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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 21, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 34
Bryce Ryness explains the discipline of Matilda
Arts & Entertainment
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Bryce Ryness explains the discipline of Matilda

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

MATILDA, THE MUSICAL
THE 5TH AVENUE THEATRE
August 18-September 6


Bryce Ryness is a family man who is very proud of his children. Yet, he terrorizes kids eight performances a week. Mr. Ryness is playing the role of Miss Trunchbull, the strict disciplinarian school headmistress in the smash musical Matilda. Familiar with The 5th Avenue's work - Mr. Ryness was in the Original Broadway Cast of their produced musical, First Date - Mr. Ryness returns to The 5th Avenue with the National Touring Company of Matilda, the musical.

Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences in becoming a performer?

Bryce Ryness: My brother and sister. I'm the youngest of four. My oldest sibling Gar is seven years older than me. My sister Piven is five years older, and my sister Natalie is two years older. They were my influences from a social perspective. If I wanted to join the conversation at dinner, or anywhere, I had to up my game and keep up with them.

Andrews-Katz: What was the musical that got you bit by the theater bug?

Ryness: It's a toss up between Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar. My family wasn't a 'theater family' growing up. We never did the Phantom thing, but these were the two musicals my parents were into.

Andrews-Katz: You were in the touring company of RENT and the OBC of First Date, the musical. Which is more challenging for you, creating a role or making a role your own?

Ryness: It's kind of two different disciplines. I personally respond to creating my own because I like being fearless and forging ahead. I don't mind making big mistakes, which is what you do with an original character. With something like RENT, the challenge is to embody the spirit of the show and the way it's been executed. To deliver the goods while maintaining the individual creativity is the key. One is more of finesse and the other is an achievement gig. My preference is to create something new, but as actors we are kind of mercenary, and I will go where they pay me.

Andrews-Katz: What was your audition like for Matilda?

Ryness: It was a pretty long process. I originally auditioned in November of last year. We didn't hear anything for three weeks, and then I got a call back in December. At the time, which complicated my life a bit, I was working on the 'Live Peter Pan' on NBC. (I was one of the pirates made to leap off the gangplank.) There was a physical call back for Matilda, and a dance call back, and they wanted to see about my strength/conditioning (doing the gymnastics while twirling a sack of sandbags in a circle). You want to find an excellent actor, but also have to remember this is a deceptively physical role. It's not just something any actor can do because of the physical component. You never know what the expectations would be. I never trained as a dancer, so there were trepidations about it. I've been embarrassed with dance callbacks before this.

Andrews-Katz: What is the most difficult part about playing Ms. Trunchbull, the strict disciplinarian headmistress?

Ryness: There's the external and the internal. The external is the physical demands of the show. I need to take care of my body and voice so I can do the role eight times a week. There are strange movements, such as throwing a child around by its arms. Internal challenge is one I enjoy, and agree with, and I do want to do well with it. It is the push of the creative scene to keep Trunchbull in a place of reality, and not ham it up or pander to the audience. She believes 100% in what she's saying; there is no 'wink wink' to the audience. I love finding the line between being stern and serious, and being able to (at the same time) enjoy the process and welcome them both. I accept it when the audience laughs.

Andrews-Katz: Being such a huge fan of children yourself, is it difficult to be mean and nasty to kids on stage?

Ryness: No. It's a character. It's just the job. Early in my career I realized that if I too deeply fall into the role I'm playing on stage, it's not super helpful to my life offstage. I try to find that dichotomy of being fully present on stage and leaving it on stage. That is the way I have found to be a well-adjusted human to my wife and kids. I know that I'm NOT Miss Trunchbull. I don't feel the pressure to be her when I'm not on stage. On stage though, it's my job to be 100% present as Trunchbull. Also, as a member of the cast/team, in trying to tell the story, I have to stay within the parameters of the show.

Andrews-Katz: W.C. Fields once said, 'Never play opposite animals or children.' What is your experience performing with a cast full of kids?

Ryness: It's fine. It's their story. I think the way the narrative is constructed it is told through the eyes of a five-year-old girl. That's the way the book describes it, through the eyes of a child. This show is opposite of the Field's quote; children shouldn't perform with adults since it is not told from the adults' perspective. We are in their world, the adults. It's a totally groovy and wonderful thing to step into this over-the-top, belligerent character because that's how she would be perceived from a five-year-old's perspective.

Andrews-Katz: What are Ms. Trunchbull's redeemable qualities?

Ryness: Anyone that cares that deeply has an air of nobility. Passion is passion. To me, she is trying to pursue safety and comfort in the way that she understands it. She tries to provide a sense of sanctuary for these children. She's trying to establish her domain, as I think anyone is, it just so happens that her domain is diametrically opposed to the children she is entrusted to be a headmistress for. She has always been a subject of mockery and ridicule (in her life). Her way of teaching these kids is a result of how she was (probably) treated as a child. In her mind, she is fighting for a sense of propriety and discipline, and the crafting of well-behaved children. It's totally off and ridiculous which makes it a great story.

Andrews-Katz: If you could play any role - regardless of any limitations - what would it be and why?

Ryness: I've never asked it of myself. There are so many roles out there. I saw Hamilton, the musical recently. I think either Hamilton or Burr in that musical. They are such smart roles. One of the things that appeals to me is the intelligence of the projects. I like playing around in 'smart' environments and plays. The story, the story telling, and the flow of the show captivated me. Obviously, the way it is crafted is using a stage full of minorities to play the roles, which I am not. That's the one that's off the top of my head. I'd like to play 'Evita.' That's an interesting role because it is such a story of how the same monster can feed and eat you all at the same time. It's almost a cautionary tale to play that role, where the more unbridled hot passion and desire and greed and conniving and charisma that is put into the role the more satisfying the story is for the ending.



Bryce Ryness has performed in several national touring companies. Aside from appearing on Broadway in the musicals Legally Blonde, Hair, Leap of Faith, and First Date, he is currently playing the role of Miss Trunchbull in the hit musical Matilda.

Matilda is a musical based on the book by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) telling the story of a little girl who is completely ignored and abused by the world around her. She discovers that she has hidden talents in helping to make things right in the dark world around her.

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