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 Kalinda Gray, An Actor and Fantasy Party Organizer Who Moonlights as a Salem Witch Trials Researcher and Historian

This Spotlight focuses on Kalinda Gray, an actor I first encountered onstage playing Marilyn Monroe all the way to Magenta in the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Maverick Theatre, a place close to her heart. Away from the stage, but still very much a part of the world of theatre magic, Kalinda’s company Wishing Well Entertainment and Parties creates high-quality, professional character and artist event entertainment with a wide array of genres and themes for both adults and children, and she moonlights as an independent Salem “witch” trials researcher and historian. So how is she dealing with the shutdown of The Crucible in which she was featured as Elizabeth Proctor?

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

Kalinda Gray (Kalinda): I’ve been in the SoCal theatre scene for about 15 years, performing on local stages such as the Hollywood Bowl, Sacred Fools, SCR, Segerstrom, the Dorie, STAGES, the MET, the Whitefire Theater, and the Maverick Theater. I’ve been lucky to be a part of several West Coast regional premieres (including Kate Monster in Avenue Q) and some fantastically fun world premieres (including Cunegonde in Candide at Sacred Fools, Ann Darrow in King Kong: Eighth Wonder Of The World and the Storyteller in a new stage version of The Hobbit at the Maverick), as well as a few tours here and there. I’m also an original member of the All Puppet Players (now based in Arizona), which is innovative puppetry theatre best described as Monty Python meets the Muppets meets Ozzy Osbourne with a healthy dollop of improv thrown in for good measure.

In addition to theatre, I also have done face character work for Universal Studios and currently work in film, television, commercials, and voiceover; my other source of joy is my company, Wishing Well Entertainment and Parties. I wanted to create high-quality, professional character and artist event entertainment with a wide array of genres and themes for both adults and children. Along with a talented group of longtime friends and past coworkers from theatre and theme park entertainment, I’ve managed and/or performed at over 5600 events since we opened in 2012, and our work has been featured in publications and news media around the world. I’ve been very lucky to meet some amazing people and performers along the way, and it’s been a pretty cool journey so far!

(SB): What production(s) were you involved with when word went out you needed to immediately postpone/cancel the show? 

Kalinda: On Thursday, March 12th, we had just wrapped up our first-run thru of The Crucible, which was scheduled to open March 20th at the Maverick Theater in which I was cast as Elizabeth Proctor. Press photos were scheduled to be taken a few days after the shutdown happened. The Crucible has become an integral part of my life since when I’m not onstage or filming or running my company, I actually moonlight as an independent Salem “witch” trials researcher and historian. I’ve been studying the trials since I was a kid, and venture out to Salem about twice a year for research in the surrounding areas. I love the period because there is always something new to uncover or theorize about from this terrible moment in American history. This past Halloween week, I even stayed in John Proctor’s old home in nearby Peabody, Massachusetts and am attempting to help its owner with dendrochronology research – I have always felt very close to this piece, and to the real lives of the characters portrayed in Arthur Miller’s work, and with the writer himself.

This was a dream show and project of mine, with a truly wonderful cast, mixed with actors from film, SCR, New York stages, etc; definitely one of the absolute best ensembles with whom I have ever worked. Some of us thought we might still be okay to open as of that Thursday evening, but over the weekend, it quickly became evident that we were not going to open in a few days’ time.

(SB): How was the shutdown communicated with the cast and production team?

Kalinda: Our director, Brian Newell emailed the entire team on Sunday evening (March 15th) and we gathered once more the following evening for our final costume fittings. For that last cast meeting, Brian spoke with our cast to let us know that we were indefinitely postponed, and communicated the options we have for the future. As a cast, each of us are on board to continue with the show, and keeping ourselves ready for when it eventually goes up. There’s a peaceful and kind solidarity with our cast and team, made up of longtime friends and people I’ve just met. It’s very special, and it made it especially poignant to be there that evening taking in all of this news with the rest of them, each in our own way. Life was actually bigger than, well, life. I have a feeling we’ll all remember where we were when the reality of all of this first hit us. We are living in a truly historic time.

(SB): Absolutely we are living in historic times, much as John Proctor did. Do you know if plans are in place to present The Crucible at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent?

Kalinda: Our director has been fantastically optimistic, believes in us, and has been a true champion behind getting this show up at some point. I feel that it’s an important piece in any given day or time period, but – once we come back from this – I think that it will be especially potent and meaningful for an audience to experience. We are learning to not take things for granted. We are experiencing separation from those we love, and the inner turmoil of shedding guilt and finding strength and peace on one’s own. We’re already seeing the effects of discrimination against certain people in our world due to this terrible pandemic. I feel that all are lessons important to share with an audience, and The Crucible touches on all of those things.

Since we were just about to open, everything is set at the theater waiting for us. It’ll be like coming back to Sleeping Beauty’s castle to see everything waiting patiently, frozen in time! Our costumes, wigs, props, stage, set, lights – they’re all sitting there right where we left them. In the meantime, we have been conducting weekly rehearsals over Zoom so that we can SEE our cast and stay fresh on lines. We thankfully have the space clear through July, before another production will need it. If the theater isn’t back up and running in some capacity before then, I’m not sure what will happen after that.

(SB):  What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

Kalinda: I did have some Fringe shows I was currently in callbacks for that have all, of course, postponed/canceled. For my business, I also had over fifty events scheduled through May that have all canceled in the past few weeks, with no future events coming in. It was overwhelming on March 12th, when things really started picking up speed and people were realizing how bad this was; I received 14 event cancellations in a matter of a few hours, and saw theaters in SoCal already canceling their own productions. It was all quite surreal.

My old group, All Puppet Players, were also planning their 10th anniversary production with a reunion show with former cast members this fall; as of right now, we’re still hoping that happens. I also had a comedy web series planning to shoot this spring that is rescheduling to the fall. Just have to wait and see. And since all of the studios are shut down as well, I’ve had no auditions come in (except for a few voiceover roles).

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

Kalinda: About a week into staying at home in self-isolation, I started seeing others in the theater world arrange groups together for staged readings via Zoom and Skype. The first one I did was Steel Magnolias which I haven’t read in years. I loved the experience. This has been a perfect opportunity to study films, revisit favorite pieces, discover new works of art, take virtual trips of museums around the world, etc. I’m also starting to see agency and casting director calls for projects on television/theatre be virtually open to all online. That is a fantastic idea, and I will be eager to see if this changes the course of casting processes for the future.

I’m also in the process of putting together stories each day for the Maverick Theater’s Facebook page to post in correlation with The Crucible (which we hope still opens), connecting the characters of the play with the real-life locations and people and on-site history that I’ve researched throughout the years. I wouldn’t have had time to do it before, so I’m happy for a chance to put all of my work online now.

And for my business, I recently introduced some virtual options to keep kids and adults entertained during this time period. We’re sending out online character greetings and doing virtual parties and events, and I’m especially excited about our “Character Comfort Chats” in which our performers converse one-on-one with kids (and adults, if they need it!) about the current happenings in the world and take care of the hard questions and answers so that parents/other adults can take a break. I’m currently working on even more virtual character entertainment options for “bigger kids” too (like Marilyn Monroe suddenly dialing in to a Zoom business meeting to liven things up, etc.).

(SB): You certainly know how to make lemonade out of lemons! What 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?

Kalinda: I feel that we artists feel, process, and exhibit emotions genuinely and intensely, and that leads us to subconsciously absorb so much of the world around us. I’ve spoken with many friends over phone or messaging the past few weeks, and a lot of them have echoed the same sentiments, “I am so used to being busy, and would usually have so much energy to start a new project that I’m excited about. Now is my chance to do it, and I’m SO TIRED!” This sudden change of life really takes a toll on one’s psyche as well as physically. So, don’t feel pressured to create that next big masterpiece, or feel guilty for seemingly doing nothing. You ARE – you’re enduring a historical time. Take care of yourself and treasure the time with your loved ones at home. Be kind to yourself and take each day at a time, so that your soul is rested and rejuvenated for the future. We’ll need you here to tell your story in the best way possible when our world blooms back to life.

This article first appeared on Broadway World.

JOAN OF ART: An Iconic Musical, A Three Weekend Celebration of Food, Music & Beer, Halloween Scares & Another Kind Of Culinary Food Festival

Fall is upon us which means the start of a long holiday season, but before we get to that, there’s one of my favorite musicals opening on October 18th at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, THE MUSIC MAN.

This beloved Meredith Wilson musical, which I personally have seen many times throughout the years, including the one with Hugh Jackman, will star Broadway’s Adam Pascal (‘Rent’) as the fast talking traveling salesman Harold Hill.

In 1957 The Music Man became a hit on Broadway, winning five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and running for 1,375 performances. It included some of the most memorable songs including ‘Till There Was You’ and ‘Goodnight My Someone’ and the brassy favorite ’76 Trombones.’

This is a total feel good musical that will have you smiling long after the curtain falls. The show opens Friday October 18th at 8pm and will close on Sunday October 27th.

For show times, tickets and other information go to  or call 805-449-2787. The Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza is located at 2100 East Thousand Oaks Blvd in Thousand Oaks.

Now what would October be without the annual OKTOBERFEST which opened last weekend at the Fairplex and will be there for two more days, October 18th and 19th. This celebration is filled with authentic Bavarian music, German Food, chicken dances and guaranteed to be a blast for you and your family.

Guests will enjoy two stages, one complete with an Oom Pah Pah band, 12 beers on tap at multiple bars and enough food to feed a village. Two of the biggest expo halls and the outdoor plaza have been transformed and decorated to recreate a German fair.

Queen Nation, a cover band, will rock you along with The Rheinlanders and DJ Schlage spinning on the 1’s and 2’s.

For more information and to buy tickets go to The Fairplex is located at 1101 West McKinley Avenue in Pomona, 91768.

Since Halloween is coming up there are plenty of places guaranteed to scare you silly and one of the scariest of all takes place at Universal Studios in Hollywood. It’s Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights and this year it has more spine-tingling mazes than ever before.

The studio that created the original monster movie genre, once again breathes new life into your darkest nightmares bringing you more hair-raising encounters including the dark secrets that lurk in the Upside Down in the next chapter of Netflix’s STRANGER THINGS, the ultimate in paranormal thrills from GHOSTBUSTERS and coming face to face with your worst nightmare – yourself in Jordan Peele’s film US.

There will be scare zones each gorged with murderous monsters and unimaginable horrors awaiting your arrival. What could be better than that? ‘Horror Nights’ runs now through November 3rd. Oh did I mention when and if you want a break from all the scary stuff there will also be a live band featuring the best music of the ’80s, DJ dance parties and more.

To buy tickets go to Universal Studios is located at 100 Universal City Plaza in Universal City.

Lastly there is another kind of food experience happening this weekend and it’s called TASTE CULINARY FOOD FESTIVAL taking place at The Atrium at Westfield Century City, 10250 Santa Monica Blvd in Los Angeles.

The festival is back for a second year and returns for a weekend long celebration of global cuisine and culinary events. This culinary experience features samplings from the Center’s best restaurants along with chef experiences, wine and spirits tastings, plus live entertainment while you sip and savor your way through the best cuisines from around the world.

Ticket holders will get to enjoy samplings and tastings from restaurants like: Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Eataly, Javier’s, Halo Top Scoop Shop, La Colombe, The Crack Shack and so many more.

Tickets to attend will cost $55 for adults over 21 years of age and $35 for guests under 21.

Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drink options will be available at the event. TASTE takes place on Friday October 18th from 5:30-8:30pm, Saturday October 19th from 11:30am-2:30pm, and 5:30pm-8:30pm. The last day is Sunday, October 20th, from noon until 3pm.

Go to to purchase tickets and for more information.

Wishing you a very fun weekend.