Celebrating 40 years: interview with Catherine Ricafort ’05

This interview is an unabridged version of the interview published on page 7 of our November issue.

Catherine Ricafort ’05 is a WHS alumna and Broadway actor. She has played roles such as Karen the Computer in Spongebob Squarepants and Mahi in Honeymoon in Vegas. 

What activities did you participate in in high school?

I was part of the choir when it was Mr. Rose. We didn’t really have a drama production except for my sophomore year [when] they did Bye Bye Birdie. And other activities, … I was president of Habitat for Humanity … I was really involved with choir. I choreographed a lot … I did [the talent show rally] a couple years, and it was really fun because my senior year, I did it with my brother. We did a hip hop duet. It’s actually on Youtube. It has a lot of views weirdly … It looks like it’s out of a movie because you can see, because you know how we’re like a fairly big school, so you have to sit on both sides, so we were facing, because I was a senior and he was a sophomore, we faced the senior and sophomore side, but in the video you can see the whole freshman and junior section. So that was really fun.

What is your favorite high school memory?

Probably that one. Yeah, it was just really special because, you know how in high school, especially if you have a sibling, sometimes you’re like, “Oh I’m cool, I’m not really going to talk to you at school.” But that was a really great moment for us as siblings to come together, … especially because of the way the seating arrangements were, that we could both face our respective classes and do this number together. He was suddenly the most popular guy in school, even among the seniors. He, like, came out of obscurity after that. But that was a really fun special moment… It was very … High School Musical … Usually at school, I was just in nerd mode and just always studying and working on, you know, getting ready for the APs. That was fun to have the whole school see like what we do for fun.

What was your favorite class that you took?

I really liked bio with Mr. … I’m not sure if he’s still there. He’s the one who, apparently there was, like, a snake. I never experienced this but he would tell this story all the time with me, that there was a snake on campus and he caught it and cooked it … Is Mr. Rollins still there? I think he taught Chemistry. Well, it was definitely Mr. Rollins, and he loved Lord of the Rings…. The movies were coming out when I was in school, and he would make class fun by having, when we walked into class, he would play music from the movie. And he’d kind of like infuse it into his class a little bit. So, I just like really appreciated teachers who would share the more personal side of themselves with us, and that made class really fun.

Do you have any advice for any current high school students?

I would say take advantage of any opportunity to be creative. What I remember most about my time at [WHS were] the chances to be creative and to take on leadership roles, for sure, because later in life, when you do those things, the consequences and the responsibility gets bigger and bigger, and it gets more scary, so it’s good to explore that and experiment with it in high school because its a safer space to do it. You have the support of teachers, and it’s not like the big stage of the real world yet. It’s just within your school. So it’s really important to discover the leader in you or the creator in you. For me, it was choreographing and, you know, teaching numbers to students. And, like for choir, for the talent shows for choir, what really brought me the most joy was teaching dance and choreography to people who didn’t really do it yet …  I remember we had a talent show in the fall, and I did a big production of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and we had a lot of people who asked to be in the number that I didn’t think of at first because they weren’t “the dancers,” but that was what I got the most joy out of, was really teaching other students something new that I could share with them from my knowledge, and it taught me that I really enjoy doing that, so I’m still teaching and choreographing a bit now.

Where do you choreograph now?

A lot of Broadway workshops … For example, when I was in Mamma Mia, we had a lot of student groups from out of town come as a group to see the show, and maybe like before they saw the show or right after, they’d have a master class with me where I would teach them the finale number from the show and also teach them the singing part to it and they’d kind of get to experience what it’s like to rehearse and perform a Broadway piece. And then right now, I’m actually choreographing my brother’s rap music video, because he and I are both still, kind of in the same way we both were in school. We were both very academic but very artistic, so he’s working in tech, but what he loves to do on the side is write rap. So I’m choreographing that, and a few friends from the Broadway community are going to be in it, like my friend from Spongebob Squarepants, which I just did on Broadway, and another friend who’s currently in Aladdin on Broadway.

Where did you go to college, and then how would you describe your college experience in one to two sentences?

I went to [University of Southern California]. I would describe it as … exploring all versions of myself to the max. I didn’t sleep a lot in college … I was an engineering student, which is a lot of time commitment. But then I also was very involved in the college a cappella scene and dance. In even shorter terms, it was like work hard, play hard for sure, which was really fun. So I worked really hard, but also USC is a party school, and I definitely enjoyed that too. So it was like the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life but also the most fun I’ve had.

How would you describe your career?

I’m definitely a … Broadway performer because I sing and dance … a triple threat Broadway performer, and I’ve done eight shows at this point … I’m also a web developer. Sometime in between all the shows I worked at a startup because I studied engineering in college. I studied industrial engineering. I used that when I was in between shows and worked at a startup, and when I worked at the startup, I learned that I was interested in doing the more computer science stuff, so earlier this year I went to a computer science bootcamp, which is like, a lot of them are popping up nowadays. So, I did one for web development, and I graduated from that program in May … So I’m actually looking to get into that a little bit more. I’ll never stop acting, but it kind of always like having this balance, that’s how I rolled in college, and I actually find I’m happiest when doing that. You know, being very academic and artistic at the same time.

What are your favorite roles that you have played on Broadway?

Definitely Karen the Computer in Spongebob [Squarepants] because it was very zany and weird and comedic, and it’s cool to play the villain. I don’t usually get to do that, and there aren’t a lot of villain couples … I’m a computer who was created by this villain, he’s named Plankton … but he made me and I’m his wife, so it’s so weird but so funny, and they’re just bickering all the time, so it’s so fun. And this is a big franchise and people know the characters already before, and they get extra excited when they get to see the characters come to life in front of you guys. And then my other favorite show, definitely not as famous of a show, but it was called Honeymoon in Vegas, and it was cool because it was the first time I played a big part on a Broadway stage, like I got to sing a solo and I had lines, and my character was like a lot of people’s favorite, like comedic relief in the show, and I created that role … A question I get asked a lot in theater interviews is like, “What’s your dream role,” but I actually don’t … I no longer, like when I was in high school I dreamed of playing roles that already existed, like, “Oh, I want to play Éponine in Les Mis,” you know, but actually once you get here and you’re in this theater scene, the most exciting thing to an actor is to create a role, to originate it, and be the first person to have played it, because when you think about it, like let’s say Wicked, for example. That role, when they’re about to go to Broadway and they’re still workshopping it and it’s not set in stone yet, so you the actor are building that role with the writer and with the director, and you can influence the lines and you can influence, like you’re helping. For my number in Honeymoon in Vegas, I helped to shape a lot of the choreography for my piece, because I was like, “Well, I can do this, how about we put this in, this would be fun,” you know? So those were my two favorite roles.

When did you start having an interest in theater?

I’d always been interested in theater since I was a kid. But it was always something I did for fun on the side, very seriously, but it was always for fun. And I got to keep it up in high school by doing choir. Like I said, there was only one year when there was a drama production. I hope it’s more often now.

What is your favorite Broadway memory?

My favorite Broadway memory was related to that show Honeymoon in Vegas. It was our opening night, because I had never had a Broadway opening night. The first two shows I did, Mamma Mia and Cinderella, they were long running shows where I replaced somebody. So even though it was my first show, everybody else had been doing the show already. It wasn’t like the grand opening night you see in movies where everyone’s having their first performance, like in front of the press and this and that. So when I came on stage, it was probably just my family, but it was really fun when I came on as my character, and I got entrance applause on Broadway on an opening night in New York City. That was my favorite moment. And actually, it was even more my favorite because I knew it was mostly my family. I was happy that they were all there.

Photo courtesy of Catherine Ricafort

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