Aimee Richards Lackey learned at an early age that life sometimes gets in the way of your goals and you have to roll with the punches.
Born in Fort Wayne and raised on a 25-acre piece of land in Spencerville, Aimee Richards was the middle child of three. She was outgoing and athletic, riding horses, bikes and snowmobiles.
But dancing was her passion from the age of 3. She took ballet classes seven days a week and traveled to Fort Wayne with her family to see countless Fort Wayne Ballet performances. She joined the Fort Wayne Ballet Apprentice Company and planned a career as a dancer, learning the discipline and dedication that was required of the art.
Unfortunately, back problems plagued her (she eventually had back surgery at the age of 21) and the young teenager had a difficult and life-changing decision to make.
"The director told me he thought I could really make it as a dancer," Lackey says, "but with back issues I needed to really think it over. I took the summer off and agonized over it, but I made the decision to quit ballet school.
"I cried the entire summer."
However, when she started school in the fall as a freshman at Leo High School, she pulled herself together. She threw herself into gymnastics, cheerleading and theater.
"I really redirected my energy into drama," she says. "I knew I could use my dance background, training and experience to help me on stage."
She found that she had the best of all worlds when it came to entertaining audiences. She could still use her dance skills, just not as intensively as before, but she could also hone her singing and acting skills.
"I guess I just loved performing and felt very comfortable in front of people," she says.
She performed in every play and musical all four years of high school.
"It enabled me to use my huge dance background, and I learned a lot from my drama teacher, Jerry Stover."
Her mother fully supported her love of all things performance and took her to New York to see her first Broadway shows - Chicago, which was technically minimalist, and Phantom of the Opera, which was grand and spectacular. "
I really got to see each end of the spectrum," she says. "I was awestruck when I watched the performers--especially the dancers."
After she graduated from Leo, Lackey considered moving to New York and pursuing a theater career. However, her mother ("the smartest person I know") convinced her to get a marketable degree. She chose dental hygiene, which she completed at IPFW. But for a short time, she attended Ball State to get the "college" experience while she took theater and acting classes as electives.
By the time she graduated, her dreams of New York and stardom had faded somewhat, but she has no regrets.
"I got married and had three great kids," she says. "I can't imagine not having my family. I love my profession and I still get to perform when life's schedule allows."
Lackey has even had the opportunity to appear on stages with her daughter Emily, and her sons Dylan and Broc have also shown a knack for performing in theatrical productions around town. And she enjoys supporting a number of friends who have gone on to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and all over the country and world, pursuing their professional performance careers.
As much as she loves performing, Lackey has always hated auditioning. "I always feel like I could have read a little better or sung a little better," she says. "It doesn't matter how many times I do it, it's still nerve-wracking."
In fact, the busy performer was not cast at the first Fort Wayne Civic Theatre show she auditioned for. She did not let that deter her, and she was eventually cast as Gymnasia in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. That role gave her the opportunity to show herself off as a true triple-threat--singing, dancing, and acting.
Although she says she prefers musicals, she also enjoys performing in comedies. Her current production is Funny Little Thing Called Love at Arena Dinner Theatre. The comedy features five vignettes - short independent stories in which several actors play multiple roles. Lackey plays three roles in three scenes: a serious newscaster in love with her co-anchor; a ditzy Texan hell-bent on revenge; and a New York divorcee still sharing an apartment with her ex.
She says the show is a fun diversion from the worries of the world and promises to be a good time for audiences.
"The cash bar is a bonus," she adds.
The funny script drew her in, but so did the opportunity to work with many of her theater friends, including director Suzan Moriarty.
"I honestly can't remember if I've ever worked with Suzan onstage before," Lackey says, "but the theater community is tight, so we've gotten to know each other over the years."
In fact, Lackey says that working with old friends and making new ones "is one of the best things about doing theater."