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 ingénue 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.”
by Jen Poiry Prough
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Art on Broadway — Tours of 5 downtown venues featuring art from Alexandra Hall, Julie Wall, Peter Lupkin, Daniel Dienelt, Knotodday, Kay Gregg, Terry Ratliff and St. Monci, 5 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Broadway Street, Fort Wayne, free, 417-5925
Beer, Bourbon, Bacon Festival — Unlimited beer sampling from national and regional craft breweries, fine bourbon sampling and bacon inspired treats, 6-9 p.m. Saturday, March 25 (5-9 p.m. VIP), Marquis and Three Rivers Ballrooms, Hotel Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne, $35-$75, 484-0411
An Evening with Author Tom Frank — Author of What’s the Matter with Kansas talks about his new book; hors d’oeuvres, lecture and book signing included in admission, 6 p.m. Saturday, March 25, CS3 Hideaway, Fort Wayne, $15 plus donation, 602-1008
Puttin’ on the Ritz —Active 20-30 club fundraiser with live music from Chris Worth and Company, gourmet edibles, wine and beer, live and silent auctions; black tie optional, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 25, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne, $50-$90, 450-2844
Shipshewana on the Road — Food, craft and primitives show and sale, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, March 25 and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, Fort Wayne, $4, 483-1111
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Big Dick and the Penetrators — Classic rock at Navy Club, Ship 245, New Haven, 7-11 p.m., no cover, 493-4044
Brat Pack — Rat Pack/variety at Nick's Martini & Wine Bar, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., no cover, 482-6425
Cougar Hunter — 80s glam rock at Vinnie's Bar, Decatur, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $5, 729-2225
Ellsworth Sharp — Neofolk at Friendly Fox, Fort Wayne, 6:30-8:30 p.m., no cover, 745-3369
FBC Band w/Sheba — Variety/Music and Memories benefit at C2G Music Hall, Fort Wayne , 8 p.m., $7-$15, 426-6434
Fireball Matinee — Rock at Hideaway Lounge, Bluffton, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 824-0455
Fleshwounds — Rock at Hamilton House, Hamilton, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 488-3344
Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra — Funk at Dupont Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m., cover, 483-1311
Fu5ion — Variety at Mitchell's Sports Bar & Neighborhood Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-2 a.m., $3, (260) 387-5063
The Illegals — Rock at O'Sullivan's Italian Irish Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 422-5896
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 Alley Sports Bar, Pro Bowl West, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 483-4421
Johnny Freakin' Xcitor — Country rock at Beamer's Sports Grill, Fort Wayne, 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m., no cover, 625-1002
Kat Bowser — Variety at Don Hall's Guesthouse, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 489-2524
The Orange Opera w/Mickyle James — Rock at Brass Rail, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., $5, 267-5303
Prime Suspects — Variety at American Legion Post 499, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 483-1368
Quincy and the Q-Tet feat. Phil Potts — Rock/variety at Downtown Eatery & Spirits, Warsaw, 10 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, (574) 267-6000
Second Nature — Pop at Crazy Pinz, Fort Wayne, 8-11 p.m., no cover, 490-2695
Shannon Persinger Quartet — Jazz/variety at Club Soda, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m.-12 a.m., no cover, 426-3442
Todd Harrold & Nick Bobay Duo — R&B/blues/variety at American Legion Post 148, Fort Wayne, 7 p.m., no cover, 423-4751
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Ambitious Blondes Karaoke — Variety at Office Tavern, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-5827
Beat Karaoke & DJ — Variety at American Legion Post 296, Fort Wayne, 8 p.m. , no cover, 456-2988
Bucca Karaoke w/Bucca — Variety at Tower Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-6310
Classic City Karaoke w/Bryan Lee — Karaoke at Corner Pocket Tavern, Fremont, 10 p.m., no cover, 495-9255
Classic City Karaoke w/Tobin — Karaoke at Toad's Tavern, Monroeville, 10 p.m., no cover, 623-6226
DJ Shawn — Karaoke/variety at Club Paradise, Angola, 10 p.m., no cover, 833-7082
Fort Wayne Karaoke — Karaoke at Latch String Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10:30 p.m., no cover, 483-5526
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Brian — Variety at AJ's Bar and Grill, Fort Wayne, 9 p.m., , 434-1980
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/Josh — Variety at Arena Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 557-1563
Fort Wayne Karaoke w/TJ — Variety at Chevvy's, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-4748
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 — Variety at Crooner's Karaoke Bar, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m.-3 a.m., no cover, 486-1979
Live DJ — Variety at Wrigley Field Bar & Grill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 485-1038
Shooting Star Prod. w/Barbie — Variety at Uncle Lou's Steel Mill, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 436-5787
Shooting Star Prod. w/Stu — Variety at Pike's Pub, Fort Wayne, 10 p.m., no cover, 478-6200
Sidecar Gary's Karaoke & DJ — Karaoke at Kville Pub, Kendallville, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., no cover, 348-1677
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The Children’s Hour — Lillian Hellman’s seminal drama about bigotry perpetuated against the LGBT community and how easily a lie can spread, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, First Presbyterian Theater, Fort Wayne, $12-$20, 426-7421 ext. 121
Getting Sara Married — Comedy about an unmarried lawyer in need of a husband (according to her aunt), 7 p.m. dinner, 8 p.m. curtain, Saturday, March 25, Arena Dinner Theatre, Fort Wayne, $40 (includes dinner & show), 424-5622
One Foot in the Gravy — Howard Kingkade’s comedy and winner of Fort Wayne Civic Theatre’s Northeast Indiana Playwright Festival, 8 p.m. Saturday, March 25; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26, Arts United Center, Fort Wayne, $10-$20, 422-4226
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22nd Annual Valentine’s Invitational — Works from local and national artists, Tuesday-Saturday and by appointment thru March 31, Castle Gallery Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 426-6568
2017 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards — Award-winning works from northern Indiana and northwest Ohio middle and high school students, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Afros: A Celebration of African Hair by Michael July — Contemporary photography exhibit by Brooklyn author/photographer, daily thru April 14, D’Agostino Art Gallery, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, 399-8626
An Artful Spring — Works by Gwen Gutwein, Patricia Weiss, Austin Cartwright and more, Tuesday-Saturday thru March 31, Crestwoods Frame Shop & Gallery, Roanoke, 672-2080
Decatur Sculpture Tour — 31 original sculptures and 15 permanent exhibits on display, walking tour maps available, thru April 1, Decatur, free, 724-2605
Echolilia — Works from Timothy Archibald and his autistic son, Eli, Tuesday-Sunday thru June 11, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Entropy — Daniel Swartz solo exhibition explores relationship between death and mourning through combinations of mythology, mathematics, multi-dimensional physics and pop culture, Monday-Saturday thru April 1, Jennifer Ford Art, Fort Wayne, 740-1309
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
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, $5-$7 (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
Garden Party — Garden-themed works in a variety of mediums from over 30 local artists, Monday-Saturday thru March 31, Orchard Gallery of Fine Art, Fort Wayne, 436-0927
Generations: A View of Who Was Who — Works by Romare Bearden, Kara Walker, Alma Thomas, Jacob Lawrence and other African-American artists, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 9, Fort Wayne Museum of Art, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
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
A Mary Poppins Garden Party — Child-oriented garden exhibit, Tuesday-Sunday thru April 1, Foellinger-Freimann Botanical Conservatory, Fort Wayne, $3-$5 (2 and under, free), 427-6440
Moments in Time: Reflecting on the Human Spirit — Elizabeth Opalenik photographs from her recent Amish series A Journey Home and her Reflecting on the Edge exhibition, daily thru March 26, Visual Arts Gallery, IPFW, Fort Wayne, 481-6709
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
RAW. Untamed. Unashamed. Visions of Freedom. — Abstract romanticist works in acrylics and epoxy from Kristy Jahn, Fridays and Saturday-Thursday by appointment thru March 25, The Gallery at Pranayoga, Fort Wayne, 423-9642
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, $5-$7 (members, free), 422-6467
Wabash County Schools Exhibition — Works by high school art students, daily thru April 16, Clark Gallery, Honeywell Center, Wabash, 563-1102