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Runs at Benedum Center through March 11

When Arica Jackson started performing classes at Carnegie Mellon University, she wanted to learn how to act, and how to have a voice on stage. She wanted to learn how to freely express her truth and tell her story to other people. Gradually, that idealistic dream turned into wanting to do performances and art that exposes people to different perspectives. Jackson loves shows that tackle social injustices and spark change.

“CMU taught me that you have to put your heart and time and soul into your projects. For me I want to find projects that are socially active and politically active and forces audiences who have never been exposed to those issues to finally be confronted with it and go home and have a conversation about it, or go home and really want to change in some way,” explained Jackson.

“Carnegie Mellon is such a diverse campus and has such diverse disciplines. Just because I was in musical theater doesn’t mean that I can’t meet a business major or have exposure to all these different perspectives. You can all do different things and move toward the same goal,” she said. “It taught me how to be a professional and how to fill my life with as much passion as I can.”

Her role in “Waitress” as a female swing and understudying Becky allows her to do all of that.

With music and lyrics by Sara Bareilles and book by Jessie Nelson, “Waitress” tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, a waitress and expert pie maker in an unhappy marriage to her husband, Earl. When she unexpectedly becomes pregnant she begins an affair with her gynecologist. Looking for a way out of her dilemma, she sees a pie baking contest as the answer.  Based on the 2007 movie of the same name, which starred Keri Russell, “Waitress” made its Broadway debut in April 2016 and the national U.S. tour started in October of last year. The Tony-nominated musical will run at the Benedum Center through March 11. Tickets can be purchased by visiting http://www.trustarts.org or calling 412-456-4800.

“‘Waitress’ is an amazing show,” said Jackson, who graduated from Carnegie Mellon last year. “It talks about motherhood and abuse, which is very common among women, but we don’t always talk about it. You see this woman who is very unassuming and very quiet and to herself until she deals with pregnancy. She deals with the fact that she is stuck in a marriage with a very abusive husband, she’s stuck in a job that will never help make ends meet. Finally, someone introduces her to the opportunity to pursue something better and she finally pushes herself with the help of the other waitresses. She learns about parts of herself that she never knew existed and I think that’s such an awesome message and that’s what drew me to this show.”

As a female swing, the Michigan native has to know every female ensemble part, which is about four parts. She has to know where each person stands, what props they hand out to whom and more.

“I’ve created a system where I have two scripts. This job requires you to do a lot of walking and learning every part in the songbook. Sometimes you are on for a whole week or maybe you’re not on for a month and you have to go jump back into it because someone’s sick or injured and you only get 10 minutes or an hour notice that you’re going on, so you have to snap right back in to those parts. It’s one of the hardest jobs ever but it’s very, very fun. It’s like being in Disneyland, I’m like, ‘What character am I going to be today?’”

Her years at CMU have prepared her for the unpredictability of the profession.

CMU assistant options coordinator of Musical Theater professor Gary Kline knew he had run into something special when he heard Jackson sing.

“She’s amazing! I adore her so much! The year she started at the school we auditioned 1,600 people for 12 spots in ‘Chicago’ and you see hopeful after hopeful walk into the room and it was at the end of the day, and I was burnt to a crisp and I said, ‘I can’t listen to another singer.’ In walked Arica Jackson and she started singing and I clasped my hand over my mouth so I wouldn’t scream. I wanted to scream because she was so amazing, and I couldn’t believe the talent she had. Her voice was so beautiful and so unformed. Her voice was so beautiful. I felt it such a privilege to be her teacher her all four years.”

Jackson will finish her final week as a member of the “Waitress” team in Pittsburgh and she is ecstatic to be doing so.

“I’m so excited to be coming home to Pittsburgh! I’m trying to figure out what I want to do each day. I want to go to Shadyside, I want to see all my friends and I want to go to South Side to walk around—of course that’s if the weather permits—I lived on Walnut Street so I want to go home for a second and I want to go to campus. I think when I step on CMU’s campus I might cry a little bit because my dream is happening and it’s all becoming real. I have so many great memories there. I stayed there every summer so I literally lived in Pittsburgh for four years. I never left so it’s kind of weird to be away from it for so long, but I’m glad to be coming home.”


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