Ricky Bulda: Interview With A Multifaceted Performer
Ricky Bulda is an actor of Filipino descent, born and raised in the United States, he now calls San Diego CA home. Ricky’s career has been diverse, starting out as a dancer primarily then shifting into musical theatre out of college. He has performed for ballet companies, jazz dance companies, musicals, operas, and also has a handful of TV, film and commercial credits. As part of our series celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May, we are shining the spotlight on our AAPI friends working across the Arts and entertainment industries.
Hi Ricky, thanks for talking with us at TheatreArtLife! How are you doing, and how are you coping with the pandemic at the moment?
Thank you very much! It’s an honor to be included in your AAPI recognition month. Currently I’m doing very well regarding the pandemic. 2020 was a year of uncertainty and inactivity. However I’m happy to say I’m currently working in Southern Utah with a wonderful theater company called Tuacahn. We are the first big theater company presenting live theater since the pandemic shut everything down.
Going back to the beginning, how did you get your start in the industry, and what first inspired you and drew you to the Arts?
I started taking dance classes late in life in college at University of California San Diego. It was a way to stay in shape and meet girls! My dance teachers there all directed local dance companies. I was one of very few male dancers at the time and I showed a certain talent. I started working with those dance companies professionally. A former member of one of those companies, Barry Bernal, came back to San Diego to teach. He had gone to New York and did a number of Broadway shows and tours. He suggested I look into what he was doing and study musical theater. I transferred to a university with a performing arts program, got my degree in Musical Theater, and I haven’t looked back.
How did your path progress from the first gig to where you are now, and what did that journey look like?
When I first started in musical theater I was primarily a dancer, and in my first professional shows in San Diego I only really danced. I wasn’t a singer at the time but got away with it because of my dancing. I still studied voice and improved over a few years. Then in 1993 I worked for California Musical Theater in Sacramento alongside Broadway veterans, TRUE triple threats across the board. I realized I needed to step up my game and improve in my acting and my singing.
Since then it’s been 30 years of show after show, and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
I’m at a point now where, at least in Southern California, I have a reputation as being a solid all around performer, and I consider myself just as good an actor/singer as I am a dancer.
What have been your favourite moments and career highlights so far?
The first professional musical I ever saw was CATS when I first started dancing. It also happens to be a show that Barry Bernal had done on Broadway and on tour. That cemented my desire to be in Musical Theater. I fell in love with everything those artists were doing on stage. I spent years auditioning for that show in various productions. I finally got to do it in 2003 at that theater in Sacramento. It was a definite dream come true.
I’ve done a few world premiere musicals like Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots for Des McAnuff at the La Jolla Playhouse, EMPIRE for McCoy Rigby entertainment, worked with Reba McEntire and Brian Stokes Mitchell at the Hollywood Bowl, danced alongside Jodi Benson (Disney’s The Little Mermaid), worked with Los Angeles Opera on numerous productions including Wagner’s The Ring Cycle, taken a tour of EVITA to Taiwan, and I’ve even played roles not typically cast as Asian. I played Benjamin Pontipee in 7 Brides for 7 Brothers, Mike Mooney, an Irish character in Paint Your Wagon, and played Action in West Side Story.
Those were some definite highlights as I was non traditionally cast, which is quite an accomplishment, even in today’s climate.
One of my favorite roles was as a stepsister in a ballet production of Cinderella for California Ballet.
Another notable highlight was getting to work with Betty Garrett, who did movies with Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra back in the day. We did a production of My One and Only in Los Angeles.
I also appeared in two episodes of ENCORE, a reality based series streaming on Disney+. It’s hosted by Kristen Bell and each episode reunites former high school students who did school musicals 20+ years ago, and has them do that musical again now, as they are as adults. It’s a show full of nostalgia and heart and I was very proud to be included on that project.
Later this summer I will be working on another world premiere of a new musical, The Count of Monte Cristo, with music by Frank Wildhorn, of Jekyll and Hyde fame. That’s a project I’m very much looking forward to. A very good friend and colleague of mine, Tony Award winner Peggy Hickey, will be choreographing that show and I just can’t wait to get started!
And conversely, what has been the biggest obstacle or challenge you’ve overcome in your work?
I think the biggest challenge I’ve had is starting a family early. I met my wife Michelle in a college dance class (remember, I did start dancing to meet girls!) and we married soon after college and started a family the year after. That meant staying home as much as possible while trying to establish a career in the arts. This kept me from going to New York to audition for Broadway and national tours because I didn’t want to be away from the family for too long. Regional productions were easier to manage because I wouldn’t be gone that long, maybe 4-6 weeks at a time. Then I’d come home for a couple months as I found the next audition. But I was able to get plenty of work, and still do.
Other than that, I think the bigger challenge nowadays is staying in shape to still do what is demanded of stage actors nowadays. I’m not so young anymore and maintaining your health, physically, vocally, and mentally is tough in a field that has only grown over the last three decades, with more and more young triple threats showing up at every audition. Even before the pandemic it was difficult to stay in shape for everything.
The last year made it even harder as we didn’t know when or even IF we were going to be able to get back on stage.
As we began rehearsal for this current summer season, the challenge was to not get discouraged OR injured when your body rebels against doing things it hasn’t done in over a year. But going at it slowly and giving myself time to ease back into this work has been rewarding. Thankfully the schedule is such that we DO have plenty of rehearsal time before the audience starts filling the seats.
What advice would you give to your younger self if you could go back in time? What do you wish you knew then that you know now?
If I could go back to my 10 year old self, I would tell him to not stop taking piano lessons and start taking dance classes no matter how girly you think it is! Dancing in musical theater is one of the most physically demanding activities out there and we have to be very well conditioned and trained to be able to do anything asked of us at any time, whether it be tapping, leaping, tumbling, partnering, etc. We ARE athletes and as any athlete does, we have to stay in shape in the “off-season”.
I wish I knew as a kid what fun it would be to perform on stage because this is something I feel I was born to do and even though I got started relatively late, I’m so thankful that I found it when I did and I’m so grateful to still be doing it now.
Looking to the future, what are you currently working on and how has it been for you returning to the work after the last year with the pandemic?
As I said we’re working on a full summer season of musicals here in Utah. The shows are: Beauty and the Beast, Annie, School of Rock, and The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s been challenging because we’re still dealing with the pandemic. We have to stay as quarantined from the public as we can.
We are currently rehearsing outdoors AND masked, which makes it difficult to breathe and sing much less dance.
To add to the difficulty, Southern Utah gets hot and windy thru the Spring and Summer months. The theater is an outdoor amphitheater, and the outdoor ventilation is one of the reasons this theater was approved to move forward this year. Most of us were cast last year when the industry was shut down, so it’s nice that the company called most of us back without having to re-audition.
Other than those difficulties, the cast and the company were just thrilled that we got to go back to work, and that has made it easier to deal with these unusual conditions under which we are currently working.
And final thoughts from you Ricky, how do you see the Arts coming back from the year we’ve had?
I think it would be good to highlight the fact that the industry, LIVE THEATER, is coming back. With vaccinations happening in the U.S. right now, a return to pre-pandemic conditions is closer on the horizon. I know there are a couple other theater companies that are planning a comeback for this summer. With luck Broadway will come back soon as well. Live arts are definitely missed and I’m sure everyone who performs, creates, and enjoys live productions are looking forward to the day when the industry is back and running strong.
Follow @ricky_bulda on Instagram