Phoebe French ’20: From the Vagabonds and Studio Box to Screen Actors Guild
Nov 29, 2022
When Phoebe French ’20 was a member of Kappa Delta Sorority and president of Southern Ambassadors at Florida Southern College, she had no idea that she would eventually land a role in Cobra Kai, one of Netflix’s most popular series. Little did she know that fundraisers and movie nights with the FSC Vagabonds, and Friday night performances with the campus improv group, Studio Box, were the opening acts for a career that she became interested in at an early age.
French was born in Tallahassee and started acting in theatre at the age of three, with her film career starting at age five. She took theatre classes, as well as dance and voice lessons, throughout her childhood. When she was 18, she enrolled at Florida Southern College, where she earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Acting.
Florida Southern was the last stop during French’s search for a college. She considered more than 35 schools, but FSC was the only Florida school on her list. She initially thought she wanted to leave the state.
“I wanted to go somewhere else to experience something new,” French said about her decision-making days. “It was really fun getting to see all those other schools… [Florida Southern] was just such a vastly different experience for me than any of the other colleges, and kind of the reason why I liked it so much was the level of professionalism that they had.”
French was able to see a performance during the Scholar’s Weekend that she visited the campus. She was impressed by the high standards the FSC theater department held students to and really liked the program.
“I got to talk with Paul Bawek, who was the head acting professor,” French said. “Getting to talk to him and seeing the show, I think, really sold it for me.”
The FSC Years
Once enrolled at FSC, she was able to take several classes and do shows with Professor Bawek, FSC Associate Professor of Theatre Arts.
“He was definitely my favorite professor, and to me his Film and TV class was a big one that I really enjoyed,” French said. “So, getting to work with him in the classroom and then getting to have him direct the shows that we were auditioning for was just really neat.”
French sharpened her acting skills as a member of the FSC theatre arts department.
“My first main stage was sophomore year when I did Julius Caesar, and that was so much fun getting to do that,” French said. “We did an all-female production, so it was a really cool experience. So, that was the first main stage show that I did here, and then freshmen year I did some showcases, the cabaret, and things like that.”
A big smile at the mention of the Vagabonds theatre club, the oldest running student organization on the FSC campus, was a clear indication of how much that organization meant to French during her time at the College.
“Vagabonds are great,” she said. “I mean it’s really cool because they’re all, everyone in the theatre program, definitely very passionate about it. Everyone was just there all the time. I was involved in a lot of stuff on campus, but I definitely spent the most time in the theatre and the green room. You just get to know the people in the department so well. Getting to do the fundraisers, the movie nights, all the stuff the Vagabonds put on, raising money for productions and stuff like that, it was definitely a fun experience because all those people were really good friends as well.”
When asked to share her favorite moment with the Vagabonds, French had a hard time choosing one.
“I’m trying to think,” she said. “I mean there’s so many. I remember we had postmortems after the end of every show, and that’s just where the entire department gets together. So, everyone in Vagabonds is there to discuss, break down the show, you know, what worked, what didn’t work. I think those were my favorite just because everyone was there together. That, and we also did a Christmas party every year where we played ‘white elephant’ and we all brought a gift. The things people would bring were so funny. They would call out professors and we would just have all these inside jokes with everyone. So, I’d say the Christmas parties were absolutely fun.”
Studio Box, Florida Southern College’s premiere on-campus improvisation group, was another organization that helped French prepare for her acting career. The group is made up of students who perform shows for the student body free of charge throughout the year. They also perform at Scholars Weekends and other events.
“Studio Box was so much fun,” French said. “We did rehearsals twice a week and then we had shows on Fridays, just honing that skill, being able to improve, you know. It’s harder than it may seem. After time you kind of find your rhythm with all these people that you’re working with and it’s such a good skill for theatre as well because it translates into that.”
She said by participating in various FSC organizations she was able to pick up acting skills, while not having to consciously think about what she was learning. She said improv is a very different skill because of performing without a script.
“Obviously, you have projection and working with confidence on stage and all those things,” French said, “but also, just kind of the quick thinking and being able to adapt to what’s happening around you. I was the historian for one year [for Studio Box] as well, so that was a big part of my Florida Southern experience. Yeah, it was wonderful.”
The Atlanta Connection
French graduated in March of 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic had Broadway and all the theatres shut down. No shows or movies were filming, and actors were left in limbo trying to figure out what was going to happen.
“So, I knew that I wanted to do film more than theatre at the time,” French said. “I was just looking into things and Atlanta was where most things were filming, all Netflix stuff, things like that. So, I came up here and Cobra Kai was the first thing that I was able to work on professionally, which is crazy because it’s definitely one of the biggest things that I’ve got to do so far.”
Ironically, she did not know the name of the show that she was trying out for when she auditioned for Cobra Kai.
The call was for athletic, young types. The director selected French and two other women out of all the submissions. She has been able to film three seasons of the show and she now realizes Cobra Kai has a diverse audience.
“People from my mom’s age, down to 10-year-old boys, everyone loves watching Cobra Kai,” French said. “It kind of has something for everyone. I had seen the Karate Kid movies and I had heard about Cobra Kai, but I don’t think I had watched all of it. I started in season 4, so seasons 1 through 3 were on Netflix. So, before I went on, I had to watch all of them because I’d known about Karate Kid and I knew it was a pretty popular show, but definitely didn’t know how big of fandom and how big of a cultural impact the Karate Kid had.”
The move to Atlanta to film Cobra Kai has paid off for French, as the city, locally known as “Hollywood of the South,” is where many movies and television shows are filmed.
“There’s so much that’s filming in Atlanta,” French said. “That’s the reason why I moved up here. It kind of just feels surreal. I’ve been working really hard and it’s something I’m super passionate about.”
French considers her role as “Willow” in the Netflix comedy Do Revenge to be her first big role. She received her Screen Actors Guild (SAG) card because of that role. She had her first spoken lines in the modern take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train. She called it a “chick flick comedy” and said the film had a 90s teen movie vibe. She also had a role as a passenger in the HBO romantic comedy Moonshot, released in March 2022.
She says she found out how much of a group dynamic filming television and movies requires because of the teamwork involved. At any given time, there are dozens of people taking care of details and there is a lot of “hurry up and waiting” on sets. French continues to get more opportunities but has a particular goal in mind.
“I don’t know if this is thanks to Studio Box, but I’ve always really liked doing comedic stuff,” French said. “So, I think, kind of my dream would be to be in a sitcom. I think that would just be so fun. My two friends and I, during our senior year, for our thesis capstone wrote, acted in, directed, and edited a five-episode sitcom. So, I would love to work with something like that in the future. I think that would be really fun.”
French said her mother still lives in Florida and working one state away in Georgia makes coming home easier than if she worked in New York or California. She keeps in touch with many of her friends from the FSC theatre department and hopes to visit the College again in the near future.
“I would love to come back down to Florida Southern,” French said. “It is a great school. The theatre department is amazing.”