Lots of people spend years wondering if they’ve chosen the right career path in life.
Niki Fridh isn’t one of them. “I’ve never questioned my decision to be an actor,” said the brown-eyed, brown-haired performing artist who has trod a vast expanse of proscenia since arriving in South Florida – with acting on her mind and in her heart — some 25 years.
Early in life, Niki got a taste of stage work for youngsters. “I was always singing and dancing around the house,” she said. Then, after booking the role of Rag-a-muffin #3 in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the age of 6, the Rockford, Ill., native moved performing in front of live audiences to the top of her to do-list.
As she grew, many experiences intervened, not all of them related to theatrics. “I was born in Rockford and vacationed in Florida with my family every year, visiting mostly the Panhandle and the West Coast. When I was about to go into sixth grade, my family moved to Cape Coral.”
Of course, “my mom put me in dance classes. There were talent shows, too.” But actor wannabe Niki got truly solid performing arts lessons while at Cape Coral High School. “I was Charity in Sweet Charity and Anne in The Diary of Anne Frank. I was in a slew of others – Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Nerd and The Wiz.”
Not only that, while in high school, Niki was lucky enough to encounter the special educator who would lead her on a path to stage prowess. That instructor, “an incredible theater teacher,” is Diane Stewart. “I am still in touch with her today.”
Matt Stabile and Niki Fridh in To Fall in Love at Theatre Lab.
Coincidentally, Niki’s husband, Matt Stabile, the artistic director of Theater Lab at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, recently “went to a theater conference. I wasn’t able to go with him. But he called me, and I recognized the other voice on the line. It was Diane. She had recognized Matt at the conference from seeing pictures of us on Facebook. It was like…. Kismet!”
Education and performance training have been essential elements of the young performer’s growth curve. Her roster of on-stage work covers an entire page of paper – single-spaced. Niki has spent considerable time honing theatrical skills – voice, acting intensive, cold reading, acting for the camera, improv and advanced improv and scene study. She capped her period of instructional work by obtaining a bachelor’s degree at FAU – summa cum laude.
“I was teaching theatre at a private school and after several years there, I decided to leave and work on a fulltime acting career,” Niki said. “I went to the audition for Rumors [at Broward Stage Door Theatre] and got cast right away. That show is what got me back into the pursuit of acting full time.”
Niki as Bridgit in Tar Beach at Theatre Lab.
“A year or so later, after doing shows with several different companies in South Florida, Zoetic Theatre offered me a role in Trust. I decided to take my Equity Card and join the union. I’ve been working as an AEA actor ever since.”
Her next stage role – as Vita Sackville-West in Vita and Virginia at Thinking Cap Theater in Fort Lauderdale – earned her some seriously thought-provoking comments from veteran South Florida theater critic Bill Hirschman. “Fridh just keeps surprising audiences with her range,” he wrote. “Her cultured patrician here is light years from her backwoods hausfrau in Exit Pursued by A Bear or her conflicted dominatrix in Trust. Her Vita’s eyes shine with a confidence of someone who will follow her instincts and intelligent, no matter what society may judge.”
Niki as Olympe de Gourges in The Revolutionists at Theatre Lab.
She earned a Carbonell nomination for Vita and Virginia, a production based on correspondence between author Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, providing insight into the lives of the two artists over 20 years, up to Woolf’s suicide in 1941.
Niki was already winning theatrical honors by that time. Her portrayal of Trish Pierce in And Then They Moved the Furniture at the Public Theatre of South Florida earned her a Best Supporting Actress nod from Broward/Palm Beach New Times in 2006. She moved forward, adeptly filling the role of Iris in Down the Road, directed by future husband Matt Stabile at Rude Mechanical Productions.
Niki portrays the pilot in Grounded at Thinking Cap Theatre.
Performing in the cast of Rumors at Broward Stage Door Theater in 2012 moved Niki to the Carbonell Award level. The show won a Best Ensemble Carbonell which was shared by members of the cast.
Moving on to 2017, Niki won a Best Actress Carbonell for playing a pilot who goes from combat to flying a drone in Thinking Cap Theatre’s Grounded. She commented on the buzz she experienced from performing for the first time on stage by herself. “It’s crazy. After you do it, you feel invincible. It took a lot of effort to appear on stage alone, but I would do it again.”
Nicholas Richberg and Niki Fridh in Trust at Zoetic Theatre. (Photo by Justin Namon)
In 2018, she walked away with another Best Supporting Actress in a Play honor for portraying Bridget in Tar Beach, her fifth performance for Theatre Lab at FAU.
Her most recent on-stage appearance was also a Theater Lab production, in the show To Fall in Love, which closed in December 2021. Her husband, Matt, stepped back into his acting shoes for the emotional production that won the pair considerable acclaim.
Actually, the show had been sitting “on hold” for 20 months during the 2020-21 COVID pandemic. The lengthy cessation of live theater taxed the pair who dote on performing for audiences.
“I did some online stuff. I hate Zoom performances,” said Niki. She took advantage of her love for and expertise in cooking to devise a show that featured her and Matt, called “Cooking with a Pan-demic.”
Niki, left, with Barbara Sloan in Vita and Virginia at Thinking Cap Theatre.
The show enlivened their COVID-constricted lives. “We found a creative outlet,” she said. “I had some avid followers. We did at least one show a week,” and some are still available online.
Matt and Niki met in late 2004 or early 2005, she recalled, in a production of Cinderella at Fantasy Theatre Factory. “I played Cinderella and the ugly stepmother; Matt portrayed Salmonella, my ugly stepsister.”
“We were both ending other relationships and started dating one another,” she said. They officially became a couple on 5-5-05; they were married on 5-5-10.
Niki in Much Ado About Nothing at Take Heed Theatre.
“The wedding was amazing,” she said. “We wanted to get married on our actual five-year anniversary, which was a Wednesday, so we had a small ceremony only with parents, grandparents and siblings at our home in Delray, which happened to be at ‘5’ NE 7th St.” The reception was held a week later in “the vintage gymnasium at Old School Square, with 150 friends and family.”
In all, Niki Fridh has performed professionally at Thinking Cap Theatre, Island City Stage, City Theatre, The Project [Theatre], The Theatre at Arts Garage, Broward Stage Door, Miami Stage Door, Promethean Theatre, Florida Stage and the Theater Lab at FAU.
Niki Fridh, far right, in Most Wanted at Theatre Lab.