An Interview with Cara Ricketts

As rehearsals for The Wild Party cruise along, we talked to Stratford Festival veteran and TV star (The CBC’s Book of Negroes) Cara Ricketts about her taking on the powerful character of Queenie and performing in her very first musical. You can even watch her in a sneak peek right here

What was your first impression of the show and character?
I loved it. Queenie is the troublemaker that I want to be, in a weird way. She gets into all kinds of ups and downs it seems, and it’s the kind of lifestyle that, secretly, I would love to have. Without the troubles. So it was kind of perfect.

Do you think that’s a character that all performers secretly, or not so secretly, are attracted to?
I think it’s performers and people. I think that’s the reason why Bette Davis was such a big star, all those “It” girls are all troublemakers. Look at Rihanna. I was watching some Clara Bow films, she was the original “It” girl. And she was always in the midst of some sort of trouble, and her perfect hair was tousled, you know what I mean? I think it’s something that as a performer, in real life I don’t know if I’d ever be brave enough or dumb enough to get into that kind of trouble. But as an audience member it’s kind of the same thing, it’s what we wish we could do. It’s fun to experience it on stage.

What do you think about the original poem the musical is based on?
I love the poem. The fact that it was banned at the time makes sense to me. The fact that he plays with different cultures, I think it’s the same thing we’re doing with Acting Up Stage – the idea that we’re never totally sure if Queenie is a person of colour. Which lead to me thinking about passing. Passing was really big at this time. There were a lot of light-skinned black folks who would leave their families, ditch everything and start a new life as a white person in America. To see the poem filled with that, not only in the Queenie character but in Dolores and how she plays at being something other than she is. And the Goldman brothers, getting rid of their heritage too and starting their life afresh really is something that’s smart to play with.

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What do you think about the music?
I really like the show. I might really like it because it’s my first musical. But I also think it’s really interesting that the two musicals came out at the same time. I do have to say that I prefer this one, there’s something about it that’s a bit more real. The struggles that all the characters have to go through are more than just bathtub gin and partying. You can tell that they’re fighting other things. Like Queenie says, she was that young girl. She wanted to see the lights of Broadway. She doesn’t play that the whole way through, but now you know that that was always cooking inside of her.

How does it feel to be doing your first musical?
It was so cool when Mitchell had asked me, it was serendipitous in a way. Not too long before he asked me, I said “I want to do a musical one day, I’m going to put that on my bucket list. I might be really old by the time I do it, but I’m going to do it one day.” Then he asked me and I said “Yes!” And then I immediately started to sweat and I’ve been sweating ever since. ‘I have to sing in front of people, I have to sing in front of people.’ I pretty much started vocal lessons since I got the gig, and I’ve been nonstop working since then. It’s been awesome.

Are you excited for audiences to see you doing something totally different than they’ve seen you before?

Yes, and I also hope they’re very forgiving.

There was a girl that messaged me shortly after she found out I was doing it and she said, “You’re playing Queenie? I want to play Queenie one day in my career.” And I think there are a lot of people who feel that way.

And we’re talking about Queenie again! What’s so compelling about her character?

She’s an iconically strong woman. She’s a bad girl. She’s not really making history but attempting to. This is my first bad girl. I played a gun once, a literal gun. But even the gun had a moral centre. She was a bad girl, but this is a bad girl. I mean, every character has a redeeming quality – but Queenie’s deliciously like “I’m going to get what I want.” And she’ll go and get it. Like it even says in the poem, she’ll take any man. The idea of her walking into a room and going “That one.” – and doing it! – is so interesting.

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