Who is Melissa Ritz?
I’m an Army brat. My father was in the military and although I was born in Fort Sill, OK, I’ve lived all over the United States and Europe.
I’ve always had an interest in the arts. When I was attending an American high school in Germany I learned of a local English-speaking theater called The Frankfurt Playhouse. I immediately signed up to audition for their first show of the season, Funny Girl, and I got cast in the chorus. My relationship with the community of artists was magical. It opened my eyes to theater, music, acting and rehearsing. Working with military spouses, German locals, and defense contractors I also performed in Oklahoma! and Hello, Dolly!
My family moved from Germany to Alabama during my senior year of high school, but after graduating from high school I longed to return to Europe. The easiest way was to join the military. This stunned my parents; I was the ‘artsy’ type and never had expressed any desire to go into the Air Force. I mean, I had purple hair!
I learned about a military entertainment program called Tops in Blue while working as a medical laboratory technician in the Air Force. The program is comprised of musicians, technicians, vocalists, and dancers who perform a 90-minute show at military installations around the world. I auditioned and was accepted for the program. My confidence burgeoned; I began to see the “big picture” and years later drew from my experiences to create a one-woman show, “Journey of a Bombshell: The Ina Ray Hutton Story.”
Just after 9-11, I was working in a hospital in Germany. I was on a 24-hour standby deployment for a MASH unit in Baghdad City, and although I never deployed to Baghdad, many who suffered casualties from the Iraqi invasion were brought to the hospital. I reevaluated my life after seeing so many soldiers die at such a young age. Was I following my passion? Where was my heart guiding me? All answers led back to the theater.
I wanted to go somewhere new, somewhere that wasn’t as stressful and completely different from the military. I moved to Las Vegas, where I worked as a cocktail waitress in a major “Strip” casino. How’s that for different!
I used my GI Bill to get my BA in Dance, and MFA in Theater Performance from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. My training and experiences were empowering; I was ready for a move to New York City, which I did in October 2013.
What are you working on at the moment?
My one-woman show, Journey of a Bombshell: The Ina Ray Hutton Story. Ina Ray Hutton was a ‘female bandleader’ of an all-girl band, The Melodears, in the 1930’s. What started out as a novelty act became one of the most sought out and lucrative musical acts of the Big Band era. Ina was the first woman to conduct male bands; she pioneered women in jazz and often arranged women performers’ initial gigs.
Born on the South Side of Chicago, Ina had to deal with racial issues, which created a number of challenges in music and in the theatre during the early part of the 20th century. Ina’s life off stage was equally challenging: She was married six times but never had children. She was, however, in many respects, business savvy, including negotiating her own contracts and creating her own image.
After I arrived in NYC I volunteered at the United Solo Theater Festival. I saw a gorgeous show called Magdalen, by Artists Without Walls’ member Erin Layton and Erin put me in touch with her director Julie Kline. After meeting Julie, I asked her to direct my show.
During the show I highlight Ina’s career accomplishments through songs, tap dancing, and video projection. We debuted “Ina” at United Solo this past October and sold out all four performances. I’m very proud that I was honored as “Best Emerging Actress.” I hope to take the show to Las Vegas this summer. More info can be found at Journey of a Bombshell.
Do you have upcoming events you’d like people to attend?
I’ll be performing a scene from “Ina” at Artists Without Walls’ Showcase at The Cell Theatre on Tuesday, January 27th. I will also be performing the full length show on Sunday, February 15th, 9pm, at the Triad Theater/Stage 72. It’s located just above Seven’s Turkish Grill on 72nd and Broadway. Tickets can be purchased at Brown Paper Tickets
Playwrights: Tennessee Williams, Lynn Nottage, Shakespeare, John Patrick Shanley
Actors: Tilda Swinton, Cherry Jones, Anna Deavere Smith, Joaquin Phoenix, John Lithgow
Who is your greatest inspiration and why?
WWII Veterans, WAC/WAAC’s, and war Vets. During my time in the military, I met many amazing people who changed the course of history including The Tuskegee Airmen, Medal of Honor recipients and the first women admitted to military. Their sacrifices and accomplishments inspire me to make the most of opportunities that become available.
Name five things you’d like to do or accomplish in the next five years.
1. Visit Borobudur
2. Write a screenplay version of my show & have it optioned
3. Financially support myself as an actor
4. Speak a foreign language fluently.
5. Open my hips enough so I can finally do lotus pose in yoga!
If you could dream of trying something in the arts you haven’t tried, but would like to, what would it be?
I’d love to play a musical instrument. Any instrument! Having the ability to play an instrument really well seems like a super power.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Bikram yoga. I teach at Bikram Yoga NYC and Bikram Yoga East Harlem. Try it out!