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Being an artist is in my blood

Bobby Ryan stars as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors


Bobby Ryan was born to play the role of the hapless Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” who toils away in Mushnik’s Flower Shop on Skid Row while nursing a secret love for fellow worker Audrey and nurturing a mysterious plant with his own blood.

The show marks Ryan’s third Broadway Rose Theatre Company appearance following 2011’s “Hairspray” and the children’s show, “The Frog Prince,” and he could not be more excited about playing the role.

“I can’t believe it!” he said. “It is a dream come true. I can’t believe they wanted me to do Seymour!”

Ryan has had a long career on and off the stage but is relatively new to musical theater, and performers who have spent fortunes on voice lessons will cringe to hear this: “I self-taught myself by singing along to CDs by Kate Bush from the UK, who is known for her wide-ranging vocal abilities,” he said. “For ‘Hairspray,’ I took three or four lessons locally.”

Ryan has only been in Portland for four years and met Broadway Rose co-founder and general manager Dan Murphy through a mutual friend at its production of “A Chorus Line” in 2010.

Ryan decided to throw his hat into the ring and auditioned for last summer’s “Hairspray” and “Ripper.”

“I was so scared,” he said. “I have courage, although I am terrified most of the time, but you can’t have courage without fear. I got called back for both of the shows. That was huge. Then I got called back again for ‘Hairspray’ and got a role in the ensemble. It was a great summer.”

According to Ryan, he owes a lot to being from (and leaving) Independence, Mo., “home of President Harry S. Truman.”

“Thank goodness I got out of there,” he added. “I left at 23.”

Ryan’s best friend all through school and early adulthood had died, and her death shook him to his core, ultimately propelling him to strike out on his own. He got a job at Disney World in Florida, where he worked as a puppeteer for 2 ½ years, and also started college, working toward a degree in film.

Confronting his fears, Ryan decided that every term he would take a course that scared him, so on a whim he took modern dance. “I loved it!” he said.

That led to Ryan getting a scholarship to the Buddhist-inspired Naropa University in Boulder, Colo., where he started work on a degree in dance therapy with a minor in psychology.

For his senior project, Ryan wrote, produced and starred in a show — and also fell in love.

“Tyler and I have been together ever since,” Ryan said. “He was from the San Juan Islands in Washington, and I got Independence — it’s not fair.”

Over the years, they lived “off the land” for a few months in Hawaii, and Ryan worked briefly in New York City running lights for a friend’s show.

Both Ryan and Tyler eventually earned their master of fine arts degrees in contemporary performance in Boulder, and the time seemed right for a change of scenery.

“We felt we had grown as much as we could there,” Ryan said. “We chose Portland. I had never been here, and Tyler had spent one night here, but Portland is what we were feeling, and off we went.

“The first two years were a nightmare — we had no work and no money. I applied for everything from cleaning toilets to arranging flowers to teaching at a university. It was really, really tough.”

Ryan did get a one-month residency producing a play for Portland Actors Conservatory, and with time on their hands, he and Tyler started up Lights Up! Productions, where “we create original works and plays,” Ryan said. “Our first show was ‘Feather,’ and we rented a theater on Southeast Belmont. It was well received by all 120 people who saw it and loved it. We have another show opening next March or April.”

In the meantime, Ryan is reveling in his current job.

“Auditions are a nightmare for me,” Ryan admitted. “Auditioning is so awful — that’s why I started writing. But now things are starting to happen in Portland — people are calling me! And I got the role of Seymour in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at Broadway Rose!”

Ryan continues to be impressed with the high-quality work that the company, headed by Murphy and co-founder and producing artist director Sharon Maroney, produces.

“I have only known Dan and Sharon since last summer, but I told Tyler, ‘I have found my home,’” Ryan said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever be settled in one place forever, but my dream is to work as an artist — it’s in my blood — and I will keep doing that.”




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