Q. I took a listen to your latest single “Pray” – a powerful spiritual song and also your performance of “She Used to Be Mine” at Broadway Sessions. You have a remarkable vocal gift. Tell us about your singing journey and who are your biggest influences?
Growing up, I was always listening to different styles of music, but I was especially fond of musical theater albums as I got more and more into theater. Billy Porter’s album was on repeat in my Walkman, and American Idol contestants like Latoya London, Jennifer Hudson and Adam Lambert are all big influences on me growing up. Musically, I’ve always been drawn to more thoughtful musicians; I’m a huge fan of Allen Stone, AJR, Tyler the Creator, anyone who is trying to do something interesting and new.
Q. “Pray” is a song about faith and love. You bring so much more soul and emotion to the song. What’s the story behind that song and what this song means to you?
It was actually a project from a therapist. I was feeling stunted creatively while performing in shows that required extreme precision and repetition. I needed a project to get my creativity flowing a bit. It was originally supposed to be a short album with seven songs, each embodying one of the seven deadly sins. “Pray” is obviously lust, and I have some other songs in the drafts that I hope can get some love too.
Q. I have seen many great Broadway shows. Sometimes I wonder what it takes to create such an amazing show. It must involve immense teamwork and a high level of chemistry among the actors. Can you take us on a behind-the-scenes tour and share with us about how the cast prepares and rehearses before each live performance?
Every show is different, and depending on when you join a company, it can be a really different experience. I joined Wicked on Broadway shortly before the 5,000th performance of the show. I was plugged into an already functioning show that worked because of what they had learned over 15 years. It doesn’t mean I was robbed of creativity, but it’s a different type of creative expression when you need to hit specific marks every time.
Hamilton is no different, except that it’s even more successful and works because of the details. You’re taught from videos and creative team members who help you along in the process, before you have a single rehearsal with the entire cast, often the same day as your first performance. Shot out of a cannon, but it becomes second nature sooner than you’d think.
Q. You are a versatile actor – well versed in acting, singing and you are also a coach. When did you decide you want to become an actor and what do you always do to stay on top of your game?
We are constantly told by our society, especially as men, that being an artist and being vulnerable are not feasible for success or even survival. So, it was late in the game for me when I decided to do this professionally. When I applied to college, my mom told me she would only help me with my applications if I applied to at least one school for theater. I applied to one, attended there, and never looked back. But we need to support our young artists and let them know that, even after the pandemic when our world was totally deconstructed, there is nowhere else I’d rather be.
Q. What kind of breakthrough do you want in your acting and singing career?
I have already broken through because I am aligned in the type of work that I do. I am aligned with the people that I want to work alongside and am excited about projects that require audiences to think critically and practice empathy. Our standard of “breaking through” too often pertains to some award or external validation. As long as my impact is one of progress and encouraging vulnerability, I’m set.
Q. What is it like for you to jump back and forth between movies/TV and theater plays and what do you think are the fun aspects and challenges?
It really couldn’t be more different. The live energy of theater is replaced by this intense need to produce immediately and not waste money, which I don’t love. Of course, it’s a trade-off, because the film and TV world value an authenticity that isn’t always embraced in the medium of theater. Breaking out into song isn’t exactly natural, but damn, it’s fun.
Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever been given in your acting and singing journey?
There is no one that does you better than yourself. We all grow up with people we want to emulate, but we will never become them. When you are comparing yourself to someone, you are selling yourself short. Carve your own path. Comparison is the thief of joy.
Q, As a coach who loves teaching, what is one piece of advice you always give to your students?
Embrace the uncertainty. Life is so long, and if we aren’t prepared to find joy in the uncertain times, we are in for a very difficult ride.
Q. You have been in many great movies/hit TV series and worked with many talented movie makers such as Lin-Manuel Miranda in Tick, Tick… boom!, Jon M. Chu in In the Heights, Brooke Kennedy in The Good Fight. Tell us about your experiences working with these legendary people and what are some unforgettable moments?
Working with Alex Lacamoire, who arranged and orchestrated Hamilton and countless other projects, has been the joy of my career. His capacity for empathy while he works is difficult to find amongst others with such a high level of effectiveness. He is nothing short of a genius. Gifted, warm, and demanding of excellence, professional as anyone, and still maintains a good attitude and is never colored by the need to produce for a deadline. Liesl Tommy, the prolific film and theater director, introduced me to the book Emergent Strategy, by Adrienne Maree Brown, and for that I am eternally grateful for her. It is a manual for returning to society after the pandemic. Lead with empathy, decentralized control, and listen harder. We can all use it.
Q. You are also the founder of “Swing from Home”, a platform that connects remote volunteers to campaigns across America. What does this cause mean to you as an actor and where do you hope to take it further?
Throughout history, there have always been those who are looking to expand access to the good of society, and those who look to restrict it and keep it amongst themselves. We are currently going through a period of this at a level that is so intense, things that we take for granted (democracy, for one) are hanging in the balance. Political organizing, the redistribution of wealth, expanding access to the ballot, these are all existential issues. Expunging those who are looking to undermine the government from within it is nothing short of existential.
Ryan Vasquez is an actor who has performed in smash hit Broadway shows like Wicked, Waitress (original Broadway cast), and Hamilton, playing the roles of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, George Washington, Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, and Hercules Mulligan/James Madison.
He was nominated for Drama Desk Award for his original role of The Man in Black in The Wrong Man.
He has appeared in films and television, including The Good Fight, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the Tick…Tick…BOOM! (coming soon to Netflix). His voice has also been featured in several films, including Vivo and In the Heights.
Ryan is also the founder of Swing From Home, an organization working to connect remote volunteers and grassroots fundraising to state legislative and other down ballot races.
Photograph credit: Ryan Vasquez
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Chin Liang Teh says