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Alice Ripley, a Tony Award-winning actor, cut her acting teeth in San Diego. She returns to our town from Jan. 18 to 23 at the Balboa Theatre, as the deranged and tormented Diana Goodman in “Next To Normal.” Her role in “The Who’s Tommy,” premiering at the La Jolla Playhouse in the early 1990s, was the precursor for Ripley’s ride to Broadway. She’s had numerous Broadway credits and has performed many off-Broadway and regional theater roles. Ripley also sings and records CDs, and she has a new album coming out in February.
Ripley took a few minutes to answer my questions about her career. The graciousness and guts of this accomplished actor came through in her responses.
Jenni Prisk: As a Tony-Award winning actor, how does it feel to be coming back to San Diego in “Next to Normal?”
Alice Ripley: The road isn’t an easy life, but I decided to finish what I started with Diana. Most of the world has yet to discover her.
JP: Do you consider your roles in “Tommy” — that began at La Jolla Playhouse and moved to Broadway — the catalyst for your Broadway career?
AR: I had already worked at the La Jolla Playhouse by the time I moved to New York City because I lived in San Diego after college and got my [actors’ union] card at the Playhouse. So, in a way, bringing Diana to San Diego is like coming home to the place where my professional acting chops began to take shape, and bringing with me the role of a lifetime.
JP: Do you expect San Diego audiences to be as excited and savvy about the production as audiences in, say New York or Los Angeles?
AR: I gather they are already excited based on the messages I get every day from audience members who have their tickets to the production in the Balboa Theatre. And I know already that “Next to Normal” audiences are savvy, enthusiastic and decidedly generous of spirit, because I know at least a hundred of them by a hug, face and a name. I have a feeling that number will just keep growing.
JP: How do you prepare for, and come down from, the role of Diana?
AR: I have a system of recovery and preparation that I use to live my life in order to play Diana eight times a week. Since Diana is a manic-depressive, bipolar borderline schizophrenic with wild hallucinations that haunt her, you can imagine the toll she takes on my body, mind, voice and psyche. Preparation means many hours spent alone, breathing and meditating on joy, in order to plunge headlong into her despair onstage. “Next to Normal” has a healthy dose of dark humor as well, so don’t be afraid to laugh!
JP: You are on stage almost all the time and singing throughout most of the production. How do you keep your voice and your body tuned up?
AR: I consult my friends when I am feeling overwhelmed by playing Diana. They give me a helpful perspective. I also consult my Russian gypsy fortune telling cards, play my guitar, or watch TLC’s What Not to Wear. In other words, I invest in activities that bring me joy and remind me of who I am. Through them, I encounter the inner strength needed to play Diana.
JP: Are there any old haunts you will have time to visit while in San Diego? Or people you will catch up with?
AR: I will be walking on the beach at Coronado, you can be sure of that! I can’t wait to be back in America’s Finest City!
Jenni Prisk has been going to theater for nearly 30 years in San Diego County and writing about it for seven. An actor herself, she’s also an international motivational speaker, communications coach and trainer. Please contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.