Ryan McCurdy is an actor-musician and theatrical producer based in NYC. He has worked in a variety of venue and genre settings, including Carnegie Hall, Broadway’s Minskoff and New Amsterdam Theatres, The Bitter End, and Town Hall. His work has brought him to Manhattan Theatre Club, Second Stage, Baltimore Center Stage, and Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival as a performer, designer, and supervisor. Ryan is the Executive Director of Savannah Repertory Theatre, an associate producer of Bespoke Plays in LA, and a proud member of Actors’ Equity and SAG-AFTRA.
Interviewer: Thank you for joining me today, Ryan! What brought you to West Virginia Public Theatre this holiday season?
Ryan: I had the great pleasure of working on last year’s Christmas show here at Oglebay, which was called Jingle This!, and had met Jerry McGonigle and Katy Blake, both of whom are exceptional. We started conversations at some point this year saying, “Let’s have another Christmas show at Oglebay.” Then that became, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could put something up in Morgantown while we have all of these friends coming in from all over the country?”. Somewhere in there, the idea was born that we would also do Schoolhouse Rock! Live! and feature the same cast across both shows, which was a really cool idea.
Interviewer: That’s fabulous. I love that this has been in the works for a while. What have you enjoyed most about interpreting this work?
Ryan: I think this show has been a sweet spot for me and a lot of my friends growing up. From an educational perspective, it’s been proven over and over that when you put a difficult concept into a song, when you put it into melody, it becomes instantly memorable. The fact that when I say, “I’m just a bill sitting here on Capitol Hill”, when I say that, and it sticks in people’s brains, that is the power of music. I remember all these little extracts from the show from growing up with the show. To see them all in one place and to know that I’m going to be the one that gets to sing them now is probably my favorite part. Getting to see all these things that have been living rent-free in my head is amazing.
Interviewer: What’s been the biggest challenge on this piece of work?
Ryan: It’s big. I think the show was built from these little bite size segments that were supposed to instruct one thing. They were for kids that didn’t have all day to sit in front of the television and they needed to teach them something in five minutes. But our show combines all of these tiny pieces into one big list. There’s so much material, there’s so much being covered, which is a lot of fun, but is also very challenging because I’m used to this material being little five minute bits. For me the biggest challenges are the constant singing, constant dancing, and constant movement.
Interviewer: Yeah, that totally makes sense. That’s a lot. Especially like when you said there are a few itty bitty pieces and you’re jamming them all together. What excites you the most about Schoolhouse Rock Live!?
Ryan: I am most excited about seeing how students and the young people in our public show respond to this material. I think there are so many people that are going to be hearing these songs for the first time. In a way. It’s like we’re passing the torch on to them, to a new generation. I can’t wait to see them smiling and clapping and enjoying all the humor.
Interviewer: That is going to be so wonderful. You’re juggling being part of the creative team and being a cast member in Schoolhouse Rock, what’s that like?
Ryan: I’m lucky in so much that for the last ten years or so, most of the shows that I music direct, I am also in as an actor/musician, as I’m usually playing an instrument for shows that I’m in. I have found a bunch of shortcuts to keep all the plates spinning at the same time. I think the thing I always had to be the most cautious about is remaining critical of my own voice when I’m teaching music to others, I have to remember I’m going to have to be singing, too. We’re very lucky with this cast to have a bunch of incredible and kind musicians, because what makes it a lot easier is knowing that there are other people you trust that can say, “hey, Ryan, here’s something you should probably look at as well.” It’s great to have people that you trust to collaborate with because it allows you to move from the leadership position of music direction into the camaraderie of now I’m on stage with you and we’re all out here together.
Interviewer: Big net of trust there – that helps.
Ryan: It does. If it’s not there, doing both jobs at the same time becomes significantly more difficult and very strenuous.
Interviewer: Do you relate to your character at all in the show, or how do you draw that connection to the character?
Ryan: That’s a great question. I’ve been teaching for as long as I remember. My first teaching experience was when I was 16, teaching, helping mentor 10 year olds in Charlotte, where I grew up. I have decades of memories of being a teacher, and I think one thing every teacher will tell you, whether you’ve been teaching for five months or 50 years, is that there’s a certain fear that never dies. As you’re walking into a classroom, you fear that you will have forgotten everything that you have ever taught, you will have forgotten how to teach. You’re worried these kids aren’t going to listen to you or aren’t going to look up to you. That fear never goes away. So all you have to do is to step into the classroom, say, “Hello, my name is…”, and then just go on that journey with them.
My character in Schoolhouse Rock! Live! is going through that sort of a crisis as a teacher, which is how the show comes together. It’s a bunch of teachers and educators that are all trying to figure out how to do this.
Interviewer: Awesome. It’s great that you can call on that relatability with your character. What do you hope that the audience will take away from the show?
Ryan: I would like there to be a combination of feelings – for our older audience members, I want them to be able to have that nostalgic memory of the Saturday morning cartoons and growing up, and feel warm and safe. I want people that are hearing this music for the first time to be caught up in the spirit of what I know to be true, which is that education can and should always be fun. I want them to just get filled with one of my favorite things, which is the desire to go out and learn even more.
I hope this show opens the door for many of our young audience members to go forward and enthusiastically want to seek out more education and seek out more learning. For me it’s that lifelong desire, that lifelong curiosity and desire to learn that is really what makes us human. I hope to participate in helping young audience members find that.
Interviewer: That’s lovely. And do you think that kind of ties into why people should come see the show?
Ryan: I think people should come see the show because it’s something that bridges all ages. Because I think around the holidays, it’s wonderful to see music and comedy and fun and have a reason to put everyone in the car and come out. That’s why people should come.
Interviewer: Fabulous. Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know, Ryan?
Ryan: I am just delighted to have had the chance to speak with you. I think your questions covered everything I would have thought of.
Interviewer: Well thank you very much, it was lovely getting to chat with you today! Break legs!
Ryan: Thank you so much, Micah!