in 2004 and 2007, was named best dramatic actress by The Dallas Observer in 2007, and was chosen the Readers Voice best actress of 2007.

Through it all, though, she remains faithful to her roots — the local arts community and above all, her family and friends here in her hometown. Her mother, a professor at Bishop College with a Ph.D. in radiation biology, has always been one of her biggest supporters — even sewing her costumes when Liz was named "Miss El Centro" in her second year at the college. "Every artistic endeavor I thought I wanted to do, my mother was behind it," says Liz.

To Liz Mikel, the best part of her job is that she can not only make a living doing what she loves, but that she makes a difference in people's lives. "I'm at a loss for words to say how blessed I am to do the thing I love to do, the reason I was put on earth," she says. "I love how I can touch so many lives in ways I never could have dreamed. I'm always so moved when people on the street tell me they've seen me perform on stage or on TV and that I've touched them in some way. It's an indescribable feeling.

"The actors and the audience, we're all there together. We're all there being moved by this emotional experience of what's taking place. And there's absolutely nothing like it on earth. I know I'm blessed."

For Liz Mikel, it all began here.