Illinois State University honored one of its own by inducting Francois Battiste into the College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame.
The actor has had a varied career in the 20 years since he graduated from ISU, working in film, TV and predominantly in theater. Like many ISU-educated actors, Battiste headed to Chicago after graduation, where he found swift success on the theater scene. But that wasn't enough for Battiste, who had a hunger for more and a real desire to stretch himself even further as an actor.
To do that, he knew he had to further his education, and he was off to The Juilliard School.
"I didn't want to spend the rest of my life in Chicago. I wanted to see what the rest of the world had to offer. I wanted to cultivate whatever I had. When you're 17, 18, 19 years old, you're in a theater department, but you're not really sharpening tools. You're getting your feet wet and just getting immersed in the world. You've acquired the tools, but they're not really sharp enough to carry you through. That's what I felt," he said.
While in graduate school at Juilliard, Battiste was given the prestigious Housman Prize, which is granted to a Juilliard student who has demonstrated exceptional ability in classical theater.
"I was grateful. And there was some sort of sense of validation, at the time, that I was doing the right thing."
"At a school like that, you have to take ownership of your process, because you're in a school with immensely talented people. Sometimes you get swept up into thinking that just by being here you've made it in some form or fashion. But having had three years of professional experience prior to going, I realized that this is just training. You have to take advantage of your training and you have to acquire a set of tools that you'll use for the length of your career. So receiving the award meant that I was on the right path."
Battiste's career is filled with a great deal of theater work, including a production of "The Merchant of Venice" starring Al Pacino, plus an opportunity to establish The Collective Theater in Chicago. He took home an Obie for his performance in "The Good Negro" before landing the role of Gus Tremblay in the ABC drama "Ten Days in the Valley."
"My bank account loves doing TV," Battiste said with a laugh. "I have grown to love and appreciate all mediums—theater, TV, film. They're different muscles of the same body that you get to exercise."
This spring, Battiste heads back to the boards in New York City to perform opposite Blair Underwood in a new play entitled "Paradise Blue" at the Signature Theater.
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