Native Son: Getting to know Hamilton’s RYAN VASQUEZ
Before heading off to college at the University of Michigan then moving to New York City, which is where he currently resides, California-born Ryan Vasquez attended Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose and was profoundly involved with the theatre arts community in the Bay Area. With his parents and grandparents still living in the area, Vasquez is excited to be returning home—and hitting up In-N-Out, Oracle Arena, and Santa Cruz—with the national tour of HAMILTON after more than a year away.
- What was it like growing up in San Jose?
- I always tell people that San Jose is quietly the tenth biggest city in the country (which is true), and no one believes me. I love San Jose—it’s diverse and urban, but still spread out. And it is home to Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose (CMTSJ), one of the most underrated and well-rounded training programs in the country. Bellarmine shaped me as much as anything did, but as a person just as it did as a performer. I can’t recommend that school enough as a breeding ground for gentlemen who understand compassion and recognize the need to see the world through others’ eyes. We could all use a little more of that these days.
- What were your first experiences with musical theater like in the Bay Area?
- I started doing shows at CMTSJ at age eight when I auditioned for SCHOOL HOUSE ROCK, LIVE! They cast everybody who auditions, luckily, or I never would have been cast and never would have done another show there again. There I made friends that I still have in New York, and learned so many lessons about being a professional. I was exposed to so many classic shows at a young age, laying a foundation for the education I would get in college, and had the opportunity to play so many roles that were once in a lifetime experiences.
- How does your experience of growing up in the Bay Area influence your work on Broadway and now, in life on the road?
- It definitely gave me a perspective that I’m not sure everyone has across the country. The Bay Area is diverse and metropolitan, and it affords opportunity to those who work for it, and that willingness to collaborate and drive to succeed is something that the Bay really fosters. Look at the Warriors.
- What will you do when you return here during the show’s run at SHN?
- First thing I’m doing is going to In-N-Out. I have been living across the country for 7 years now, and I’m tired of arguing the moot point that In-N-Out is actually the best burger in the world. I’ll be seeing a lot of family, and I’m very excited to go visit the faculty at Bellarmine and staff at CMTSJ to catch up with them and see what good they’ve been doing for the next generation. Being from San Jose, I’m excited to explore SF as an adult. And I’ll be at the NBA Finals to see the Warriors beat the Cavaliers, that’s for sure.
- What are your favorite things about San Francisco/Bay Area?
- I love that it’s diverse, I love that it’s thriving, and I love the seafood.
- How has your experience with theater in the Bay Area, and then with Wicked and Waitress, prepared you for this role in HAMILTON?
- The foundation of a strong work ethic and a confidence to be creative are the biggest things I took away. I remember once Kevin Hauge, who runs CMTSJ, often told me to take advantage of rehearsal time and use it as a performance—that I was lucky to get the few opportunities I had to perform something, anything, and to take advantage of every moment I was presented as an actor. Bellarmine’s theatre program taught me to approach theatre cerebrally, not just emotionally, and to analyze a play as text, as a work, not just as linked emotional outbursts or beautiful pictures. It was the synthesis of those places that helped me in the real world. As far as the contributions of WICKED and WAITRESS, they couldn’t be more different. Entering the Broadway company of WICKED in year 12 (I performed in the 5000th performance of the show on Broadway) required an incredible attention to detail that HAMILTON demands, as we attempt to create a brand new company of actors putting on this instant classic. WAITRESS was created from the ground up, all of us contributing our ideas as actors and people to create a show and a working environment to succeed. Creating a new company of HAMILTON is the perfect synthesis of those two experiences. Creating something new, balancing creativity with expert concentration and memorization.
- How long ago did you move to NY? When do you find time to come home?
- I moved to New York in August of 2014 after graduating from the University of Michigan in April and working at a summer stock theatre, Music Theatre Wichita, that was extraordinarily helpful in setting me up with the confidence and experience necessary to tackle New York’s challenges. I cherish the time I get at home, because it’s not much. Actors work the opposite schedules of everyone else, our work time is for others’ leisure. We work evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. I’ve spent Christmas Day in a Broadway theatre for the past two years, and have had to visit afterward January. I haven’t been home in over a year, and this job is such a perfect way to return.
- What are your favorite musical numbers from HAMILTON and why?
- I really do love almost every single song I’m in. “The Schuyler Sisters” is really fun, just because I get to watch my girlfriend Solea do her thing; she plays Eliza. It’s a complete coincidence that we’re doing this together. She found out last summer that she’d be doing the show, and I didn’t even audition until just before Christmas. Serendipity. “Helpless” gets funny, because I play her father in that… but there may be some times where I play Hamilton opposite her, and it’s not likely that I’ll be able to hold it together.
- HAMILTON has won a record number of Tony Awards® (11 to be exact). If you won a Tony, who would you thank? What would your acceptance speech be like?
- One can only hope. I think it’s important to use those moments as a platform to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. As artists, we are part of a rare minority who do what they love for work. I would encourage parents everywhere to put their kids through some sort of art regimen. You can learn all sorts of things from playing football, but that’s not the only option. Kids should be able to express themselves through dance without feeling they might be mocked, they should be able to sing and play piano, and not be embarrassed by that. I always thank my mom for that, be yourself, everyone else is taken.
- What advice would you, now, tell your younger self if you could send a message back in time?
- Theatre is cool. Never stop working hard at it, even if you think you have something in the bag. Listen to people, and always think of what they’re going through before you respond; something that may be effective for you may not be the most effective way to communicate with someone else. Above all though, I would just say to stop caring what people think. Every time you’re insecure about the way someone might be looking at you, they’re looking at themselves in the mirror wondering what people are thinking about them in that exact moment. Just don’t worry—it’s not that deep.
Don’t miss your shot in seeing Bay Area native RYAN VASQUEZ in HAMILTON, now playing through August 5 at the SHN Orpheum Theatre.