With her bubbly and energetic personality, it’s no surprise Elena is finding her spotlight on Broadway! Coming from a gymnastics background, she has an incredible sense of her physicality and how it contributes to her success. Her intense dedication and vibrant spirit make Elena FIT FOR BROADWAY!
Biography: I’m Elena Ricardo and I’m currently having the time of my life (get it?) singing ABBA music 8 times a week in Mamma Mia on Broadway! I’m a proud Southern girl who tried desperately to avoid the same path of my Broadway veteran parents by being a competitive gymnast for most of my life, but obviously I failed. I left college to make my professional debut in the world premiere of Bring It On the Musical, toured with Mamma Mia, and had the privilege of making my Broadway debut in the ensemble of MM before moving into the part of Sophie. I love horror movies, creating dialogues for any animals I come across, and all things shark related. Thanks to my 7 months on tour, I completed the Turbo Fire, Physique 57, Insanity, P90X, and of course the Brazilian Butt Lift workout programs and since then, I’ve gotten hooked on the fitness bug. I would love to become a personal trainer or teach Spin classes around the city some time soon but until then, I’m so thrilled to be a part of this unbelievably unpredictable theatre world!!!
Q: Explain your background with gymnastics.
A: I miss gymnastics so much sometimes. There is no greater feeling than completely defying what gravity (musical reference not intended) forces us to do. I was a competitive gymnast for about 10 years and really thought that was going to be my career. I dreamt of going to the Olympics or competing in college and then coaching after that. Theatre didn’t even enter my head until I was about 16. So up until that point, I was training 25 hours a week and trying to take advantage of the very limited time I had to be a gymnast. Beside the physical strength the sport gave me, I developed a ton of discipline early on, sometimes TOO much discipline. I took things very seriously and really got frustrated when practice was not making perfect. I was out on my lawn for hours trying to get my first cartwheel and I still to this day find that work ethic hard to escape. But I’m a lot more forgiving and understanding that some things in life just can’t be pushed. It’ll happen when it happens.
A: I love high intensity workouts. I love sweating and feeling fatigued and just knowing that I pushed my body, it survived, and now I’m stronger because of it. But my fitness routine has definitely had to adjust since I have transitioned into Sophie. I knew it would be a new vocal challenge becoming a principal, but I had never anticipated how physical it would be too. The stakes are high for Sophie throughout the whole show and because of her earnestness and intense need to find this missing piece in her life, I spend the whole show basically on my toes with all this forward energy and excitement, which can be really draining after 2.5 hours. In addition, Mamma Mia is literally billed as “the best time on Broadway” so my cast mates and I really have a high-energy bar set for us each performance. The show alone is enough to keep me in shape but I’m also a huge class gal. I love just showing up to a spin, yoga, or Pilates class and letting someone tell me what to do. It’s nice not be in control every once in awhile. : )Q: Coming from a gymnastics background, explain your relationship with your body.
A: I’ve certainly had a love hate relationship with my body, as I think every woman does at some point. While I was competing, the muscles that gymnastics gave me were needed to be able to successfully execute certain skills and to protect me from serious injuries that could happen at any moment. I was proud to be strong because the stronger I was, the more things I trusted my body to do, and when you’re about to literally hurl your body into the air over a 4 inch wide beam, all you have is trust that whatever happens, your body can handle it. But once I retired from the sport, I was left with these huge muscles that kind of softened and made me feel thick and masculine. Whether it’s doing a Broadway show every night, spin classes, or maybe just growing up, I’ve only just recently become comfortable with my body. Of course, there are still moments where I see a picture or a video and I’m like “Wow, I’m giving way more tricep in that picture than I had intended.” But without those triceps, I would have never been able to swing on a bar for hours and without my “thunder thighs” I never would have been a regional Vault champion. My muscles are a part of my history so it’s my job to just embrace them and keep them healthy. And maybe even laugh about them when they find a way to unexpectedly showcase themselves. They’re sneaky like that.
Q: Do you follow a specific diet?
A: I’m not too hard on myself when it comes to food. I’m thankful that I have a body that quickly makes me regret that McFlurry or huge burger I decided to have. I function better and accomplish all the things I want to do much more successfully when I eat lots of protein, fruit, and drink tons of water during the day. I try to eat well the majority of the time so I can let myself indulge when I want to without having a mental crisis over the decision.Q: Tips on finding the time to stay physically/vocally fit?
A: Just do it! It’s that simple. Our bodies and voices are our instruments in this business and in order for us to expect these instruments to perform to the best of their abilities, they need to be conditioned and taken care of. That way when the time comes when you’re doing a reading or a 2 hour dance call right before your two show day, you can trust that you are strong enough to do it all and do it well.
Q: What is your best advice for stage confidence?
A: Confidence for me comes from preparation. If I’ve taken the classes, done the research, and explored the material to the best of my abilities, then I can walk into whatever performance space knowing the work will speak for itself. Lots of immensely talented women have played Sophie over the years but we are all vastly different from each other. Maybe I’m not the prettiest Sophie or the Sophie with the best voice but I’m bringing a little bit of Elena into her every night. And suddenly without even trying, I’m confident that that’s unique and that’s enough.
Q: What is your favorite energy-boosting snack/meal?
A: I still get butterflies before every show so I tend to eat very little beforehand. But one big thing that fuels me is a Veggie Delite sandwich at Subway. Call me ridiculous but I think it’s just about the most delicious thing ever and it’s a healthy option when you’re in a rush, as I often am. If I’m feeling really fancy, I’ll cook some fish and broccoli or take whatever vegetables and fruit I have in the fridge and just throw it into a blender. That’s a real hit or miss idea but either way, I’m getting the fuel I need.
A: I live a relatively quiet social life so that helps in conserving my voice. Bartenders get a good laugh when I ask for a tea if I ever do decide to go out. Of course sleep and hydration are probably the most essential part of vocal health maintenance but I also try and keep up with voice lessons to keep my voice flexible. Mamma Mia requires a very specific style of singing and just like every muscle that get’s too familiar with something, it’s easy for your voice to kind of plateau if you don’t exercise it. I always warm up before a show or an audition. You know when you try and do something crazy before you’ve warmed up like kick your face? Even though you can do it (I can’t), your hamstring just feels tighter and a little unsteady the rest of the day. Lots of people could sing a show or two without warming up but the long term effects just aren’t worth it so I put in the 30 minutes I need before a performance to avoid hurting myself. During the show, I like to keep my voice nice and moist so I have all the vocal remedies like Entertainer’s Spray, pastilles, and for the more frugal, Lay’s Potato chips to keep the chords smooth and greasy. But you better have some major will power because it’s very easy to tear through the whole bag when all you really need is a couple handfuls. Guilty.
Q: What is your favorite late night snack after performances?
A: I have an amazing deli across the street from me and the guys that work there are my buddies. I love getting a Bacon Egg and Cheese on a roll post show and since I’m not much of a cook, I eat half after the show and the other half for breakfast the next day. Learning to cook is definitely on my to do list but until then, my deli guys take good care of me.Q: Who or what inspires you?
A: My family is constant inspiration. I totally hit the jackpot with them. I look up to my big sister the way any younger sibling does. She’s an incredible actress and human being and I just think she’s capable of anything. And then my parents were triple threat performers back in the day and I bet they probably could still hold their own at a dance call. I look at their careers, the places they went, the people they worked with, the parts of Broadway history they got to experience and I strive for that. They have never for a second doubted how successful I could be. And most of all, this entire community inspires me. I take acting classes every week and I watch some of the greatest undiscovered talent in this city. All these artists are so passionate and dedicated to their craft whether they’re working on Broadway or still trying to get that “big” gig. They love what they do and that’s what pushes them forward. I’m in awe of how talented my peers are and as long as I surround myself with ambitious artists and encouraging teachers like that, I’ll never be lacking in inspiration.Q: What is your advice for those trying to perform on Broadway?
A: I always take these kinds of questions very seriously because it really wasn’t long ago that I was reading these kinds of interviews of people on Broadway in the hopes that they somehow would reveal the secret of getting on Broadway. But now my advice would probably be that Broadway is not the be all-end all. It is a wonderful goal to strive for but so much of what makes our lives as performers special is the journey before we reach that “Broadway dream.” Some of the most fulfilling performance experiences I’ve had were non-equity jobs where I was cleaning outdoor restrooms before the show, shared a tiny room with two other girls, and made a completely unlivable weekly salary. But I got the chance to be in new shows and play parts that pushed me and challenged the preconceived ideas I had on what I was capable of. And I met the most loyal friends who have stayed by my side and come out to whatever part of the country I was in to see me perform. Take every job, every class, and every opportunity that you can to do what you love but also know that taking a nap or treating yourself is just as important. Do what makes you scared because this business, at least for me, has yet to become not scary. It’s intense and you need to be okay with looking like a fool every once in awhile. Even if you’re “not a dancer,” take that ballet class that terrifies you because it’s good for your body and will only make each dance call a little more bearable. Even if you’re not “that kind of actor” take a Shakespeare class or study a specific technique so you can discover a whole new way to access material. It’s not your job to type yourself. There are enough people out there that will do that for you. You’ll find that even the worst jobs, auditions, or other experiences that you allow yourself to have end up teaching you so much about yourself. And it’s those struggles and often mortifying experiences that make that first Broadway bow you take that much more special.