Ben Ribler’s acting career took off in sixth grade at Francis C. Hammond Middle School, when he played Judge Wise Old Man in the school’s production of Big Bad. More than ten years later, his love of theater has brought him professional roles in plays ranging from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible to Green Day’s American Idiot: The Musical. Most recently, he performed as part of the ensemble in The Great Society, written by Robert Schenkkan, at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. The Great Society is a drama depicting Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency during the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement.
“I’ve always been interested in telling stories and playing pretend,” said Ribler. “As a little kid, I would imitate characters I saw on TV, and would create my own characters and stories in my spare time.” Ribler continued his acting journey at T.C. and remained involved in the drama department throughout all four years. Ribler dabbled in directing one-act plays, but performing was always his primary focus. His first role at T.C. was a small part as Bomber in William Inge’s Picnic. “From there, I leapt at every opportunity I could,” said Ribler, “and it kept going until I graduated.” His other memorable roles include Mark in Rent, Arthur in Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon, The Scarecrow in The Wiz and various characters in The Laramie Project.
Turning a childhood passion into a career, especially in the theater field, can be difficult. As an actor, developing self-esteem is just as imperative as developing skills. Ribler said that being a part of the T.C. drama department was a huge boost to his confidence and fostered many genuine friendships. “It also taught me about paying my dues and working my way to bigger and better things,” said Ribler. “When I first started at T.C., I remember going into auditions for Picnic and being so intimidated by all of the upperclassmen in the room. But then, as a senior, I saw the department from a totally different perspective, as someplace not scary at all, but rather welcoming and healthy.” Ribler had a similar experience in college at George Mason University’s School of Theater. “It’s about getting your foot in the door with the confidence that it’ll feel comfortable with time,” he said.
The audition process for The Great Society was fairly straightforward for Ribler. In December, a friend from George Mason University referred him to the Arena Stage theater program, which was searching for additional actors for its upcoming run of The Great Society. “I sent in a video audition, and they must have really liked it, because I got a phone call a couple of weeks later with an invitation to join the show,” said Ribler.
The Great Society began its run in early February and continued through March 11. “It was a big, big play,” said Ribler, “both in scope and in emotion. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of a classic Shakespearean drama–with spirituals as the musical interludes, police riots as the epic battles, and Lyndon B. Johnson as the king with the tragic downfall. Plus, we had live fire on stage, which is always fun.”
Despite performing in front of a larger audiences, Ribler has not suffered from stage fright. On the contrary, he believes that large crowds are often a source of energy that bring a vital element to productions. “Instead of being daunted, I try to feed off of their energy–it’s a boost, not a deterrent,” he said. “Plus, if I’m actually doing my job correctly, during a performance I should only be thinking about the other characters onstage.”
For Ribler, who just graduated from college in 2017, the task of working with a group of experienced professional actors at this point in his career was much more intimidating. Several of his fellow actors in The Great Society had performed on Broadway and in other highly-regarded productions across the country. A large portion of the cast and crew members had also performed together in the prequel to The Great Society, called All The Way, so Ribler was a newcomer in a very well-oiled machine. His coworkers were “all incredibly kind and welcoming, but there was a standard set from the first day of excellence,” said Ribler.
Ribler said that preparation for The Great Society was rigorous and included regular rehearsal from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., “much more like a typical office job.” The show held about 50 performances. “Again, this is where it’s beneficial to have a large audience,” said Ribler. “They give you a new energy every night to work off of and they keep the show from becoming stale.”
As a former high school drama student, Ribler strongly advises aspiring actors to “audition for everything.” Local theaters often have open roles for teenagers, which can be great experience for young people who hope to launch a career in acting. “D.C. is an amazing area for theater,” he said, “and there are a ton of connections to be made. There are Facebook groups dedicated to posting audition notices (D.C. Non Equity Auditions is a great one), and websites like Playbill, DragonukConnects, Actors’ Access and The Actor’s Center are all super helpful in finding postings for actors. Stay up on your craft too–keep taking classes to get better and better, and then keep auditioning!”
In the next few years, Ribler plans to stay in the D.C. area and try to obtain more professional roles. He would like to get his Equity card, which signifies membership in the Actors’ Equity Association. Many professional auditions give priority to Equity actors, so becoming a member can be a beneficial career move. Ribler is currently working on a musical in D.C. that will be up and running in April.