Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Spotlight On...Harrison Bryan
Hometown: Brooklyn, New York
Education: Boston University, College of Fine Arts, BFA Acting
Favorite Credits: Off Broadway: MCC’s FreshPlay Festival (Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row); NY Credits: 12th Night (Feste, Powerhouse Theatre Co.), Hello! My Baby (Mickey McKee, CAP21’s New Musical Festival), Writer/Actor/Improviser for Faces, Theatre Network for Teens; Regional: Little Shop of Horrors (Seymour, Farmers’ Alley Theatre, Kalamazoo, MI), Spamalot (Patsy, New London Barn Playhouse, New London, NH), London Academy of Music & Dramatic Arts: Hamlet, (Leartes); Boston University: columbinus (Dylan Klebold, Boston University Theatre, Boston, MA), High School: The Producers (Leo Bloom, Edward R. Murrow H.S., Brooklyn, NY), Elementary School: The Wizard of Oz (Tinman, Kindergarten)
Why theater?: For me, it's Storytelling. The craft, the history, its influence, the challenge, and my love for it. Starting in third grade, everyone in my class had to enter the school-wide storytelling contest, where we each had to pick a short children's book, memorize it, and tell that story to an audience. I chose "The Magic Fish" - and loved telling the story. The further into the contest you went, the larger the audiences got, and eventually I found myself representing all of Brooklyn in the NYC borough-wide Storytelling Championship. Winning those contests serve as some of my strongest memories from childhood, but more importantly, I remember how much I enjoyed the Process and the Adventure; how much Joy simply telling the story seemed to bring to my family, to the audience, and to myself. And, I think, it was in that moment of youthful recognition, up on a stage, that I decided Storytelling would be a constant in my life. I think that’s where it all began for me. I was born in Brooklyn - so my family was always just a short train ride away from Broadway. My mother studied theatre in college too, and was a great actor herself - so she made it a point in her parenting, (thank god), to introduce my sister and I to Theatre at a young age. I couldn’t thank her more for that; and my father, too - for full-heartily supporting the arts in our house. Of course I enjoy Film and TV as well, but I think I will always prefer the Theatre, because of the live audience factor. On top of that, I deeply respect its challenges. For example, on stage, there's no editor, there’s no second takes, there’s no waiting for you to be ready before you “act a big moment” - there is only the moment, in an imaginary world, with you and your scene partner and the audience. It will never be perfect. It will never be “just the way you wanted it”. But instead, each night stands as a new chance to totally embrace the present moment, with a new group of people. That undeniable connection between the actor and the audience - in their presence, energy, and influence - feels especially unique to live theatre. And as complex, paradoxical, and intricate as theatre can be, at its core, the priority of the theatre artist somehow remains simple: tell the story.
Tell us about STILL NOT: Honestly, I am equal parts excited and nervous. STILL NOT feels like a risk I haven’t taken before because, even now, I still don’t know how it works off the page. Rehearsals, of course, have been helpful in exploring the piece as a whole - but, as our director, Mr. Rory Lance, has said before, this is a play filled with many traps and many opportunities, and the difference between the two feel very subtle. It’s a delicate piece, which demands a higher level of specificity and an astute attention to detail. It is also a play with very little physical action. There are only two characters, and only one set piece. A play, (these days) with absolutely no spectacle always risks the fear of being boring. So it's nerve-wracking, knowing I'm putting this up there - trusting in the idea that simplicity, minimalism, and sincerity will be enough. I find that the play works better as an exploration of feelings and thoughts - as opposed to "a play with a message." I don't want to suggest that I know the answers, in fact, I think it's more interesting to look at the play through the lens of emotionally-fueled and challenging Questions, (such as): "IS waiting for love a choice?" - “What kind of Control do we have over our feelings?” - "What role do Expectations play in our relationships?” - “And since nothing can really be Predicted - does it even make sense to try and figure it all out?" These are the kinds of questions I am exploring in the play. It is focused on the characters’ journey to uncover truths about relationships, and themselves, as they investigate the important questions to figure out Life and Love... -- and what it means to wait for the unanswerable answers to show up.
What inspired you to write STILL NOT ?: Relationships are hard - but getting over a relationship, I think, is harder. I’ve seen what it does to people I care about. And - I have experienced both sides of the break-up coin myself. Shelby and I have an intimate understanding of the challenges of sustaining a relationship, pre, during, and post a romantic one. I think our friendship has grown from our desire to remain honest with each other, and I believe, in part, that that has influenced and inspired the play on many levels. As a result, she continues to be a great friend - and a great scene partner. But the fact remains: Breakups are tough - and they don’t seem to get any easier. I wanted to create a metaphoric world (The Bench) where the major conflict involved That struggle. The struggle of wanting to let go, but not being able to. In the writing of the play however, I learned a valuable lesson; Waiting for love is a choice, and while the force of love is strong, at the end of the day, the power of Letting Go is stronger. We can’t predict the future - but when we hold onto the past, we let it prevent us from seeing the potential of our present. And true change can only happen when we fully embrace That Present. THAT is what I hope the play illuminates for anyone dealing with a hurt - or healing - heart.
What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: I'm a sucker for comedies that make you think. If a piece of theatre can both move me and make me laugh at the same time, I'm hooked. Shakespeare used his fools to speak truths, and I think there's a great deal of wisdom to be found there. The first play I ever read that made me laugh out loud excessively was Christopher Durangs’ Baby with the Bathwater. THAT play got me. It was given to me by my then high school drama teacher, and mentor, Mr. Rory Lance Schwartz. (He’s been retired now for five years, coming out of his “directing-retirement” to direct this production! And that’s been a great gift to this process, as well.) - Anyway, I was 13-years-old, and Durang was the first playwright I really connected with on that level. I enjoyed the theatrical genres of his plays: the dark comedy, the absurdism, the clowning, and the satire. STILL NOT doesn't feel inspired by Durang however - it came from a different part of me - a more poetic influence. I'm a big fan of Albee, Beckett, Chekhov, Ibsen, Ruhl, Shakespeare, and Stoppard. In their writing they often have characters whom represent larger ideas. As writers, they embrace the theatricality of their worlds with a language that often acts at a slightly heightened level, like poetry. Also, they all use humor as a connecting device for their characters and that's what makes them so human to me. And... being a Jew from Brooklyn - to say I'm not a fan of Neil Simon would be a lie. He is perhaps the best at setting up a joke. He has mastered the art of situational comedy - always placing contrasting characters in the same place and letting the play write itself it seems. I find his work consistently entertaining and fun, and I appreciate how he lets his heart shine through. I think his characters always seem lovable because of it.
If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Trey Stone and Matt Parker. I think they might just be the best at what they do. Also, they love the theatre, they hate ignorance, and they are unapologetic in their art. They satirize the world we live in with such intelligence, while somehow maintaining their absurd silliness and feeding their respective inner child. They're writing is top-notch hilarious - and surprisingly poignant. And despite their worldwide fame, they stay true to themselves and remain down to earth. They're my celebrity man-crushes, for sure. If only they knew I existed, we’d be good friends, I think.
What shows have you recommended to your friends?: Hand To God isn't playing anymore, but if anyone ever gets a chance to see it - they must. Old Hats, created by Bill Irwin and David Shiner, is really fun! They are amazing performers, and if you like physical comedy and clowning, it's truly a must see. (It’s a limited run!) And of course Avenue Q is still one of the best things happening in NYC right now. It's ridiculously good. So if you are deciding between Wicked for the fourteenth time or seeing Avenue Q for the first...please, for the love of god, give those puppets a chance to win you over. They absolutely will.
Who would play you in a movie about yourself ?: I hope it’s an animated movie-musical starring Tobey Maguire as Young Harrison and Mickey Rooney as Old Harrison.
If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: 1. July 1602 - England! Opening Night, World Premiere, of the 5+ Hour production of Hamlet... Featuring Mr. William Shakespeare himself as The Ghost! 2. December 10, 1896 - Paris, France at the Théâtre de l'Œuvre - for the opening and closing night of Alfed Jarry’s Ubu Roi. Apparently the audience was so shocked and disturbed by this satiric masterpiece, they stormed the stage and revolted IN the theater!
What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: ...The Powerpuff Girls?
If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I liked painting when I was younger - and I thought I had some potential there. I also like the idea of interior designing, or party-planning, public speaking, or working at an aquarium. But more realistically, I would probably work for my dad and take over his garment steel business. He manufactures and delivers clothing racks, and other steel products, for major fashion industries and department stores. There aren’t too many steel companies in NYC anymore, and my dad’s is one of the best - so that’s a my family business I could sneak into ... (for more, visit: http://www.millenniumracks.com/)
What’s up next?: Well, after four years of being in Boston for college, and over a year of being on the road, performing regionally and touring, I am hoping to stay home, in New York City, for a while. I have a potential acting job lined up in the fall and I will continue to audition, act, and write professionally in the mean time. I love writing for the stage (and screen) - and creating my own opportunities in that way. I want to write a one-man-play sometime in the near future. (Something including puppets, maybe?) I also want to start incorporating music into my writing a little more, as I’m trying to get better at the ukulele (and banjolele) at the moment... I also want to learn how to juggle. Then, there’s my film production company, Business Lunch Productions - we film outside projects and create our own work - sketches, shorts, features, and documentaries. The creative team is mostly comprised of some of my best friends from high school - so hopefully we continue to build the company and create new, fun, and artistically fulfilling content. For now though, I’m focused on this play and our opening night on March 3rd! I’ve learned a lot about the play from this experience - and hearing an audience’s reaction will be tremendously helpful for future productions and drafts. Then, after that’s done, I’ll work on the next play - and hopefully more and more to come! THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME AND SUPPORT - HOPE TO SEE YOU AT THE THEATER!
For more on STILL NOT, visit www.facebook.com/STILLNOTbyHARRISONBRYAN. Fore more on Harrison, visit www.HarrisonBryan.com