By Ken Brostow
“On November 22, 2016, I was robbed at gunpoint. I’m a big proponent of taking control of things that can be frightening for you,” said Larissa White, in her one-woman cabaret, “Lari King: Live at Gunpoint.”
Lari King is an alias she created for karaoke, which helped her overcome this scary time, as did putting together the cabaret.
Performing has become a big part of her life in St. Louis. An exciting, dynamic singer-actress-dancer and focused 25-year-old writer from Home Place, Ind., Larissa is usually seeking ways to learn more.
“I am hoping this summer to do some acting intensives so that I can expand my knowledge, understanding, and technique of acting,” she said.
Devoted to the craft of storytelling in all its manifestations, she hopes to develop and write scripts. When she isn’t rehearsing or working, she spends time writing.
“I have written a couple of features, and one specifically I would love to shop around. I don’t have a literary agent, which makes it hard, virtually impossible, from St. Louis to shop things around,” she said.
While earning a degree in screenwriting from Webster University, she has also appeared in local short films, feature movies and on podcasts. Some of the films have played at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase and the St. Louis International Film Festival, including the 2015 mockumentary “Cook and Banks,” and the award-winning horror film “Tonight She Comes” in 2017.
After graduation, she has continued to explore possibilities in filmmaking.
“I have another feature that I was a part of called “Pet Turtles.” Hopefully coming soon. I am extremely excited about it. It’s some of the most fun I’ve had on set. We were encouraged to play around, and improvise through scenes, and I can’t wait for our first audience. I don’t know who that is going to be, but I think it will be soon,” she said.
She made her local debut as Bonnie Parker in New Line Theatre’s “Bonnie and Clyde: The Musical” in 2014, which earned her a St. Louis Theater Circle Award nomination for Best Actress.
She credits Scott Miller and New Line with making her feel at home, and most of her work since has been with them.
“Working with the ‘New Liners’ is a pretty awesome phenomenon, very much in line with the ensemble tradition. My first show in St. Louis was ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ and I had no idea that ‘New Liners’ was a thing. Still not sure that it is, more of phenomenon born out people who like to work together continuing to work together,” she said.
“It’s being an ensemble of sorts and continuing to put up great productions, because the more you work with collaborators the more trust you build, and the more you can grow and let go and ultimately create a better product,” she said.
She was Heather McNamara in New Line’s “Heathers,” Leona Woods in “Atomic,” Heather in “American Idiot,” the ambitious but naïve exotic dancer Angel in “Celebration,” hard-rocking neighbor Alice in “Lizzie,” part of the “Threepenny Opera” ensemble and one of Reno’s back-up singers in “Anything Goes,” all for New Line Theatre.
In their latest musical, “Yeast Nation,” (June 1 – 23), she played the female ingenue lead, Jan the Sweet.
“It’s definitely a weird show, but maybe not as weird as you think it might be. At the heart, it’s about a society changing and you can either move with it or get left behind. The only abnormal thing is that we’re all yeasts, but yeast is pretty darn cool,” she said.
She played Elle in Take Two Productions’ “Legally Blonde,” Alice in Theatre Lab’s “Closer” and Mairead in Theatre Macabre’s “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” for which she won Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy from the St. Louis Theater Circle in March.
“I wouldn’t be able to be versatile without the willingness of others to let me play around in different facets of being. Specifically, New Line letting me bounce around from outlaw to tragically, and I mean tragically stupid, high schooler, to a nuclear physicist to a single cell organism,” she said.
In both “Closer” and the Martin McDonaugh play, she co-starred with her boyfriend, Brock Russell.
“He’s my closest friend and partner, and everything I do, he’s a part of in some way or another,” she said.
She was drawn to drama as a child. “I got majorly doted on, thanks mama, and went through some big pretending phases, i.e. I was Ariel, a dog, and a cat. I was completely committed to those characters, and I have a scar to prove it — I fell off the couch when I was a cat. These times pretending to be other people and animals garnered a lot of attention, and I basked in it. Viola! A performer was born.”
“What I love most about musicals is the way they deal with heightened emotions. As humans we have this incredibly complex experiences, like love and hate and loss and using only words can leave it, the explanation of the feeling, falling short of what you’re trying to convey,” she said.
“By adding music, it adds that extra layer of magic. That viscerally evocative melody that has this ability to pull sobs or laughter from, what seems like, virtually nowhere. In short, it makes me feel like, as a performer, I can reach an audience in a deeper level,” she said.
Once she memorizes a show, then she can start playing with her part, she said. Once she finds the perfect 16 bars of music to audition with, she can have fun with it. Creativity is the name of the game.
Critics said she had “An energy that lights up a stage” in “Bonnie and Clyde.” And in “The Lieutenant of Inishmore,” they said “White commands the stage whenever she is present…The terrific actress…(is clearly having) fun with the character.”
She still wants to conquer the world, Buffy style, but in the meantime, has used her powers to lift herself out of depression after the robbery.
Whatever happens, creativity will always be a pursuit, an outlet.
Q & A with Larissa
1. Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I love people. They amaze me daily in both good and bad ways. I love storytelling, because it affords me the opportunity to slide into someone else’s mind for a while and attempt to understand how and why they do the things they do, and then on top of that interpret it in my own way.
- How would your friends describe you?
- How do you like to spend your spare time?
I went to school for scriptwriting, so I try to write as much as I can in my spare time. I also do a lot of yoga and binge-watch shows that I grew up on like “Charmed,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and right now “Eureka.”4. What is your current obsession?
I’m reading “Story” by Robert McKee, and he has a wonderful way of explaining, at the core, how stories work and how to craft truly relatable tales. Also, I’ve been tearing through Helen Mirren’s master class in acting.
- What would people be surprised to find out about you?
I think the most fun one is that I grew up a Quaker. My whole family on my dad’s side are Quakers and they moved to Home Place, in the late 1800’s, and even now the house I grew up in is two blocks down from where the old farm was, and my dad lives next door to the house he grew up in.
- Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
Hmmm, one would be the night that I found out my dad had cancer. I was checking the messages on the home phone and his best friend had called to say he would be there for him if he needed anything, and that he was going to beat this cancer. It was the first I’d ever heard of it, and it also happened to be the opening night of the high school musical of my senior year.
I remembered walking into the dressing room, and just breaking down. I ended up doing the show, and then kept it to myself, that I knew, until they were ready to tell me. When my parents finally did tell me I was just like, “I know.” I guess I always have had a flair for the dramatic.
Then it would have to be being robbed at gunpoint. Although I have really wrestled with letting that situation be a defining moment in my life, I guess after doing two shows and telling everybody and their brother about it, it kind of has become one. So just to recap. On Nov. 22, 2016, at about 11:15 p.m., my friend and I were robbed at gunpoint. Materially, I lost relatively little that night, mainly a lucky two-dollar bill, a busted-up purse, and my phone.
I did however, lose my personal sense of security; which haunted me for a while after it happened. I didn’t really want the first time ever seeing a gun to be when it’s pointed directly at your forehead, but alas, shit happens. I did gain something from this though, and that was finding that I could share stories as a way of healing, and being able to craft my first cabaret around this event is why I’m going to allow it to be a defining moment in my life.
- Who do you admire most?
Oh gosh. No, this is hard. I admire a lot of people, now that I’m thinking about it, mainly women. Of my gal pals, I’d say I admire my friend Michelle for basically being Pure Halliwell from “Charmed,” and on top of that, being a source of constant support for all of our friends. To be able to care that much, to me, is astonishing and amazing.
In the theatre community here in St. Louis, I’d say I admire Anna Skidis. Getting to know her as a person and an artist has been one of my greatest pleasures while working in theatre.
On an “I don’t know you, but I wish I did” level of admiration, I love Greta Gerwig. Her acting style is so relatable and endearing. She is an all-around artist with a distinct voice and sense of understanding for the human condition, specifically relating to women, and I can only hope to be like her one day.
- What is at the top of your bucket list?
I want to go rock climbing, like honest to goodness out in the wilderness rock climbing.
- What’s some of your favorite things to do in St. Louis?
Karaoke every Thursday at Boogaloo. Hands down, nothing best. Bowling at Saratoga is a fun second, though.
- What’s Next?
I’ll be auditioning around and looking for interesting women to play. I’ll be auditioning for more comedies and dramas, if they’ll have me.
MORE ABOUT LARISSA
Birthplace: Home Place, Indiana.
Current location: St. Louis
Family: I’ve got some.
Education: B.A. in Scriptwriting from Webster University
Day job: I work in retail and tours at Urban Chestnut Brewing Company, and as an assistant to a casting director.
First role: The cat in Peter Rabbit.
Favorite role: I think it’s a tie between Alice Ayres from “Closer” and Mairead from “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.”
Dream role: I want to originate a role.
Awards: Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy for “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” (2017) from the St. Louis Theater Circle.
Favorite words to live by: “Young Harrison Ford, what a dreamboat” — Greta Gerwig
A song that makes you happy: “Barracuda” by Heart.
(Additional material provided by Lynn Venhaus)
Photos courtesy of New Line Theatre, photographer Jill Ritter Lindbergh, and Larissa White.