Ronnie Larsen is a highly-acclaimed Fort Lauderdale-based actor, director and playwright who has been entertaining South Florida audiences for years — but his stature and influence in theater extends well beyond Florida. His productions have been seen in every major city in America, as well as in Canada, Australia, Italy and London.
Twelve of his plays have been produced and five have been seen Off-Broadway in New York City. He has also made a documentary that had theatrical runs at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, Cinema Village in New York City and the Laemmle 5 in Los Angeles as well as showings at numerous film festivals in America, England and the Berlin Film Festival.
His current production, “Happy Ending,” which the Sun-Sentinel’s Rod Hagwood called, “a thriller, comedy, drama or sex romp (or all of those),” opened at the Andrews Living Arts Studio on June 22 and plays through July 16.
Q: What attracted you to the theater — when and how did you get started?
A: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in theater. I remember my dad had a ton of books and a few plays and for some reason I was only interested in the plays. I memorized a speech from Death of a Salesman when I was about 7 and I went around saying, “Attention must be paid, attention must be paid.” I was very dramatic. And I loved dressing up! In the 6th grade I wrote my first play called The Elf Play and I was hooked on theater but I didn’t write another play ‘til I was 25. Acting became my obsession. Writing plays sort of happened by accident.
Q: Among your many achievements in theater, five of the 12 plays you’ve produced have made it to Off-Broadway. Was that something you set out to do?
A: My goal was to be a working Shakespearean actor. Shakespeare was my focus until I was 25. I was doing lots of Shakespeare plays in San Francisco and nobody cared and the shows weren’t very good and I made no money and then someone said I should write a play about my sex life because critics in San Francisco only cared about new plays and audiences want to see plays about sex. So I wrote a play called Scenes From My Love Life and it was a hit and I made a little money and got some good press, so then I wrote my second play, Making Porn, and it ran for 500 performances Off-Broadway and my whole life changed. But I never set out to be a playwright, it just sort of happened and now I’m 48 and I’ve been writing plays ever since going on 25 years.
Q: What inspires you, Ronnie? Where do the ideas come from that you put on paper and then on stage?
A: Audiences inspire me. Watching an audience enjoy a show and the laughter and the silences when a whole audience are enjoying your show, it’s a drug for me. I write for an audience. I want them to be entertained. I always say that if my first play had been a disaster I might not have written a second play, but once I figured out that I could write things that would make people laugh or connect or recognize themselves on stage…I was hooked. I put things on stage that I want to see. I get bored very easily, so if I get an idea that entertains me and holds my interest then I’m pretty sure it will entertain others.
Q: Theater seems to be thriving in South Florida. How would you describe the local scene and the variety, as well as quality, of shows being produced?
A: I would argue that the theater scene in South Florida is one of the healthiest scenes in the country because a wide variety of shows succeed here and audiences in South Florida love going to the theater. That’s not true of a lot of places in this country. I actually feel like like I’m in the perfect place at the perfect time.
Q: What’s next for Ronnie Larsen? To borrow a line from Evita, ‘where do you go from here?’
A: I didn’t work in the theater for a chunk of time because I got sort of burnt out and then I met my husband and he didn’t have a green card so we were living in Mexico together and waiting on the Supreme Court. So I know what it’s like to be deprived of doing what you love. Now that my husband and I are in the states together, I’m just so grateful to be working again. My goal is to keep doing exactly what I’m doing and not take any of it for granted. I’m also really interested in producing new plays by unestablished playwrights. There are so many great shows out there that have only been produced once or twice and never got published and never got produced in New York, Besides doing my own plays I want to bring those type of shows to South Florida and possibly tour them. My goal is to just keep working and keep trying to entertaining audiences.
Ronnie Larsen’s popular show “Happy Ending” has returned to Fort Lauderdale at a larger venue, the Andrews Living Arts Studio, where it will play through July 16. The show contains nudity. For tickets and information, go to RonnieLarsen.com.