MENIFEE – Monica Reichl is a high school theater teacher by day and a stage actress by weekend, summer and every other chance she gets. Her expertise and enthusiasm for theater is what led to her being honored as Arts Council Menifee’s November Artist of the Month.
“I think organizations that promote the arts are vital,” Reichl, who joined the ACM board a couple of years ago, said. “People still view the arts as something to do for fun and something for children to do, but once adulthood comes along, there is the expectation that they are not needed anymore, or if they are needed, it is something you go to enjoy but not something you do. There is the lack of practicality associated with the arts.”
Reichl is firm in her belief that outside of the entertainment aspect, there are practical skills that come from the arts and from theater in particular.
“The ability to think creatively, problem solve, empathy, the ability to control emotions as well as have access to emotions, to read people, to analyze text, to read better, to read more lively bedtime stories to your children, to learn to build things, to learn to paint things, to understand design and layout from a basic remodel to interior design, organization, management of people, collaboration – all vital life skills,” she said.
A Menifee resident for the past 16 years, Reichl has taught acting, costume, makeup and film studies at Hemet’s Tahquitz High School since it opened 11 years ago. She also directs the school’s plays.
“I love sharing my love for the stage with them and seeing them fall in love with it,” she said.
She said it can be challenging at times, making the students understand that acting is about more than just learning and saying lines. She stresses the importance of rehearsals so that everything – from actors to props – appears authentic, not rehearsed.
“I try to teach them that whether they walk on and say nothing or just one word or they are the lead, they have the power to make or break the production,” she said. “It isn’t enough to know what to do, you have to take it apart, analyze it and chop it up into bite-sized pieces so you can communicate what is needed for the students to digest. There’s a lot to think about onstage, and I slowly try to get them to think less and less and be more and more.”
Reichl said the most important lesson students can learn is how to listen to the director who is trying to make them a better actor and to the characters they are conversing with in the play.
“It isn’t about your own agenda, it is a team sport,” she said. “As an actress, I may think I did something that totally rocked, but the director tells me otherwise. I have to trust that independent eye out there to tell me that it didn’t work. I have to listen to the characters around me, not think about my next line, or the dialogue will sound rehearsed instead of like we’re having this conversation for the first time.”
As a teacher, she is rewarded by knowing she has given students a place where they feel at home.
“The arts embrace all types of personalities and high school is socially such a challenge, as well as academically, so whether in a class or in the after-school play, they find a refuge,” Reichl said. “I have had several students go on to professional training, continue to act and that, of course, makes me extremely proud.”
Reichl also taught theater classes for seven years at Mt. San Jacinto College’s San Jacinto and Menifee Valley campuses and has made her mark in local theater.
“Actually, I love just being a cast member. I get asked when I’ll direct something in the community, and I tell them that directing is my job and I love to do it, but when I get to go out and play with the grown-ups, I just want to act. It’s my first love, and I don’t want the responsibility and stress of sets, props, lighting, sound, etc. As the late, great Marian Carter used to say, ‘I just want to learn my lines and not run into the furniture,’” Reichl said.
Reichl may be familiar to fans of “Ramona,” the outdoor play that is staged every spring in Hemet. She was cast in the title role four times and has played Aunt Ri in the pageant for three years.
“I have always felt so enormously grateful to the pageant family because I moved here knowing only about two or three people, but I started going to rehearsals and found myself suddenly with 300 new friends. Everyone should be welcome into a community that way,” she said.
Reichl grew up in the Bay Area, mostly in San Jose, and she found her calling to theater in high school. She earned a master’s degree in theatre arts from San Francisco State University where she focused on poetry and storytelling as performance.
Other recent stage performances have included playing Hermione in “A Winter’s Tale” and Gwendolyn in “The Importance of Being Earnest” for Shakespeare in the Vines. Last year, she was seen as Sylvia in “Two Gentlemen of Verona,” and several years before as Olivia in “Twelfth Night.”
She has worked with many local theater companies, including Idyllwild Actors Theatre, Play With Your Food Productions, Inland Stage Company, Ramona Hillside Players, The Grove Theatre and Temecula Valley Players.
“I like shows that use humor to disarm in order to deliver a profound message,” Reichl, 44, said. “I feel very comfortable in dramatic roles, but the power of a laugh is tremendous.”
A couple of her favorite characters have been M’Lynn from “Steel Magnolias” and L’il Bit from “How I Learned to Drive.”
“Both do that disarming thing: both blend comedy and such seriousness to tell their stories,” she said. “I love feeling the audience’s emotional experience, communicating something honest to them and transporting them; giving them the sense that they have lived through something.”
For more information, visit www.artscouncilmenifee.org or call (951) 290-2781.