Ryan J. MacConnell and I first met when he was a high school student at Chittenango High School, and attending classes at Syracuse Children’s Theatre.
Now, at 23 years years old, with a BFA from Ithaca College in his back pocket (musical theater), MacConnell is currently on his first professional tour, playing Andy Harris in Flashdance the Musical, as well as other roles in the ensemble. He is also an understudy for Nick Hurley, Alex’s love interest in the musical, and Jimmy, the supporting comedic role. This tour is directed and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo (Memphis, Jersey Boys).
As Flashdance the Musical makes its way through Syracuse Feb. 16 – 18 at the Mulroy Civic Center, MacConnell took a moment to answer some questions for the Syracuse New Times.
When and where did you audition for this role?
Last May, I submitted myself through Actors’ Access for the national tour of Anything Goes. Dale Brown, a casting director from Duncan Stewart & Co., called me in to read/sing from sides at Pearl Studios (one of the main venues in midtown Manhattan used for auditions and rehearsals). Two weeks later I heard back from Dale, but it was to come in for Flashdance, instead, another show he had been casting at the time. My series of callbacks, in which I had to learn several songs, scenes, and movement combos from the show, lasted a span of about two weeks.
How did it feel when you were told you got the part?
Within a couple days of my final callback in front of the creative team (director, associate director and choreographer, music supervisor, playwright, composers, executive producer, and casting director), I got the “offer” to be in Flashdance. Dale Brown, the casting director, and one of the most sincere people I’ve met in the business, was the one to call me. I was very giddy and, after being in suspense waiting to hear, could finally breathe again.
Describe what the rehearsal process was like.
We started rehearsals in September 2014. We had about 3 weeks of all-day rehearsals in NYC and then we flew to Yakima, Washington for our week of tech and previews. We didn’t actually “open” until October 21 in Boise, Idaho.
There had already been a first National Equity Tour production of Flashdance on the road, so during rehearsals we were working a lot with our Associate Choreographer, Natalie Caruncho, who had been the Dance Captain/Swing for that first production. She knows the show inside and out, and with the assistance of Kristin Piro (another swing from that tour), they basically restaged the show for our new cast.
There were always 3 rooms of rehearsals going on – often choreography in one, music in another, and scene work in the last. With only a few weeks of rehearsals, we were on a tight schedule (staged the whole first act in a few days!). We were also working with Brad Rouse (Associate Director) and Stephen Santa (Assistant to the AD) who worked extensively on the book scenes and fleshing out the characters overall, along with both very skilled Jason Howland (Music Supervisor) and Nate Patten (Music Director).
Once we had the blueprint of our show in place, Sergio came into rehearsals and added his magic flare and perspective to the piece.
One of the most exciting parts of the rehearsal process was working with the creative team of Flashdance. Tom Hedley, who wrote the original 1983 screenplay, was with us nearly every day in the rehearsal room. Also there to coach and make edits were composers, Robbie Roth and Robert Cary, and our fearlessly fierce producer, Dani Davis. We were making changes to the script and music right up until opening night. In fact, we still are lucky enough to have the creatives visit us occasionally on the road and see how it can be made even better. Our show is constantly evolving and I’m grateful to be working with a team that cares about it to that level.
How long is the tour scheduled for? When does the tour end?
We started touring in October 2014 and ended the first leg on December 1. Then we had a month layoff period over the holidays and resumed the second leg in the beginning of January. The tour is scheduled to end in April 19, 2015, our last few weeks being in Niagara Falls, Ontario. If I counted correctly, we stop in 48 different cities to perform. Many are one-nighters, some are 2-3 nights, and occasionally we get the beautiful one week sit-downs.
What has been your favorite city/stop so far on the tour? And why?
One of my favorite stops on the tour, so far, was Tucson, Arizona back in early November. We had beautiful weather, we were there for a week, and I hadn’t seen palm trees in a long time. We did have cockroaches in our hotel rooms though, which was apparently a ‘normal’ thing out there. The fact that I still loved Tucson, even with those terrifying things squirming around, says something. I loved the area because it had a hip, eccentric, university town feel with so many restaurants and places to check out. We also got rental cars while we were there, which made us feel like real people cruising around. It happened to be homecoming weekend too, so you can imagine the energetic and vocal audiences we had while playing the University of Arizona’s Centennial Hall. It all felt like a mini vacation.
What is like to live out of a hotel for an extended period of time and what do you do to “feel like home?”
This may be my least favorite part of touring, but you figure out how to make it work. We stay in all kinds of hotels on this tour – some very nice, some not nice at all. We’ve experienced the fluffiest of beds with access to saunas and deluxe breakfast, and we’ve also slept with bed bugs and cockroaches.
Everyone has their own system, but I may be a little more particular. I do not sleep with any of the hotel pillows or comforters. You can ask my roommate, as soon as I walk into the room, I rip off everything from the bed, with the exception of the fitted sheet, and throw it all into the closet. Then I do a thorough bed bug check around the mattress because sometimes you’ll find stuff and will want to move rooms before you settle down. Once we’re clear, I take out my own tempur-pedic pillow and large fleece blanket that I travel with, and make it into my own cozy bed. That blanket was the best idea I ever had. Over our holiday layoff period I got two large pieces of fleece from the craft store and made one of those tie-blankets. I made it big enough to fit these large beds, and it keeps me so toasty. Also, right away, we set up our luggage on luggage racks (off the floors) and get everything situated so we feel moved in, even if it’s temporary.
To get the rooms to feel like our home we’ve tried glade plug-ins so that we always had a consistent, nice smell no matter where we were. My roommate and I also automatically choose the same beds in the layout, too. It’s kind of nice to feel some sort of consistency even though everything else is changing.
What is the best part of having this tour stop in your hometown?
The best part (of having Flashdance stop in Syracuse) is that this was always one of my day-dreams as a kid: “What if I came back one day and got to perform like them on this stage?”
I grew up in the Civic Center building- seeing various tours come through, while I was part of Syracuse Children’s Theatre summer camps, Syracuse Civic Theatre productions and even my high school graduation. I was involved with many companies in the Syracuse Theater Community (The Talent Company, Wit’s End Players, Rarely Done Productions, Simply New Theatre) and made a second family out of it. Those were my first mentors in the arts and I feel grateful to be able to come back and perform for everybody, as a sort of thank you for having a part in getting me this far.
Name one show you’ve appeared in while you lived in Syracuse that will forever stay in your memory.
All of the Syracuse shows I participated in have specific memories that will always stay with me, but Cats with Syracuse Civic Theatre was one of my fondest. It was the first opportunity I was given to really use my abilities in the spotlight at a professional venue. I was only in 9th grade at the time and they had put a lot of faith in me to perform a lead role along other talented adults. It was one of the first glimpses I had of seeing myself in a professional theater career- and how great it felt combining acting, singing, and dancing to tell a story.
What do you think about the Syracuse theater community, in general?
I love the Syracuse theater community. Without them, I wouldn’t have had as smooth a time navigating through those teen years as I did. Alongside friends, that became a sort of second family for me, I felt very supported as I was figuring out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.
WATCH: Flashdance the Musical Montage/NAC Entertainment
What advice do you have for aspiring actors, dancers, performers who want to do what you are doing?
Find an excellent 4-year BFA musical theatre or acting training program and GO!
I thank Sharee Lemos and Matthew Stearns for coaching my college audition monologues/songs. I barely had a clue what I was doing, so it can really help to have a coach who can prepare you. And do your research on the best schools and their programs. Going to Ithaca College Theatre Arts for four years and focusing on the craft, instead of getting anxious and abruptly moving to the city (NYC) to ‘try it out’, was the best choice I ever made. The city will always be there, but you need a strong foundation of technique and knowing who you are before you move into the business.
Also, getting more specific and maybe a little biased – find a program that is rooted in acting and focuses on the whole person. Singing and dancing are obviously incredibly important if you want to be working in musical theater, but intention-based communicating and storytelling is what will separate you as an artist….And lastly, I would say that the learning doesn’t stop after graduating. In school, you’re really learning how to learn. I have a long way to go. It’s a life-long practice of bettering your instrument and learning how to openly access all parts of your self for your performance.
What do you plan to do when this tour ends? What does the future look like?
I’m not exactly sure what I’ll be doing when this tour ends. I’m looking forward to going back to the city and getting myself into the audition room again. Performing for all of these audiences has given me a refreshed perspective and confidence that I’m excited to take back with me. Though, I really hope to book some sort of gig shortly after Flashdance.
I also want to make sure I get back to teaching kids. That fulfills me like nothing else. One of my dream goals is to run an at-risk children’s home/center where the arts are infused into teaching empowerment and self-care. I need more education in the area of social work, so that’s also a next step I’m pondering. Either way, performing will always remain at the forefront as something that’s interlaced throughout all of my work.
Everyone needs a medium for expression. We are feeling beings. There’s so much love, hurt, anger, and fear that our heart feels on a constant basis and if we don’t have a way of letting it out, we can get really messed up. That’s how music, and movement, and theater saved me. I’m not sure I would have made it out of my teen years if I hadn’t had that. The arts taught me that feeling things was okay. It gave me something to do with those emotions and thoughts. It also taught me compassion.
When I put myself in the shoes of another character, I’m really putting myself in the shoes of another person. For the moment, it may be a fictional person, but I’m sure to run into the real life version, eventually. And slowly that tank of empathy inside expands – for all people, in all situations. Watching someone in a story go through something that’s relatable or perhaps something we haven’t experienced yet, proves to us that we’re not alone, and that we never will be, no matter what.
Ryan’s Tips for Staying Healthy (on the road):
This is my favorite topic and one I’ve been obsessed with. I’ve devoted myself to this, and it really has to be a #1 priority if you want to be able to do your job night after night. Here’s a list of things I constantly try to make sure I’m doing:
- Hydration like nobody’s business. Especially on travel days, and even more when we were traveling in dry areas of the country. The color of your pee is a good gauge, and it’s exciting when it goes clear! It’s not enough to drink water right before you have to sing or dance, because it takes time to get into your system. Starting the day before and going throughout the day is what leaves you feeling ready to go the night of a performance. Our leading lady, Karli Dinardo, also recommended I buy a traveling water bottle humidifier for the hotel rooms, and it has changed my world. I leave that running throughout the day and night. I also have one of those personal steamers you can buy from CVS if I’m ever feeling particularly dry.
- Emergen-C/Vitamin C packets in your water bottles, for an extra immune system boost when you start to notice people getting sick around you.
- Sometimes it’s not possible when you’ve left the theater at 11 p.m. and have to be up at 6 a.m. for the bus call, but I fight to get 8-9 hours of sleep every night. I hate it because I love staying up late and going out to eat and socializing, but I force myself. Some cast mates have great success sleeping soundly on the bus, and will do a lot of their sleeping while we’re traveling. But for me, I’ve learned I need as much as possible in that bed if I want everything to keep working properly. I also have to be dedicated to this because I never know when I’m going to have to go on for one of the larger roles I’m understudying for – chances are it will be during a rough part of the schedule when we haven’t had much rest.
- Netti-Pot to clear things that may be starting in your sinuses
- Gargle with salt water before a show if you’re feeling hoarse or not as warm
- I’ve recently started using The homeopathic Colloidal Iron spray to prevent getting sick during days where I notice people are dropping around me.
- Shot of Apple Cider Vinegar to help with sickness
- Raw ginger root for a natural Anti-inflammatory (helps if you feel fatigued in your throat)
- I have to limit my intake of caffeine (coffee) and alcohol because those are really dehydrating to my voice. Some people’s voices can withstand anything, but for me I try to only have a coffee earlier in the day followed by plenty of water, and I generally only go out for drinks if we don’t have a show the next day. It all comes down to me wanting to really be ready if I find out I have to go on for “Nick” in a few hours and be able to belt out some difficult singing.
Headshots by Andrés Acosta
Flashdance the Musical runs Feb. 16, 17, 18 at 7:30 p.m. at the Oncenter Crouse Hinds Theater. For tickets and information CLICK HERE.