Friday, February 21, 2014

Spotlight On...Ryan Sprague

Name: Ryan Sprague

Hometown: Syracuse, NY

B.A. in Theatre & Playwriting from Oswego State University

Favorite Credits: My one act play, Some Just Do It Naturally, played at Theatre Row in 2006. It was my first production ever, and in "The Big Apple" nonetheless! After that first night of hearing the audience react in various different ways (good and bad), I knew that writing was for me. I also had the wonderful opportunity to premiere my play, Reach, in my hometown where my playwriting mentor was able to see the show. I will never forget drinking a Guinness with him after the show, and him asking me what I thought of the production. My response was simply, "I immediately want to go home and start digging deeper in to the script." His response was even more simple and surprisingly prolific: "I taught you right."

Why theater?: Theatre is life. It breathes. It grows. It dies. And it resurrects. I find nothing more gratifying than going to the theatre and being inspired to do something. Whether it's to run home and start a new play or whether a certain character inspires me to examine my own life in a different way, the connection between the actor and the audience is one of the most intimate things in any art form. If I can make people forget about what happened to them that day or where they are going for drinks after the play, I feel that I've down my job as a playwright. They have entrusted me to be their guide for 30, 90, or 120 minutes. It has a lot to do with trust. They can trust me to take them on an emotional and evocative journey, and in return, I can trust them to respond in any way they see fit. The brutal honesty of an audience is the greatest gift a playwright can ever receive.

Tell us about East in Red: East in Red is a film-noir/dark comedy/horror-thriller play. (Probably my only play I can't fit neatly in to a genre puzzle). It is loosely based on actual people who were involved with the Jack the Ripper murders of 1888- 1889. Transformed in to modern day New York City, the play follows Marie, a down-on-her-luck actress-turned prostitute who finds herself in the apartment of Aaron, a mysterious client with unclear motives. On the way, we meet a dark figure who haunts the stage, and a landlord who fancies himself a gum-shoe detective ready to uncover the gruesome murders happening in his neighborhood. As the night progresses, it's clear this is more than an innocent night of sex, but a dangerous game of cat and mouse where the chances of everyone making it out alive being scathingly slim. It's funny, sad, gruesome, and beautiful. Think Hitchcock meets Tom Savini, with a dash of Dexter for flavor.

What inspired you to write East in Red?: This was actually the first play of mine that I was commissioned to write for a company. After submitting another play to DreamCatcher Entertainment, I received an email stating that what I sent wasn't for them at that time, but the artistic director, Kelly Feustel, asked if I'd have any interest in writing a play for their October slot of their following season. It would run during Halloween, and the only stipulation was that it would have to involve Jack the Ripper in some way. I'd never written british dialogue, or a period-piece for that matter, so I asked if I could put my own spin on it. They gladly obliged. I immediately started researching the original case and found one of the suspects, Aaron Kominski, to be a very interesting individual, ripe with accusation. A well dressed barber of his time, Kominsku became a stylish hairdresser in SoHo in my updated version. A detective on the original case, Edmund Reed, became the landlord of Aaron's East Village apartment, and Marie, the final and most brutal victim of Jack the Ripper's ghastly streak, became a meticulous and vigilante prostitute with an agenda of pure revenge on her mind and in her heart. And that dark figure I mentioned earlier... you'll just have to come see the show!

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Anything that makes me think about my own life and how I would react in a situation that the character has been thrown in to. Any playwright who breaks boundaries, structure, or convention, I have immense respect and envy for. Rebecca Gilman, Sarah Ruhl, Tracy Letts, Adam Rapp, and Christopher Shinn are my biggest inspirations when it comes to playwriting. Their voices are so clear and their worlds so defined.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?:
Tracy Letts. Whether it's collaborating writing-wise, having him either direct or act in one of my plays (hell, why not both!?), I would die a happy man. I would also love to pick the brain of Tony Kushner one day. And then there's the actor, Michael Shannon. The guy is terrifying in anything he does. I'd love to write a stark-raving mad character to just lose himself in. Actually… maybe I should send East in Red to his agent!

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I recently saw a play called, How to Make Friends and Then Kill Them, by Halley Feiffer, at Rattlestick. It was one of the most gut-wrenching and perversely funny plays I'd ever experienced.  I believe it was extended twice, but had to close due to the rest of the season. WHEN it gets done again somewhere, I'd highly recommend it.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Wow. I know it's probably cliche to say I've never even thought about this question… but I can modestly say that I don't think I ever have. I'd like to say someone like Joseph Gordon Levitt or Jared Leto… but the more realistic voice in my head is saying Sean Astin (From the days of "Rudy"… not Sam from "Lord of the Rings") It would be called, "Burden of the Playwright… or Why Do You Write Plays When You Can Just Skip a Step and Write the Screenplay Instead?". Not sure if that will fit on a title-card in a readable-sized font, however.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Netflix. The second I think I'm done with binge-watching something, another show creeps up on to my list. I also have an obsession with podcasts that talk about bad movies. I don't understand why I like it… but I do. And it is somewhat pleasurable in a guilty sorta way. I think. Yes. Yes it is.

What’s the most played song on your iTunes?: “Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Investigating paranormal cases for the FBI, ala Fox Mulder from The X-Files. Seriously though… I'm obsessed with the UFO phenomenon.

What’s up next?:
My first feature film is currently in post-production and will be hitting the festival circuit in early 2015. More info on that can be found at My one act play, Some Just Do It Naturally, will be one of ten plays featured in the Outworks GLBTQ Festival of Plays in April of 2014. It was also recently published by Black Box Theatre Publishing. To help me keep my electricity on, you can purchase it online at or the Barnes and Noble online store. Shamless plug complete. I also have my first book coming out in late 2014. It is titled, "When Logic Fails: Implications and Aftermath of Experiencing the Unknown". It will be published by Richard Dolan Press. And yes… it's about UFOs.

For more on Ryan, visit