South Florida Theatre Community Honors Passing of Local Actress with Scholarship Fund

Laura Ruchala (foreground) with Bree-Anna Obst in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Laura Ruchala (foreground) with Bree-Anna Obst in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Photo by Marlena Skrobe

It was Shakespeare who once said "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." That pronunciation also implies that it boasts both triumphs and tragedies. Bree-Anna Obst can relate to philosophy as well as to the bard that implied it in the first place. Obst, part of the theater department at Miami Children's Museum, lost her friend and fellow thespian Laura Ruchala this past August to a brain aneurysm.

"Laura was a Shakespeare enthusiast, a budding director, and an incredible actress, whose performance career spanned three counties, Dade, Broward and West Palm Beach," Obst recalls. "Laura was determined to keep the Bard alive in South Florida, and so it is my hope that this community can contribute to Laura's dreams and goals, despite her not being here to pursue them herself."

To that end, Obst has organized a cabaret event she's named "A Night For Her: A South Florida Theatre Cabaret Celebrating Laura Ruchala." The event, slated for November 15, will feature members of the South Florida Theatre community as part of a celebration that will help realize Ruchala's dream to share Shakespeare's genius with other actresses and enthusiasts.

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New Times recently spoke to Obst about what led up to this event.

New Times: What gave you the idea to do this benefit?

Bree-Anna Obst: I had recently moved back to South Florida from Australia earlier this year, and Laura and I discussed the future plans we had in common. A cabaret show was one of the many things we spoke about. It was only about a week since her passing when I decided that I was going to honor as many of our plans as possible, starting with the cabaret. I thought it would be a wonderful way for the theater community to pay its tribute to Laura, in one of the best ways theater people know how to. I also knew that the Shakespeare Scholarship Fund had been set up in her honor, so it was only fitting to donate the proceeds from the event to the fund.

How did you meet Laura and how long had you known her? Did you ever have an opportunity to work with her?

Laura and I met in 2010, when she auditioned for Shakespeare Miami's Romeo and Juliet. I was on the panel and I watched Laura nervously give her monologue. She was just getting back into the theatre scene. We later joked about how nervous she was. Laura was cast as Lady Capulet to my Juliet. She was playing my mama! And that's how we referred to each other -- as Mama and Baby Girl, despite only being four years age difference between us. We became close friends instantly. We also worked together on Shakespeare Miami's A Midsummer Nights Dream as Titania (Laura) and Puck (me), as well as their staged reading of Twelfth Night.

How long have you personally been involved in the local theater community?

I moved to Miami in 2008 from my native Australia as an adventure. I gave myself a year and it turned into four and a half. I joined the local theater scene in 2009, after doing no theater for an entire year and almost going crazy. I am predominately an actress, and have been so since the age of 7, performing in theater, film and television back in Australia. My passion lies with theater -- Shakespeare and children's theater in particular -- and I've traveled the world, performing at such venues as Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Arts Center in Melbourne Australia, and many other venues and festivals throughout Australia, the U.S. and Asia.

What can we expect from that night at the cabaret? What kind of performances?

A lot! We have scenes from Much Ado About Nothing, A Midsummer's Night Dream and A Comedy of Errors, the play which Laura was directing when she passed away. We also have musical numbers from Wicked, Follies, Smash, The Fantasticks and Wonderful Town, along with comedy, spoken word, musical numbers, dance numbers, rap, some Michael Jackson impressions, and much more. Kicking off the night at 7:30 we have the Miami cover band Cut Time which will warm up the guests, and after the show there will be a DJ helping to carry on the merriment. There will also be a silent auction. Around 50 people will be donating time, talents, goods and services -- everyone from silent auction donors, to the actors, lighting professionals and sound technicians. Everyone is coming together without hesitation, which is a true testament to Laura's character.

Why is keeping Shakespeare alive is so important to you and to your late friend? What lessons does Shakespeare offer to contemporary society and why do you think actors are well advised to study the great Bard?

Shakespeare was Laura's thing. It was her passion and her drive, and it made her so happy to be tackling his work and to share her knowledge with others. I think the relevance that his work has to today's society -- despite the fact that it was written 400 years ago -- is one reason it was close to her heart. There are so many references to Shakespeare in modern western culture -- in movies, music, television, and of course in theatre. There's also the language itself. Shakespeare invented many of the words that we use today, and we should know those origins, especially as part of our school curriculum.

The other thing that excited Laura and always excites me is that there is always something new to be discovered in Shakespeare's work. Whether you read it, perform it, play a character, or direct one of his plays, something new can also be found with every encounter. There are so many layers. So the more he is performed the more discoveries are made. This is why it's well advised for actors to study Shakespeare. Even though his work is enveloped with history and tradition, you can always discover something new within his words, something that presents a new challenge, a new vision, a new way of thinking... Shakespeare makes you think.

"A Night For Her: A South Florida Theatre Cabaret Celebrating Laura Ruchala" will take place at 7:30 pm on Saturday, November 15 at Salt Waterfront Restaurant, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Key Biscayne. Tickets cost $20 and $30.

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