Welcome!

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Here you’ll find news and information about me, Brett Ryback –  the actor, composer, and writer – in addition to my irregular blog.

Keep in touch via twitter and sign up for my mailing list to find out about upcoming shows, concerts, and videos!

Thanks for coming!

Michael Jackson Lives

In a recent post about Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre, I gave a shout out to Michael R. Jackson, a musical theatre composer/lyricist whose work I recently came to know, and who was telling stories about people of color in a way I’d never seen before.

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I had originally heard of Michael when I saw a song from his largely autobiographical musical A Strange Loop performed as part of William Finn’s Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You’ve Probably Never Heard of But Should cabaret at 54 Below. (Well – truth be told I think I originally originally heard of him when the pop-star Michael Jackson died, and he was forced to distinguish himself on Facebook as Michael “Living” Jackson, but that’s neither here nor there.)

I then got to meet him as we were both participants of the Johnny Mercer Writers Colony at the Goodspeed Musical Theatre this past January. There I got to see more of his work on the show come to life.

A Strange Loop is, how shall I put it…graphic. Continue reading Michael Jackson Lives

Make Art for a Change

Art and activism have a long history together. As art is a representation of the truth of the world around us, it can often force us to see things that we typically choose to ignore.

Sometimes – often times – this type of truth telling can cause trouble for the artist. Especially in countries where freedom of speech is not valued as it is in the west.

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In Iran, a 29-year-old painter named Atena Farghadani was sentenced to 12+ years in prison earlier this summer, for depicting members of the Iranian parliament as monkeys and cows. She created the artwork as a response to their vote to restrict contraception and ban certain birth-control methods. Even while in prison – where she suffered abuses and more injustices – she would draw on paper cups until they were no longer given to her. Continue reading Make Art for a Change

How to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone Today

07a7f800-b3b0-0132-457f-0ebc4eccb42fIf you’re shy about taking risks, you can thank evolution.

Humans evolved to be risk-averse. As social creatures, we don’t always feel comfortable standing out from the crowd, and in small populations (as humans typically evolved within) taking a risk could lower your chances of survival.

But as artists and creators – risk is necessary to success.

In teaching actors at USC, I’ve noticed that one of the hardest things to get them to do is to be “outrageous” with their acting choices. To go too far. Even though that’s always the advice acting teachers are giving! “Go too far, and then you can dial it back.”

But people are afraid of doing what they think will be making a fool of themselves. The truth is, however, when you “go too far” you’re actually going exactly as far you need to go. The ideal place to get to is exactly one step outside your comfort zone. That’s where vulnerability shows up, and real moments begin to happen.

But how to get there? Continue reading How to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone Today

Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre Writers

tumblr_n4stjge0TP1tpn084o7_1280I woke up recently to a video on Facebook advertising the cast and creative team of a new musical premiering this month at Arena Stage in Washingon, DC.

The musical is called Dear Evan Hansen and is written by the songwriting team Pasek & Paul, along with bookwriter Steven Levenson, and is directed by Michael Greif.

Let me say at the outset – this post is not about these people specifically. I have no personal beef with them. I respect the cast and team immensely and I’m sure the show is fantastic.

I am instead writing about my generation of musical theatre creators at large.

So here’s the video:

My first impression, even before PLAYING the video, was “Wow – look at all those white people.” Continue reading Race and the New Generation of Musical Theatre Writers

Mind-Hacking the Audition Process

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The relationship between actors and the casting process can sometimes be antagonistic, and that’s super unfortunate. If you find yourself ripping your hair off over the audition/casting process, and feeling resentful toward casting directors who “always bring you in, but never cast you,” consider these 3 mind-hacks: Continue reading Mind-Hacking the Audition Process

The Most Underutilized Resource in Theater

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PC: Caitlin McNaney

Rajiv Joseph is one of my favorite contemporary playwrights. I remember seeing his play A Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in Los Angeles and being blown away. It was political, yet personal. Surreal, yet plainspoken. It captured a place and a wonderment that I seek to find in my own writing.

In this Broadway.com interview on the occasion of his latest play Guards at the Taj, he describes a lesson he learned about collaboration: Continue reading The Most Underutilized Resource in Theater

Gentrification Madlibs

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This Handy Guide to Gentrification written by Buzzfeed contributors Michael Albo and Amanda Duarte is, frankly, too good not to share.

Written in the form of a multiple-choice Madlibs, it tells the story of Wilmington (read: Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Venice, California), which goes from a dangerous den of “spongecake” addicts with cheap housing, to a community of genderqueer youths and pour-over coffee colonic spas, to a neighborhood packed with Wholefoods full of babies where no one can afford their own artisanal hand-milled toilet paper anymore.

Read, enjoy, laugh – but always remember the days when the Cinnamon Toast Festival was just about the cinnamon and the toast, and wasn’t the corporate sellout monstrosity it is now!!

Have You Ever Wondered Why Superheroes Wear Capes?

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The other day a random thought popped into my head: Why do superheroes so often wear capes?? I wondered if there was any literature on the purpose of capes in these superhero myths.

One thread suggested that there was a link from Zorro and/or The Three Musketeers. Those swashbucklers being the original “super heroes” of literature and, given the time periods, natural cape wearers. This then held over to Superman and beyond.

Others discussed the utility purposes of capes such as it’s assistance with aerodynamics, but at least according to one study on the phyiscs of Batman’s Cape (yes…an actual study) that seems incorrect. Other purposes include making it easy to hide or confuse enemies, being a protective shield, and acting as a symbol.

My favorite blog is this one that asks Do Superheroes Really Need Capes? The author basically decides the purpose of a cape is purely for the sake of fashion. It even goes so far as to depict some of our well-known cape-wearers looking rather silly without their capes.

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I was disappointed to find that there was no deeper symbolism to be read into it. Something like “the fluid movement of capes create a sense of the ephemeral, and as such give human shapes an otherworldly form.”

So, I guess without that I’m with Edna from Pixar’s The Incredibles. As she puts it:

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