Kat Hickey: Back to Her First Love
by Jen Poiry-Prough
Theatre professionals and amateurs alike often find it hard to balance their lives and their passion. Kat Hickey has found a way to make it work.
Hickey grew up in Akron, Ohio as the oldest of three children and the only daughter. Hers was a close-knit family. Between the car-ride duets with her mom and her dad's collection of Motown, Beatles and R&B records, her parents instilled a love of music in her from an early age, although she is a first-generation performer.
She grew up as Kathy Rapp, a serious, bookish perfectionist with plenty of acquaintances but few close friends.
"I've changed a lot," she says. "I still like to be perfect and really enjoy approval the way I did as a child, but age has mellowed out that fault some."
One of the things that helped break her out of her serious shell was performing.
When her mother took her to a live performance of Annie as an elementary student, she turned to her and said, "I want to do that."
She soon became one of the youngest performers accepted into the Akron community show choir, ETC.
"I spent seven years performing all around the Akron area and traveling around the U.S. and internationally," she says. "This is where I met 'my people.' The friends I made in show choir became the closest friends I had and later were the attendants at my wedding."
While in school, she saw many live community and school theater productions performed by her show choir friends from many different schools. She was soon ready for her first audition when she was 8 or 9 years old.
"I sang 'Maybe' from Annie," she says. "I walked on stage and they told me to say my name and the song I was singing. I watched the judges straining to hear me and realized [too late] that I was supposed to say it loudly so that they could hear me project my voice."
As a seasoned performer, she knew she had sealed her doom even as she exited the stage. She was not surprised not to be cast, but she remembered the lesson and adjusted the next time.
She went on to perform in high school theater, but her breakout role was as Maria in West Side Story in 1996 when she was 21. She took the stage of the fledgling theater company and introduced herself as Kathy Rapp before singing her song. The director misheard her name as "Kat," and the nickname stuck.
At the callback she was asked to perform the balcony scene.
"I wanted this part," she says. "I wanted it really badly. My scene partner was a friend of my brother's, and I whispered to him, 'Follow my lead.' The scene calls for a kiss, so when we got to that part, I slowly leaned in and kissed him. The director gasped."
The pair were cast as Tony and Maria.
But she found true chemistry with John Hickey, "the very cute guy who played Bernardo." He eventually became her husband.
She attended the University of Akron but not as a performance major. Perhaps deterred by fear of parental disapproval or her own insecurity in her talents, she instead majored in psychology.
"But my heart was truly in the theater," she says. Despite her major, she found herself focusing all her energy on electives in singing, dancing, and acting - and taking non-college classes in those subjects at night - while performing in back-to-back shows at the university and in the community.
A year after they met, she and her then-boyfriend John were cast in their first professional show, Jesus Christ Superstar.
"We were so excited," she says. "It was the culmination of a year of dating, auditioning and carefully choosing shows to do together."
They began making tentative plans to move to New York after the show closed and try their hand at theater there. She was already struggling with her course work and knew it wasn't where her true passion lay.
But those plans were laid to rest the closing weekend of the show when they discovered she was pregnant.
"We took a pretty bumpy road from there, honestly," she says. "But I was so blessed to have the support of my parents. I don't know how I would have done it without them."
She says it took her a while to accept this new life role, but she did so with open arms.
"I remember thinking, 'I'll be a young mom. Maybe one day this baby will want to perform and I can get back into it!'"
In the meantime, she found a wonderful new passion: babies. She had always loved them and ended up becoming a doula and later a home birth midwife's assistant. For 14 years she was on call day and night.
By 2002, the Hickeys were married with three kids under the age of five. She struggled to keep theater in her life, at one point co-directing a high school murder mystery with her brother, her second baby in tow. In 2005, John's career brought the family to Fort Wayne where he took over a health care office.
Their kids grew up lovers of the arts, participating in show choir, jazz band, steel drum band, and theatrical performances. And the mother of four found herself being tugged back in that direction.
"It became more and more difficult for me to be gone at births with the multitude of kids' rehearsals and performances," she says. "I just didn't want to miss a moment of it."
Hickey took 2015 off from birth work to focus on herself and her upcoming 40th birthday. "I took a hard look at my life," she says.
She loved her work, was good at it and earned a good, flexible living.
"But at this crossroads, I knew something was missing," she says. "And the possibility of making art with my children while they were still home thrilled me to no end."
In October, she discovered Triple Threat Performing Arts Academy which had just opened in Fort Wayne. It was similar to the beloved studio she had studied at in Akron, and it was a wish come true. She took one voice lesson with founder Andy Planck, and he told her, "We're going to get you back on stage."
She and her daughters took a musical theater workshop class the following January, and she earned a featured role in a song. She was "both thrilled and terrified" to discover that she still had the talent.
The academy's sister organization, the professional theater company Three Rivers Music Theatre (TRMT), had just announced its inaugural season. While preparing to audition for the season-ending production, Next to Normal, she was shocked to be cast as a lead in Hair.
It was her first role in 20 years.
"Playing that role with that cast was a powerful, extraordinary way to return to the stage," she says.
She also booked the lead in Next to Normal, a musical comedy/drama about a woman struggling with bipolar disorder, and has performed in three TRMT cabaret events. In all her recent roles, she has shared the stage with her son Liam who plays drums.
"As a mother, my heart explodes with pride to see him do something that he loves and do it so well," she says.
Her daughter Maddie will play her daughter in Next to Normal.
"She is a fantastic actress," Hickey says. "She embodies the characters she portrays so fully, so completely. As a performer, I'm so excited to work with an actor of her caliber. As a mother, I'm speechless."
Hickey looks forward to exploring the dynamics of their characters' dysfunctional family.
"I know our relationship will be so much richer after this show," she says. "This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm so grateful to have the opportunity."
The former ing?nue says most of her career was spent singing light soprano, so she's been busy working on her belt voice in preparation for the show. "I've spent the winter working technique to improve my endurance and the tone in the middle register," she says.
The normally calm, reserved actor is excited to play the over-the-top emotions of her character, Diana. "As a society, we reward the suppression of big, ugly emotion," says Hickey. "Next to Normal demonstrates the consequences of that suppression and the ripple effects on a whole family."
Hickey says the show is something special.
"The music is incredible. Our cast is incredible. I'm so grateful to have these strong actors to work with and this visionary creative team to guide us. This show is not done frequently, so people should take this opportunity to experience it live.
Her past year of theatrical success has inspired Hickey to make a living as a performer - not something most Fort Wayne residents can say. In addition to her work with TRMT and work in commercials and independent films, she coordinates McMillen Health's "I Need My Teeth" school assembly program and plays the Tooth Fairy in the production. "It's the most fun I've ever had at a job," she says. "I've assembled a great team of local artists and the kids love this show."
Although her primary job remains "running our empire" (balancing schedules and meeting her family's needs), her other passion remains just as important. After she was cast in Hair, her daughter wrote her a note: "Thank you for showing me it is never too late to live your dreams."
"If my kids don't get much else from me," Hickey says, "I consider that a success."
Friday, April 28
Click on the headings below for full calendars
Click header for complete Things To Do calendar
Concordia Comedy Festival — Concordia Lutheran High School presents a showing of comedy films from middle and high school students, 7 p.m. Friday, April 28, Room 101, Neff Hall, IPFW, Fort Wayne, free, 483-1102
Tapestry: A Day for You — Day of inspiration, renewal and education for women in all stages of life with keynote speaker Ann Curry, 7:30 a.m. Friday, April 28, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $75, 483-1111
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Click header for complete Music & Comedy calendar
Blooze Faktor — Blues at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., cover, 483-1311
Chris Worth & Company — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 557-1563
Classic Voice — Variety at The Venice Restaurant, Fort Wayne, 7-10 p.m., no cover, (260) 482-1618
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at The Venue, Angola, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 665-3922
Expanding Man — Variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
G-Money Band — Blues at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Hubie Ashcraft & Travis Gow — Country at Billy's Downtown Zulu, Monroeville, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 623-3583
The Illegals — Rock at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 483-5526
IPFW Bands & Choirs w/Fort Wayne Children's Choir — Classical at Auer Performance Hall, Rhinehart Music Center, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 7:30 p.m., $4-$7, 481-6555
Joe Stabelli — Jazz at Don Hall's Gas House, Fort Wayne, 5:45-9 p.m., no cover, 426-3411
John Curran & Renegade — Country at American Legion Post 241, Waynedale, 8:30-11:30 p.m., no cover, 747-7851
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
Rebecca Rego — Americana/country at Two-EE's Winery, Huntington, 7:30-9:30 p.m., no cover, 672-2000
Secret Mezzanine — Variety at Deer Park Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 432-8966
String Theory — Acoustic variety at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 260-745-3369
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 422-5896
Trichotomous Hippopotamus w/Trackless, John Fishell — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., cover, 267-5303
The Why Store — Rock at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, (260) 387-5063
Click header for complete Karaoke & DJs calendar
Big Dawg Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Bucca Karaoke w/Ashley — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Pine Valley Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., no cover, 490-9464
Dance Party w/DJ Rich — Variety at Columbia Street West, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., cover, 422-5055
DJ dance party — at Rum Runners, Fort Wayne, 8:30 p.m., ,
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Variety at Tap Haus, New Haven, 9 p.m., no cover, 493-6622
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Jay — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Scott — Variety at JR's Pub, Leo, 9 p.m., no cover, 627-2500
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., ,
House DJ — Variety at Early Bird's Ultra Lounge, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 483-1979
House DJ — Variety at Flashback on the Landing, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., cover, 422-5292
Karaoke w/DJ Chuck — Variety at DW Bar & Grill, Churubusco, 10 p.m., no cover, 693-8172
Karaoke with Rooster — Variety at Portside Pizza, Columbia City, 9 p.m., no cover, 691-3333
Karaoke — Variety at Coconutz @ Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 9-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Karaoke — Variety at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m., no cover, 488-3344
Karaoke — Variety at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Karaoke — Karaoke at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Karaoke — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Rockstar Karaoke & DJ w/Scotty — Karaoke at Backway Lounge, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 665-5081
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at 4 Crowns, Auburn, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., no cover, 925-9805
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ w/Kevin — Variety at Danny's Italian Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 484-4444
SureShot Karaoke w/David — Variety at The Green Frog Inn, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 426-1088
Three Rivers Karaoke — at Bottle and Bottega, Fort Wayne, 8:30-10:30 p.m., no cover, 494-1020
Click header for complete Stage & Dance calendar
Funny Little Thing Called Love — Romantic comedy by Jessie Jones, Nicholas Home and Jamie Wooten, 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and May 5-6 and May 12-13, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
The Little Mermaid — Fort Wayne Civic Theatre musical based on the Disney movie, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, May 6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $17-$29, 424-5220
Little Shop of Horrors — IPFW Department of Theatre performance of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29, Williams Theatre, IPFW, Fort Wayne, $5-$18, 481-6555
Next to Normal — Tony Award- and Pulitzer-winning musical about coping with mental illness, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 4-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, Three Rivers Music Theatre, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 498-2270
The Taming of the Shrew — William Shakespeare’s now somewhat controversial comedy about the battle between the sexes, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29 and Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 12-13, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
A Wrinkle in Time — all for One productions’ adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s young adult science fiction novel, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, April 28-29; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 30; 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 5-6; 2:30 p.m. Sunday, May 7, PPG ArtsLab, Auer Center for Arts & Culture, Fort Wayne, $11-20, 422-4226
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Click header for complete Art calendar
37th National Print Exhibition — Juried exhibition featuring contemporary printmakers from around the nation, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
41st SOCA Student Exhibition — Works from students currently enrolled at USF’s School of Creative Arts, daily thru April 30, Weatherhead Gallery, USF Rolland Art Center, University of Saint Francis, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Diane Allen Groenert — Exhibition of local artist’s Downtown Series and new works, Monday-Saturday thru June 24, West Central Microcreamery & Cafe, Fort Wayne, 415-9293
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Expressions of Existence — An exhibition of works by artists through history, including Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Francisco Goya and others whose works have been influenced by disabilities, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Fort Wayne Artist Guild Exhibitions — Works by Alice Siefert at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, Jennifer Caudel at Allen County Retinal Surgeons, Anita Trick, Citizens Square (2nd and 3rd floors), Darlene Selzer Miller at The Einhaus Group for Women’s Health, Patricia Weiss at Heritage of Fort Wayne, Emily Jane Butler at Ophthalmology Consultants (Southwest), Linda Binek at Ophthalmology Consultants (North), Carolyn Stachera at Rehabilitation Hospital of Fort Wayne, John Kelty at ResCare Inc. Adult Day Service, Wiletta Blevins at Town House Retirement, Karen Bixler at Visiting Nurse Hospice and Barb Yoder and Karen Harvey at Will Jewelers, thru April 30, fortwayneartistguild.org.
Fort Wayne Photographers Club — Exhibition featuring local photographers, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 30, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Glass: A Medium in Art and Automobiles — Dale Chihuly blown glass and fiberglass auto, daily thru Sept. 8, Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum, Auburn, $7.50-$12.50, 925-1444
Jan Krist-Finkbeiner — Exhibition of ceramic reliefs, Tuesday-Sunday thru May 5, Artlink Contemporary Art Gallery, Fort Wayne, 424-7195
Juxtapoz Magazine: 25 Years Under the Influence — A chronicle of the iconic magazine’s evolution into one of the most influential magazines of art of the counterculture, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Kathy Funderburg & Diane Schafer-King — Acrylic paintings (Funderburg) and works in marbled paper and fabric (Schaefer-King), Monday-Saturday thru April 29, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Norman Bradley and Friends — Exhibition of works by friends and colleagues of the late Fort Wayne artist, Tuesday-Saturday thru May 20 , Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Outdoor Sculpture Invitational — Fifteen outdoor sculptures from regional artists, daily thru April 30, School of Creative Arts campus, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Perspectives Live Butterfly Display — Up close and personal perspectives of the Conservatory’s newest collection of live butterflies, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 25, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Rhoda Gerig: The Hope of Eagles — Photographic images of eagles, daily thru June 4, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102
Robert Williams: SLANG Aesthetics! — An exhibition of new work by the artist considered the godfather of the lowbrow, pop surrealist and colloquial realism art movements, Tuesday-Sunday thru July 23, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
Sharon — An exhibition of Leon Borensztein photographs chronicling the struggles he faced raising his severely disabled daughter, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $6-$8 (members, free), 422-6467
SOCA Graduate Program: Student Highlights — Juried exhibition of works by students enrolled in USF’s School of Creative Arts graduate program, Monday-Friday thru April 30, Lupke Gallery, University of Saint Francis North Campus, Fort Wayne, 399-7999
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Exhibition of works by IPFW graduation seniors, daily thru May 3, Jeffrey R. Krull Gallery, Main Library, Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring 2017 BFA Exhibition — Senior thesis projects from Bachelor of Fine Arts candidates Brenda Drayer (sculpture), Derek Hibbs (printmaking), Ellen Mensch (painting), Nathaniel Morris (sculpture) and Kyle Snodgrass (sculpture), daily thru May 7, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
Spring Palette — New original works by more than 50 nationally recognized artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru May 20 (Cinco de Mayo Fiesta featuring mariachi music by Mark Meussling 6-10 p.m. Friday, May 5), Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568