See that guy? Think you’ve seen him somewhere before? Of course you have! It’s Barrie’s Ryan Laplante. You’ve likely seen him over the past few months on TV commercials for Leon’s, The Source, and Tunedin.ca. It’s been a big boost for Ryan’s career to be on the national scene, but it’s ‘Back to Barrie’ every summer. Like Alex Dault, profiled recently in the Green Room, Ryan traces his acting roots to live theatre here. It’s familiar home turf when he comes back to Theatre by the Bay. This summer Ryan has a return engagement directing TBTB’s Young Company.
You’re on a roll!
This is the first year that I will make a living just acting, not having side projects and Joe-Jobs.
Given that your roots are in theatre, what are your thoughts about the career challenges of the stage versus TV and film?
With theatre auditions it’s just a matter of getting into the room and trying to impress the people there. With TV, you’re thrown into a situation where everything has to be kicked up through a bunch of different levels and it’s all wonderfully mysterious. The decision-making is based on things you don’t even know. So I go in and do what I do and try not to worry about it. If I book the gig we try the material out a number of different ways on set. Honestly, I rarely have any idea how the ad is going to turn out and that’s part of the fun. I enjoy giving them a lot of options for the editing room. The challenge as an actor is to be able to come in and contribute to that, to play within the box they give you. I want to hit every wall possible to give them what they need.
Now you have a couple of national ads, ones that really fill the screen with your face, is there a risk you will get ‘locked into’ a role that defines or limits you? It obviously can be incredibly lucrative, but is there a negative aspect that goes with it?
Any description of my career that includes the words ‘incredibly lucrative’ is fine with me! I want to be a working actor.
How about creative satisfaction?
I’ve done ads that I’ve really liked. The Source commercial was great prop comedy, and for Leon’s where I am a kind of spokes-person. And the Tunedin app of course. It’s different than being the Glad Bag guy where you’re all covered in an outfit that hides much of who you are.
It’s a tough way to make a living, isn’t it?,
You have to create your own work or the down time can really wear on you. Luckily I’m a big fan of that process!
On that, would you comment on the incredible amount of new creative theatre companies being seeded by young, determined and energetic talent such as yourself? There are hundreds of them in Toronto alone.
What it comes down to is that the work that is available to people who are new is very limited. There are so many actors and so little work. And a lot of the work that is available, some background and TV work for example, isn’t always going to satisfy you artistically. It’s not telling your own story, it’s someone else’s story. You need something that will allow you to express yourself as a performer. If you want to sink your teeth into bigger more meaningful roles early on in your career, sometimes you have to do it yourself.
How would you like to see your acting career develop in the future?
I’d like to get to a point, quite honestly, where I don’t have to audition, where people will approach me and I get to pick which projects I want to do. That’s probably a lot broader than other people’s career goals but that’s what I want. But unless you are creating your own work, you don’t have a lot of control of what you’re doing next.
Barrie and Theatre by the Bay seem to be a home-coming for you.
I can trace my TBTB experience back to when I was 17 or 18; I’m 27 now. Robin Hood was my first show; that’s where I was exposed to professional theatre as a job as opposed to a hobby. Theatre by the Bay, and Larissa Mair specifically, is why I became an actor and not a lawyer. Larissa has been so supportive and pushing all of us to get out there and do things.
Is comedy been true anchor, or do you have a dramatic flair too?
It’s kind of back and forth. I’ve been hired to do more serious stuff; yet my instincts even in dramatic plays always drive me to find the funny. Over my, oh lord this sounds ridiculous to me, “career” I’ve played comic relief and villains. And typically if I’m hired by a company to play one of those, they bring me back for more of the same, which is great!. They tend to see me as one or the other, but I think those two kinds of role are naturally linked.
But do you have a comedic leaning by instinct?
I think that’s where I naturally reside, yes. I tend to consider comedy and serious theatre as two different things. Serious theatre is like a meal; you get to deal with a lot, you get to research the character. In comedy, or at least my comedy, the idea is to get everyone in the room to laugh. For me, it’s fantastic!
Where do your comedic roots go back?
Here in Barrie. I worked with Mike Holland and Isaac Haig when they were writing their own shows, crazy madhouse panto shows. They’d have a certain character and say “We don’t really know why he’s funny, and we don’t know what we’re doing with it, so we’re going to give that to you!” We’d go through maybe three dozen character ideas; some sucked, some we’d keep. I’d go home, think about it and come with a whole new character the next day.
It’s fun now when those shows get re-staged and see other people perform the dialogue I made up through improvisation in rehearsal. I don’t think there’s a definitive performance of anything. You go and do what you do, because even if you intentionally try to do what somebody else has done, you’ll still end up doing it completely differently anyway.
Your new summer show ‘The Three Munschketeers’, is another Munsch compilation?
It’s actually a script. But it is like Munsch Ado About Nothing last summer; the same number of actors, same gender breakdown, the same type of format. Very high energy, very panto, very crazy with a bunch of modern day stuff thrown in, multiple characterisations. It’s based on the Three Musketeers but it’s not treated as sacred material at all. All my perceptions are thrown out the window!
Given your own high energy level as an actor and as a director, what type of actor will you be looking for at the Young Company auditions in April?
It’s the basic skill set. Can they project, can they sing, how comfortable are they physically? It’s a strange process because the actors have to come into the audition room looking really comfortable but everyone knowing that they are really nervous. It sounds like a ridiculous test to do, but it’s just like opening night. And just like any audience, we want everybody who comes to audition to do their best and we’ll do anything we can to help them do just that!
For these shows, I’ve got to see commitment to character. Ultimately I’ll probably run them through some sides a bunch of different ways. And I ask them to come in with some songs. I want to give them a chance to express themselves. For me, I don’t want to hear 300 versions of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. For the actor, it gives them a chance to express themselves and what they think the show is. It’s very important to have that mutual buy. I’ll throw some stuff at them and expect to see them give 100%. I don’t really care how well they do as long as they show a range and are fearless. That’s the person I want to work with.
Your shows require high levels of stamina, and the ability to perform and improvise under pressure improvise in front of a young audience. It’s breathless at times to watch.
I drill really hard at rehearsal because they have to be ready for the show. It’s a 55 minute workout, but the thing is, if they slow down, the show slows down.
Do you see shows produced by the TBTB Young Company as way to ‘train’ young people for theatre as adults later?
I think the thought of ‘training’ kids is kind of depressing. It’s like creating this magical experience that is happening right before their eyes, but also saying “Don’t touch, don’t talk, be quiet, sit in your seat!” I think that’s almost monstrous in a way. As long the kids are reacting honestly, I’m pleased. Kids are the most honest feedback system. Adults could learn from that! Why do we sit through bad plays silently? I don’t mean heckling; the kids don’t heckle unless they are clearly invited to heckle a villain or something. But if kids are bored, they’re bored! And if they’re bored, they’ll talk. It’s not because they’re evil; it’s because you are probably boring.
What about attention span?
You’re not going to get kids to sit through a two hour play. If your show is too long, you’re setting a tough challenge for yourself. It’s doable, but tough. Kids don’t want to see, for example, a long drawn out exploration of poverty; that’s just a bad choice. That’s why TBTB wants to aim at an hour for this Young Company show. I think that’s the right length. You don’t need an intermission. I also try to make the shows a 60-40 balance in terms of performing for the kids. I want things the parents or older siblings will enjoy too.