Today we’d like to introduce you to Ricky Abilez.
Ricky, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in Ontario, California – right by the airport everyone refers to when they realize I don’t mean Canada. I am one of three kids, but merely one of over 200 people in my extended family. We are Mexican, so I grew up with an appreciation for food, an obligation to faith, a need for family and a passion for the arts. My brother, sister and I would always put on performances in the living room for my parents. We referred to them as “parades” – which was just a re-enactment of our favorite movies. My sister was the dancer and my brother and I were everything else. She joined mostly to humor us. My parents always raised us to work hard and dream big, but there is one quality they taught us to embrace that seems to be the driving force in my life: help lift others up.
Acting was never my first love. For the longest time, I wanted to be a novelist, like my grandpa. I wrote short stories and comic books all through elementary school until I discovered American Idol. Writing sort of came to a stop when I became fascinated with singing. So, I begged my parents to put me in vocal lessons. They’d gone through so much money trying to help me find something to commit to Baseball, Soccer, Swimming, Flag Football, Jazz, Hip Hop. Nothing stuck, but singing did! I trained for several years and when I got to High School – I accidentally fell into the theatre. There were no other electives available, so Intro to Theatre was my last resort. It didn’t take long for me to enjoy being a clown in class. The instructor (shout out to Smouse) insisted I audition for the school musical. I didn’t give it any thought until my mom made me go. So, I worked on a song with my vocal coach (shout out to Terron) – and I was cast as Jack in Into the Woods!
I still wasn’t convinced theatre was for me. I was too enamored with singing and becoming a recording artist. When I turned 16, I auditioned for American Idol and got sent home after the first round. They told me I wasn’t interesting. I was devastated. My poor mom had to deal with my broken heart on our whole trip to San Fran. When the next school year started, I continued to audition for plays and found a family there. I was cast in all the school musicals and I got to compete in The Cal Poly High School Theatre Festival with my peers, which is when I realized performing was something I couldn’t escape. The collective energy, the sense of community and the power of live performance were infectious. It was like a drug. I know people say this all the time, but it’s hard to explain. You have to experience it.
So when it came time to apply for college, I decided to pursue a degree in Theatre. I attended Cal State Fullerton from 2012-2016. Those four years were equally wonderful and terrible for a myriad of reasons, but here I am on the other side and I have my BFA in Acting. I am grateful for everything I learned as a student there and I am still close with several professors (Shout out to Mark, Svet and Madonna) – and if there is one thing I’ve carried with me it is that “the meaning of life is to find your gift and the purpose of life is to give it away” – Pablo Picasso
I have been in LA for nearly 4 years now – pursuing a career as an actor. I’ve since joined Actor’s Equity and have worked in several regional theatres, most frequently at South Coast Repertory. I am SAG-E, I’ve produced multiple full length productions, I’ve written short plays, performed in cabarets, filmed a pilot, signed with an agent and taught high school students how to use art for social justice. Which is the core of everything I do. I create for change. I genuinely believe in the power that artists have in society. We have a responsibility to illuminate the truth of the human experience. (Shout out to Meryl Streep) I am grateful that I get to do that every day.
Has it been a smooth road?
I don’t think any artist has had a smooth road. I’d like to meet one who has. There are always obstacles. Both personal and professional. I have struggled with depression, anxiety and OCD for several years. It has improved over time, but it can affect my ability to focus and sometimes it can be hard to get out of bed. I think a lot of my anxiety sprouted from my time in college. CSUF has a cut system for their BFA program. This means you audition at the end of each semester and a panel of professors decide which students get to move forward with their desired emphasis and which students don’t. That can cause a lot of anxiety for a young artist wanting to do well with their education. Especially when some professors will go out of their way to put you down. Now, to its credit, it isn’t the only program designed that way. I think the main goal is to introduce the competitive nature of the industry, but it misses the mark. It ends up promoting a self defeating attitude. I watched many students come and pour their hearts and soul into their education only to be told four semesters later that they couldn’t get the degree they came to school for. That, to me, can be very detrimental to a student’s mental health. You live in constant fear for two years wondering if all the student loans, the long hours worked, and the financial assistance from your parents will be worth it.
But, I am grateful I was able to continue my education in the program. It was a challenge I needed in my life. It made me confront personal issues, it taught me strength, perseverance, diligence, and focus. Above all, it taught me my worth. I don’t think anyone should be afraid to speak out against those with power – and it taught me that too.
On my journey, I’ve encountered many people who thrive off of putting others down. Some quotes include: “You’ll never be successful,” “People who look like you don’t get work,” “You can’t play gay – it won’t get you anywhere,” “You have a strong voice, but no other talent to match it,” “You’re the worst actor I’ve seen, you should go home and slit your wrists,” You’re brown! So it must be easy for you to get work now – you don’t even need to be good,” etc.
It’s easy to let those words ring in your ears. You replay them in your head over and over again and when you have those words haunting you while dealing with the everyday struggles of life, it can boil over into depression. I’ve had a grandparent in and out of the hospital, I’ve been in and out of a job for the past few years, I live paycheck to paycheck, I still experience racism and homophobia – life doesn’t stop throwing you curve balls. But life also doesn’t stop providing opportunities. Things always happen how and when they need to.
Mental health is probably the most common struggle for an artist and somehow we still don’t talk about it enough. Especially since we are so empathetic. I often feel that the world’s many issues are my fault because I could be doing more to solve them. But the state of the world is also what motivates me as an artist to continue fighting. I cannot imagine going a day without the support of my family, friends and boyfriend. Although there is no permanent cure for the struggle that is mental health, we can lift artists. Lift EVERYONE. Positive reinforcement is so much more efficient and powerful than beating someone down… Life will do that all on its own.
We’d love to hear more about your work.
I am an actor, singer and activist. To me, the three go hand in hand. I have been working in the LA theatre scene pretty consistently with wonderful companies like Rogue Artists Ensemble, MainStreet Theatre Company, Coeurage Theatre Company and the Tony Award-winning Theatre: South Coast Repertory! I’ve done several young audience contracts, which bring me so much joy. There is nothing like performing for children. They are so honest and receptive and they NEVER forget anything! It is truly special to be a part of a child’s first theatre experience.
I am proud to be a part of a community that is vibrant, supportive and passionate about the state of the world. One of my proudest experiences has been “More Guns!” A new musical comedy at The Second City Hollywood. I was in the ensemble for a little over a year and it never grew tiresome. The story is so incredibly important and profound. It examines gun control in America and our current political climate. It is both honest and hysterical. I felt like I was making a difference every week. It still runs every Saturday at 8:30 pm if you want to catch it! Some of my dearest friends are behind its genius.
I try to filter everything I do and create through the lens of responsibility to society, whether that means pure entertainment or a blatant political statement. I think that sets me apart from others. For example, when allowed to teach an elective at a charter school, I chose to develop a course called Using Art for Social Justice, where I got to use my professional experience to educate the next generation about how art reflects life and inspires movements.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’m currently in “She Loves Me” at South Coast Repertory, which is a beautiful musical about community, falling in love and the pure joy we experience in the process.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think it depends on what you want to do. If you want to do theatre, of course, there are more opportunities in New York and D.C. That doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities here. I LOVE it here. I think it is hard to find work no matter where you live. It’s all about how much you put into it. How often are you showing up to auditions? Are you taking classes? Are you meeting people? Are you seeing shows? Are you seeing movies? Are you creating new content? Those are all things you can do anywhere and they are all things you need to do to succeed. I always advise going where you will most enjoy living because the love you have for a city will filter in to everything you do. You’ll want to go out more, you won’t feel out of place, you will be more inspired, etc.
LA is an incredibly diverse and supportive city. We have all kinds of artists from all walks of life. I like to think of it as the city of self starters. Everyone is always creating their own content here. It motivates you to do the same. We just gotta get better public transportation! And peeps gotta get better at driving.
- Website: www.rickyabilez.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bing Putney Photography
Debora Robinson/ South Coast Repertory
Lewis Family Playhouse