Scaling the Ladder to Theatre Success
Small town South African girl follows her childhood dream of acting and conquers the big cities of USA.
From the ripe age of 14, Larica Schnell knew she was going to be an actress. Influenced by her school drama teacher who offered support and encouragement, Larica stepped onto the stage in the class production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. There was no going back, and so her pilgrimage to her acting salvation began.
Larica grew up in Pretoria, the smaller dustier city just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Once she graduated from high school, Larica was determined to gain the knowledge necessary to spread her wings and fly to the professional stages around the world. “Acting was the only thing I felt seen in. I felt recognized,” she said, “I always dreamed of Broadway, but we didn’t have the money to support this dream.”
With a strong sense of direction, Larica’s talent and drive sought her a spot in the University of Cape Town’s Acting Conservatory, Africa’s premier acting program into which only 15 candidates out of hundreds are chosen. But this was only the start of the uphill slope to success. “They break you down,” she reported,” I really had to figure myself out.” And that is exactly what she did. Her final university play, The Open Couple directed by Chris Weare, received outstanding reviews of admiration and continued production at the Alexander Bar Theatre after graduation, lending Larica the much needed confidence to continue.
Larica landed her second break when she was cast as not only the lead role, but both lead roles in the critically acclaimed production set at the Grahamstown National Arts Festival. Larica was able to flaunt her graceful gift in the Cape of Rebels and presented the audience with a thrilling performance, showcasing her versatile abilities.
However, Larica needed to think bigger. “The goal was always to support myself through my acting career,” she said. Knowing that she needed more experience and training to achieve this, Larica turned to the United States of America. She soon became one of seven scholars to be accepted with a full scholarship to do her Master of Fine Arts at the University of San Diego in the prestigious Shiley Graduate Theatre Program. A program which is consistently rated one of the top 10 acting programs in the world and a direct competitor to Juilliard, Yale and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London.
Two years of intense classical theatre training passed where she performed in professional stage productions and worked with theatre legends such as Kate Burton and Robert Sean Leonard, both icons in the theatre and television worlds. Larica was ready to face the big bad world of theatre. She was cast as the lead in her first touring show produced by the Old Globe. The production was none other than Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the play that stole this South African's heart and drove her to astounding achievements all those years ago. A poetic end to her education which surely cements her spot as one of South Africa’s chief experts in Shakespearean theatre.
The show was performed around California at various shelters, orphanages, community centers, and even maximum security prisons. “It was incredible to witness the impact the show had on the audience members. Many of them had not been exposed to truly human relationships or emotions for so long that they became so invested in the show.” Her dedication and passion landed her an equity contract from the Actors’ Equity Theatre Union. For many actors, getting such a contract takes many years and many productions so Larica‘s contract is evidence of her extraordinary talent.
Finally, Larica moved to New York - the throbbing heart of the theatre world. With confidence in one hand and desire in the other, Larica started auditioning for as many plays as she could. “Everyone wants to come to New York for theatre, whether to be on stage or watching it. There’s better pay, there’s union support, and there’s more opportunity. But there are so many people trying to do the same thing. The competition is high.” However, with remarkable experience backing her up, Larica pushed forward in this new world, grabbing it by the horns and taking up the challenge with elegance and high aspirations.
Larica used her experiences from her previous productions to become a teaching artist, educating New York high school students Shakespearean plays in an interactive and engaging way. With over 400 students, Larica aided in the children’s understanding of the plays’ themes and grew their self-confidence through performance.
In the midst of educating young potential performers and taking the American acting world by storm, Larica has begun writing her very own plays, “I want to create something that is mine, have control over the message that is sent out into the world. It’s more meaningful than just being a vehicle for someone else’s message.” Her passion for theatre will always be her leading motive. Going forward with this movement, Larica joined a community of immigrant actors in America. Here, they join forces and, use their experiences of being outsiders to create meaningful work that they can benefit from. “We call ourselves ‘Aliens of Extraordinary Ability’,” she said with a giggle.
From being a small town South African girl to mastering the stages around the United States of America, Larica is an inspiration to all who hold onto a grand dream. With endless efforts and a wondrous will for achievement, Larica’s astounding technical ability and knowledge has allowed her to transform herself from one production to the next and has led to her ascent of the mountain of acting success.