Catherine Ricafort ’09 is no stranger to the stage, and currently plays a sultry dancer in Holiday Inn, the new Irving Berlin musical scheduled to end its Broadway run in January. She’s a singing, dancing and acting triple-threat. But maybe you could call Ricafort a quadruple-threat: She holds a degree in industrial and systems engineering from USC (with a minor in musical theater). Does that seem incongruous? For this multi-hyphenate it’s an ideal combination.
Ricafort, who moved from Arizona to Los Angeles with her family at age 12, has always had two sides to her life. Her parents stressed academics (her dad was an engineer) and her time outside of homework was spent in dance class, community theater and choir. “A lot of schools weren’t very supportive of double majors, but USC was,” she says. “They’re all about the Renaissance scholar.”
While in school, Ricafort focused on her engineering program, but also joined the SoCal VoCals, USC’s award-winning a capella group, as well as a student-run dance company.
“I had really enjoyed working on my degree, but as I was graduating I felt what we call ‘the bug,’” she says. “I really wanted to try performing first.” So she took a leap of faith and moved to New York while still enrolled in USC Viterbi School of Engineering’s progressive bachelor’s and master’s degree program.
There she spent her days lining up for auditions at 6 in the morning, reading course material until her name was called. The grueling schedule paid off. She was offered a part in a national tour of A Chorus Line, which led to parts in Cinderella, Mamma Mia and, eventually, the holy grail of theater work, a role as an original Broadway cast member in 2014’s Honeymoon in Vegas starring Tony Danza. Of course, Broadway is a fickle beast. When the show abruptly shut down she received only six days’ notice.
That’s when Ricafort took a break from the roller coaster of theater and flexed her engineering muscles by taking a job at interior design start-up Homepolish. She helped launch its product division, making use of her courses in inventory management software and human-computer interaction.
She soon caught the acting bug again and returned to the stage in Allegiance, a play set in a Japanese internment camp starring George Takei. Though she’s deferred her master’s degree program for now, engineering still plays a role in her life. “A lot is the discipline that comes from engineering and having to structure how you approach problems,” she says. “This is kind of nerdy, but as I do [song] research, I organize my library and I have this doc that helps me filter to the right kind of song. That’s an engineering approach.”
And while originating another Broadway role, getting into film and television, and even writing a play are all goals for this ambitious alumna, she remains an engineer at heart: “I also want to have time to start learning how to code.”