Spotlight Series: Meet Monica Ricketts Who Discovered the Magic of Performing Onstage as a Child and Never Looked Back


This Spotlight  focuses on Monica Ricketts who discovered the magic of performing onstage as a child and never looked back or wanted to do anything else. I first asked her what she would like readers to know about her theatrical background.


Monica Ricketts (Monica): As a performing artist, the phrase: “good things take time” is a sentence I’ve heard for many years, but hadn't truly applied to my own life until I became a professional actor. By nature, I am a person who longs for immediate results in a fast-paced and “goal oriented” way. But, as I reflect on my last 7 years here in LA, I can recognize the truth in the statement: PATIENCE IS KEY.

Growing up I had big dreams, but in my mind, they were only that: unattainable DREAMS. From the time I was eleven years old, I was heavily involved in my local children's theater in the small town of Carson City, NV and auditioned regularly to get a taste of performing on that stage. I was shy and quite insincere, but once I had a costume, makeup and a script to recite, I suddenly found my VOICE and was surrounded by people like me, who had strong imaginations and a playfulness that was dying to be released. Being a theater kid, I was finally given the freedom to express this part of myself and let me tell you... it felt MAGICAL. I no longer had to hide or shy away from my passion, but rather, I was encouraged to emote, to sing loudly, to be funny and CONNECT.

This passion of theater carried me through middle school, giving me a safe place to discover different sides of my identity, and later, I found myself in the drama program at Carson High School, where I treated my class like a college program. I knew from day one that I wanted to succeed and learn and grow, and, trust me: it was NOT always easy.  But I learned to not give up, and somehow got back on my own two feet with each challenge that came to me. When senior year arrived, I got an opportunity that began to shift this belief when I auditioned for the lead role of Emily Webb in the play Our Town. This was the most difficult piece of theater that I had ever tackled, and I prepared for it with much determination. And to my great surprise, I got cast! This was my first venture playing a role that was both challenging, and outside of my school or familiar children’s theater, and it proved to me that that THIS was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: I wanted to pursue an ACTING CAREER.

Shari Barrett (SB): That just proves it doesn’t matter at what age you know. But when you know, there is little else that speaks to your soul as deeply as acting does.

(Monica): Once I graduated high school, I decided to drive down to LA to audition to be a Main Stage Performer for Disney Cruise Line, and at only 18 years old, I got cast as Cinderella and Snow White in the musicals onboard the beautiful Disney Wonder Ship. It was my first professional acting/singing job and I was THRILLED. While onboard, I got to explore the beautiful landscapes of Alaska on the cruise itinerary and live my dream of performing for ten months!  From that moment on, I was even more determined to continue to pursue my acting career.

Shortly after, I got cast in a regional production of “Pinkalicious” at the North Coast Rep Theater in Solana Beach, CA, and then I moved to LA to be a full-time actor. I soon got involved with local theater companies, and got cast as Princess Fiona in Shrek the Musical at the Actors Repertory Theater of Simi Valley, and that role changed my life forever. I learned how to laugh at myself, take risks, and dive deep into the heartfelt story of self-acceptance and appreciation, which taught me so much. After that production, I got cast in Spring Awakening at the NoHo Arts Center as Ilse, Hope Cladwell in Urinetown the Musical at Cupcake Theater), Kate Monster in Avenue Q at Cupcake Theater, and Ado Annie in Oklahoma! at Candlelight Pavilion. Then I began to dip my toes in film and commercials.

It was an exciting time - but I kept on feeling a desire to travel and perform abroad. After three years of auditioning for Universal Studios Japan (a theme park in Osaka, Japan), I finally got cast as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike/actor. I have had the opportunity to professionally portray Marilyn since 2014, and I feel quite blessed to carry on her legacy in such a special way. Working in Osaka also gave me the opportunity to travel and experience such a beautiful country. I hiked Mt. Fuji, I appreciated the history, immersed myself in the culture and broadened my horizons. It was a 10-month contract, and while I was away, I discovered SO much about myself and grew not just as a performer, but as a person as well.

(SB): But of course, the Los Angeles Theatre community soon called you back!

(Monica): When I came back to LA, I decided to change my focus and REALLY put my heart and soul into musical theater, because I realized just how much it meant to me and that it is my true calling. And that’s when a huge transformation took place.

The year 2019 was a life changing one: it began with playing Martha May Whovier in the wonderful holiday event Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood. The shortly after, I got cast in Musical Theatre Guild’s production of Minnie’s Boys as Miss Taj Mahal, and also got cast in 5 Star Theatricals production of Matilda the Musical as the Acrobat/Ensemble. It was absolutely incredible to suddenly be working at a level I had only imagined before! These experiences truly shaped my career and I’m so thankful for them.

And that summer, I got the biggest opportunity I’ve ever received: I got to play Sleeping Beauty in Into the Woods at the Hollywood Bowl. Suddenly I was performing alongside Sutton Foster, Patina Miller, Gaten Matarazzo, Sierra Boggess and Skylar Astin, all of who I had admired and looked up to for so many years. It was unbelievably rewarding and an experience I’ll never forget and solidified that this is where I BELONGED. I also received my first Playbill Credit, which was a huge step for me.

Later that fall, I performed at A Noise Within in Pasadena, CA in a workshop called A Sad Tale’s Best for Winter which was a feminist take on Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, written by Anna Miles of “A Beating of Wings” an Artist Collective.

And finally, I had the accomplishment of auditioning and getting cast as Evelyn Nesbit (the girl on the Swing) in Ragtime the Musical at one of the highest acclaimed regional theaters in Southern California: Musical Theatre West. This all happened in ONE year - and my goal of focusing whole heartedly on my theater career TRULY paid off.

I am so thankful for the support of my family, friends and representation who always encourage me to never give up. It is where I feel most alive, and feel so blessed to share my passion with the world. I can’t imagine my life without it. So, after these 7 years, I now know for certain that the phrase “good things take time” is true - being persistent, working hard and not giving up is what dreams are made of - and with that, PATIENCE is key.

(SB): That is quite a roster in the musical theatre world! What production(s) were you involved with when word went out it needed to immediately be either postponed or cancelled in March 2020?

(Monica): I was currently involved with a staged reading of an original musical about the Kennedy Family: called Rose Marie: A Kennedy Life Interrupted. It is a show I have been workshopping with James Mellon and Margaret Owens for a few years now and we were about to perform it for the public. I was also in the midst of auditioning for a few productions: including Mamma Mia for McCoy Rigby Entertainment. The shutdown was communicated via email with the production of Rose Marie, and for Mamma Mia, it was also communicated via email as well as on Julia Flores Casting website. And as far as I know, both productions plan on postponing to a later date as I haven’t heard that either of them will be cancelled permanently.

(SB): Now that you have some time off, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Monica): I have been very blessed to have such a wonderful and supportive online community that constantly inspire me to be creative. I have an Instagram account (@monicadanae) where I often share performance videos, create costumes/vintage fashion, and share my daily life. It has helped me keep my artistic interests alive and well, and I am grateful to have other people to inspire me.

I have also received a few voiceover opportunities that I can record from home, as well as Disney-inspired collaborations that have been well received. I also write poetry and am in the process of getting my book published (@poetrybymonica), so sharing via social media has been very helpful. And I have been staying busy by creating princess videos for children through Wishing Well Entertainment, where I dress up as their favorite character and either make a pre-recorded video with a message/story/song or we talk via ZOOM or FaceTime.

(SB): And certainly, almost every little girl I have ever known has wanted to be a Disney Princess.  What other thoughts would you like to share with the rest of the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Monica): This is a time of uncertainty for many of us, and one that I couldn’t have possibly imagined. The world without theatre is much less colorful, and a whole lot lonelier. And I have to be honest; it hasn’t been easy at all. It’s been especially heartbreaking to watch theaters put their productions on hold, have to cancel, or have to close their doors entirely. But we must not lose hope. Seeing this beautiful community come together through social media and other outlets to support each other in any way they can has been inspiring.

What I’ve taken away from this situation is the extreme importance of the performing arts in our world, and I know that I will never take this art form for granted ever again. Theatre is MAGIC and I’m honored to be a part of it. I miss every aspect of it - from the auditions, rehearsals, tech week, performances and backstage memories and laughter. My hope is that we can bounce back with more strength and passion than ever before, because the world will definitely need a couple hours of theatre bliss inside a theater after the Earth heals from this trying time. And I am certain that we will prevail!


This article first appeared on Broadway World.



Spotlight Series: Meet Robert Yacko, One of the Busiest Triple-Threat Performers in L.A.


This Spotlight focuses on Robert Yacko, one of the busiest triple-threat performers in Los Angeles, whose musical theatre skills constantly bring magic to the stage.


Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Robert Yacko (Robert):  I’ve been around a long time, a native Philadelphian who cut his teeth on theater in high school after being a musician for a few years. I was pulled into the love of dance by a choreographer who saw potential in me. My brilliant acting teacher at Temple University, Joel Friedman, then gave me the tools that got me into the Juilliard Drama Division and things took off from there. My Broadway debut was in Fiddler on the Roof with Herschel Bernardi, directed by Jerome Robbins himself, assisted by Ruth Mitchell and Tommy Abbot. The subsequent National Tours we did brought me to LA twice, and after having the privilege of dancing with the legendary Cyd Charisse in summer stock, LA was beckoning.

“Sunday in the Park with George” with Robert Yacko and Pamela Myers at the LA Premiere at Long Beach CLO. Photo by Craig Schwartz

I was quickly welcomed in the City of Angels with two back-to-back seasons in the Mark Taper Rep, soon followed by one of the highlights of my career - starring in the Los Angeles Premiere of Sunday in the Park With George, with Pamela Myers (the original Marta from Company) as my brilliant Dot and Marie. We had the Broadway sets and costumes and a director chosen by Sondheim and Lapine, the wonderful Fran Soeder.

 

From that flowed lots of amazing opportunities, many of them in Sondheim musicals, which was a gift, since his work was the very reason I longed to do musicals. Highlights of my Los Angeles Theater work include Into the Woods with Leslie Uggams, Company with Carol Burnett and Patrick Cassidy, Chess with Jodi Benson, A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia with Cathy Rigby, The Donmar Warehouse production of Parade at the Mark Taper (which began my association with Jason Robert Brown), and more recently, Annie at the Hollywood Bowl with Lea Salonga, Megan Hilty, Anna Gasteyer, David Alan Grier, and Steven Weber.

As many singing actors do, I have also branched out into the LA Cabaret scene in the last decade, aided and guided by my inspiring friend, Bruce Kimmel. To say I have been blessed over the years, especially in this city, is an understatement!

(SB): I have seen many of the shows you mentioned, but were you involved with any productions when word went out to immediately postpone or cancel them?

(Robert): I had two corporate shows scheduled in late March, one of which was cancelled, one postponed. I have been working with my corporate event company for 17 years and those were the first to go, as they are highly attended events. And I was slated to do the second in a series of Concerts at the Wallis Annenberg on April 1st, organized by the outgoing Mayor of Beverly Hills with Richard Sherman’s son, Greg. The first Concert of this series we did on February 26th, which was an evening of Tom Lehrer and Stephen Sondheim as a partial sing-along. The April concert was to be in a Hollywood Musicals theme, but this event was cancelled.

I was due to perform in the April and May Kritzerland Cabarets at Vitello’s, the second of which would coincide with our Director/Producer Bruce Kimmel’s new book Simply, A Lifetime of Lyrics being published, and would highlight his songs. The April 5th event had to be cancelled. However, the May Concert went online on May 3rd on Facebook Live and YouTube Live with a theme change.

Robert Yacko as Henry Ford in "Ragtime" at 3D Theatricals

The biggest event of mine that got postponed, first from March 30th to June 1st, and now to a TBD date, was the 2nd Benefit for Musical Theatre Guild’s Educational Outreach, an event called Rewind2: By Request at the Rockwell. I was honored to be directing this benefit show and we had been working hard on its planning, built with music from audience-requested musicals from MTG’s archives, using 25 of LA’s best musical theater actors. I’d been working closely with Kristi Holden (producer / organizer) and our Musical Director, Dan Redfeld, since late January and we had a stellar lineup of songs and MTG members to perform them. We were about to have our first rehearsals when everything shut down. This was the toughest one to lose, even temporarily, but I do know that it will get done when we can do so safely.

(SB): That was a lot of changes in such a short time. How were the shutdowns communicated with the cast and production teams?

Robert Yacko in “Undiscovered Country” in the Mark Taper Rep, with Christina Pickles

(Robert): With the corporates, our manager let us know via group email as soon as things changed. With Kritzerland, I spoke to Bruce Kimmel as things unfolded, and at the point where Shelter in Place went through April 15th, we knew we had to cancel April 5th. Then in mid-April, I got a message that we might try and do a Kritzerland online. The Wallis concert word came in a group email from our vocal director Carly Bracco, who had already put a ton of work into the event. It was heartbreaking for many, as this one is lost for good.

Finally, the MTG Benefit word came through back and forth messages with our brilliant coordinator Kristi, who at first tried to have us keep our March rehearsal schedule and get tracks to the singers for the June date. At the same time, MTG was still trying to plan for Kismet on May 3rd and a Glendale Arts event immediately after, which I was asked to direct as well. We soon realized that putting 20+ singers in among some of our elders was not prudent, considering how COVID news was darkening daily. It was first shared privately among the production staff and performers, then the date changes were announced publicly.

(SB): Are plans in place for any of those productions to be done at a future date?

Robert Yacko as Horace Vandergelder In "Hello, Dolly!" at 3D Theatricals

(Robert):  One corporate event may be done in October. The Wallis concerts are gone permanently. Krtizerland went on Facebook Live and YouTube Live, with guest star Liz Calloway contributing from NY. The MTG Benefit will happen at a TBD date. It will be a great show for a worthy cause, to support and inspire the next generation of Musical Theater Artists.

(SB): I have to say, you are one of the busiest stage actors I know. What future productions on your schedule are also being affected by the shutdown?

(Robert): I worked last November for the first time with David Green’s Musical Theatre University in Palm Desert doing Gypsy with a dear friend from NY, Alix Corey, who teaches there. Their program is extraordinary and so are the students involved. David and I talked about future productions (among them, JRB’s Honeymoon in Vegas), and in truth, I am not certain how this affects the program’s schedule. I was to be a guest star at the group’s last (of 6) cabaret shows on March 19th, but that of course was cancelled. I will indeed work with this group again when it is safe to do so.

There were some play readings I was to do with the gifted writer/director Suse Sternkopf (who took my great Cabaret headshot photo), with the ultimate design to create a new theater company. That is off the table until we can reconvene, as her two plays require a real intimate emotional connection which is hard to make with semi-strangers on Zoom.

Other than the MTG Benefit and their Glendale Arts show at the Americana being delayed to indeterminate dates, what is mostly affected is the ability to audition for future work, which is huge. Since no one knows exactly when and if productions can be done, no one is auditioning for anything of note. Of course, that will delay the start of productions at theaters across the board when they can re-open.

(SB):  How are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

(Robert): Since I work a lot, the initial shock of having my entire work schedule vanish in the course of two days, topped by the ever-frightening tone of the news, caused me first to reach for humor, rather than panic. It was partly to keep things light and probably partially due to disbelief and denial. So, in the first 9 days of Shelter at Home, I started posting parodies of Musical Theater Posters, as if these were the only shows we could do now: things like Sunday in the Park Without George and No Company. I posted a dozen on Facebook the first day and people clamored for more, as everyone needed a way to laugh off the shock of this new normal in which we were suddenly living. I began posting every day on Facebook and Instagram, and in 9 days, I had created 101 mocked up posters of “Quarantined Musicals.”

A friend asked me to make a book of them for her as a cheer-up and a funny memento, so I went into iPhoto and created one, and sent copies to friends to keep them smiling in the moment and to keep as a funny memory once the plague has passed.

Just 10 days ago, I submitted my vocal-part video for a virtual choir, in which I was asked to participate by Jeff Rizzo and Eric Andrist. It is an 8-part SATB 1 & 2 choir version of a well-known pop song from the 70’s, which I cannot mention until it is ready. Fifty great LA singers sent in vocal/visual tracks to be edited together by David Engel. It should be ready soon.

As mentioned, I was shooting 3 songs for Sunday’s Krtizerland show, from composers Randy Newman, Cole Porter, and Noel Coward. And I am redesigning my professional website. It’s time and I have the time now.

Otherwise, like so many, I am eagerly watching the online concert events like Sondheim’s 90th Celebration and Jason Robert Brown’s Subculture show, highlights of the last 2 days (as I write this). And I am trying to stay in touch with my friends in our circle to make sure everyone is okay.

(SB):  Are there any other thoughts would you like to share with the L.A. Theatre community while we are all leaving the Ghostlight on and promising to return back to the stage soon?

(Robert): Be Kind - to yourself first and to everyone around you, friends, family, and strangers alike. There is no roadmap for this current madness, but we as artists are more used to the kind of uncertainty that everyone is experiencing right now, and are suited to help however we can. This time is a reminder of the Native American adage that “No one wins unless the whole tribe wins.” We are all part of a tribe, both in the theater world and the rest of the world. No one is safe unless everyone is, and kindness goes a long way in making someone’s day, and in relieving some of the stress that breaks down immune systems. The smallest gestures make an enormous difference.

(SB): I so agree with you on bringing kindness into the world. Before the pandemic at the opening night of Daniel's Husband at the Fountain Theatre, director Simon Levy gave me a badge that says “Make America Kind Again” which I proudly wear every day. I wish I had hundreds of them so I could give one to each person who has reacted so positively to its message.

(Robert): I also encourage everyone to mine your solitude for its gifts of self-learning and resting, which is something we don’t do enough of when the wheels are turning full-speed. The digital world has made resting and recharging a forgotten art, one we all need to do to create our best work and, of course, to stay healthy.

You can find me by name on Facebook and Instagram. You can also watch some great videos of my many Cabaret performances on my self-named YouTube Channel, as well as a few bootlegged videos from productions of Company, Chess and Sunday in the Park With George, plus a recording of some unsung Sherman Brothers.


This article first appeared on Broadway World.