It’s every playwright’s dream to take a show on the road to New York City—and that’s what’s happening for 60-something Watertown actress and professional dancer Diane Ripstein. “Move on the Cha-Chas,” her one-woman send-up of middle age, will be honored as a “Best of Solo” at the United Solo 10th Anniversary Festival on Sept. 28. The annual international festival features top solo performances from around the world, staged in New York’s Theater District. Ripstein tells her story through dance—from ballet to bop to salsa—personifying a medley of hilarious characters from her life, telling the relatable tale of a Baby Boomer coming of age.
We talked to her about aging with humor and grace, finding a second act and about the big show.
First, let’s talk about your background—you had a brush with stardom early?
In my 20s, I danced professionally. I come from Montreal, and this was with a French Canadian dance troupe. We did a bus-and-truck tour across Canada: musicians, singers, dancers, costumes, sets, wigs. You know, the whole thing! And we played very large venues. This company, I don’t know how, had an interesting relationship with Ed Sullivan. They had been featured on “The Ed Sullivan Show” previously, and the year I danced with them, we did appear on “Ed Sullivan.” I was a teenager and that was live theater, the CBS Theater, in New York City.
I kept on dancing, and then life happens. As with many of us, I married, I had kids, had a house, had a career, had all those things. And then somewhere around mid-age, I just felt this really strong pull to use that kind of creative energy that I had experienced in my 20s.
How did you return to acting after time away?
It showed up by me going to the theater a lot. In the South End, at the Boston Center for the Arts, there’s an annual marathon of 10-minute plays. It’s a lot of fun. I just decided to take myself there one Sunday. And the next week, I’m sitting at my desk. I work from home; my business is called Diane Ripstein Consulting. I’ve been doing that for 20-odd years. So I’m sitting at my desk, kind of bored, and I was flipping through the program book from that theater marathon of 10-minute plays, and I saw an ad for exploring your creative process, basically—maybe a six-week series of classes. I finally decided: Let me just call. I called and got the woman who runs these classes instead of a voicemail. And we started talking and she said, “Well, my next series of classes is beginning Wednesday. Why don’t you come?” Just like that. I had all these stories and scenes and characters that were kind of pouring out of me. Eventually, that all came together into a one-woman show.
Let’s talk about the show. Where does the name “Move on the Cha-Chas” come from?
That phrase was used in my family. I tell the story of how it came to be as I channel my late father in the show, and he tells the story. For your audience, the short story is that my parents loved to dance. And when we were not moving quickly enough or fooling around in the morning, not getting ready for school—there were three of us—you know what it’s like, you’re a parent. Rather than saying, “Alright, get going, guys,” what my parents said was, “You’ve got to move on the cha-chas! Come on. Let’s move on the cha-chas here!” That was the phrase, and that phrase came back into my mind as I was mining all these ideas for the show. It’s about life’s journey, being that we take the next step. It’s all about taking the next step, even when we have no idea where that step may be taking us, even when it seems like I don’t know what this step is all about.
What do you hope people get out of the show? How do you want people to come away from this feeling?
I want them feeling good, having a little skip in their step, a smile on their face. Realizing that, “Yeah. I can keep on doing this.” Or, “I can try the next thing.” And I want them to keep dancing. Whatever dancing means in their life, I want them to keep dancing.
Obviously, there’s loss in the show. Being of a certain age, we’ve all experienced life’s losses. The ultimate end of the show is I dance because that’s what we do. It’s showing up, it’s finding the joy and it’s keeping going. And I have to say, I do think there’s a very specific Jewish default in finding humor and love in the face of loss.
In the show, I become six different characters. One is my late mother. One is my late father. In the moment when we’re dealing with our parents, we never know what moments will be the ones that stick, right? Just think of yourself as a mom: You have no idea what your kids can remember out of these years.
My parents died in their 90s. My mother at 99; my dad at 94. I bring some of those moments to life in the show, and they are so meaningful for me now. As a Baby Boomer, some of the richest moments for me are moments that I experienced with my parents that I believe I have been able to re-shape for my own children. So a sense of legacy, a sense of passing on the love of previous generations into the next generation.
Get tickets here.