From arts law to actress: Elise McCann’s road to success

We chat with actress Elise McCann to find out how her arts/law degree helped her carve a career as a celebrated stage actress, producer, and health and wellness entrepreneur.

Elise McCann

Our Uncommon careers series looks at people who have taken an extraordinary, unconventional path in life—and what they studied to get there.  


Elise McCann is light and breezy when we catch up for a chat early one Thursday morning. Her vivacious outlook on life emanates from her words, even down the phone line.

In the background is the bustle of daily life, which for Elise includes many moving parts. The award-winning actor, health and wellness entrepreneur, writer, and producer enjoys a multifaceted creative career, her fingers in many pies; the most recent being cast as the lead in the theatrical production of Groundhog Day, with music and lyrics by celebrated composer Tim Minchin.

At first glance, lightyears from a career one would expect of a law degree graduate. Unless you’re Elise, who tells me her dual arts/law degree—earned online through Open Universities Australia no less —converges harmoniously with her career on-stage and as director of Hey Lemonade, a health and wellness tech company she co-founded with her long-time friend and fellow actor, Lucy Durack. 

Creativity and law: An unlikely synergy

“Law and acting actually have so many cross sections,” Elise says. “They teach you how to advocate for someone, how to think about the perspective of an individual or a character and argue for them, to believe in their side and act in a way you may not be naturally attuned to,” she says. 

“My degree has provided me with so much practical value in my career,” Elise says. “I work as an actor but I also produce and have my own business, so having my degree means I have skills like being able to understand contracts, rules and regulations, how to set up a business, and the different elements of how to manage people, really tangible skills,” she says. 

When Elise left high school the self-professed ‘nerd’ in her thought she’d end up in the courtroom, or as a journalist. “Women and gender studies was one of my subjects and I wrote this essay on how men’s homophobia polices masculinity,” she says. “I also studied politics and a whole range of different things that actually sat really well alongside some of the law.” 


Elise McCann from Groundhog Day
Elise McCann's latest role is as Rita Hanson in Groundhog Day The Musical, which is getting rave reviews.

Variety is the secret sauce

Arts is often seen as quite a broad degree, but Elise says it not only helped her hone her skillset, it was a versatile study path with diverse subject matter that allowed her to explore her interests. “There’s so much flexibility and so much variety, you can always find subjects that resonate with you,” she says. A component of learning Elise believes to be the secret sauce.


I’m a big believer that you do better with things you’re connected with,” she says. “You learn better, you engage more, and you get better results.”


Whichever degree you embark on, studying at university provides you with an inherent confidence that you have the ability to learn, knowing you can apply yourself in different ways, Elise says. 

Alongside her university degree, Elise refined her skills and knowledge of the world of performing arts, graduating from the respected NIDA Music Theatre and pursing further training at leading institutions.

To the stage and beyond

Elise’s breakout role was as Miss Honey in Tim Minchin’s Matilda. A coveted role of one of Roald Dahl’s most loved characters, which she portrayed beautifully to widespread acclaim, culminating in a slew of prestigious industry awards.

Beyond Miss Honey, Elise has further showcased her talent in a diverse range of performances, from stage to screen, and through her own production company Oriel Entertainment, creating and producing theatre, musicals, and concerts for the Sydney Opera House, Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, the ABC, and more. 

But Elise doesn’t vaunt these accolades over the phone as she goes about her morning, loosely chattering about her career and what she studied to get to where she is today. Hers is an authentic air, guileless and peppered with optimism along with an infectious enthusiasm for life’s possibilities. 

As she continues to captivate audiences with her raw talent and charismatic performances, Elise has found herself stretching her creative bounds beyond the stage into a space she never imagined: tech for health and wellbeing.

Hey Lemonade

Hey Lemonade, the health and wellness company Elise co-founded with fellow actor Lucy Durack, is dedicated to alleviating stress while enhancing overall wellbeing. “We provide three-to-four-minute pep talks around really specific, everyday issues,” she says. “They’re designed to circuit break stress, increase motivation, and build resilience.” 

“Each pep talk is voiced in a range of voices”, explains Elise. “You could pick Tony Armstrong, or Maggie Beer, or Benjamin Moore, or Virginia Gay. You can choose a voice based on how you need to hear your support.”  

In a sense Hey Lemonade is a fusion of art and business. “It ties into what Lucy and I have done forever,” Elise says. 

“We’re making these talks using some of our amazing friends, writers and voices from the entertainment industry, and Lucy and I also voice on the app,” she says. “So there’s a performance element but [the company] also uses my business and legal skills, and all the different things I’ve studied and experiences I’ve had throughout my career and in my life.”   

It’s a fortuitous career move Elise says is ‘really, really cool’; the zenith, in a way, of her study and life-experience pathways.  


Groundhog Day The Musical is now playing exclusively in Melbourne until 20 April. Tickets on sale now at

Hey Lemonade is available to download at the App Store or via Google Play. 


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