I sat down with local actor Ryan Tisch recently. We chatted about his role in “Romulus” and the perils of acting.
Q: Where were you born?
Q: When did you know you wanted to become an actor?
When I got to college. I went to the campus organizations fair and found out there were four different improv comedy groups. I had never seen anyone do improv so I went to a show. It looked terrifying and for some reason I thought it would be the best skill you could learn – if you could get up in front of strangers and always be confident you had something to say, that seemed like a superpower. So I tried out for the Purple Crayon of Yale, which was my favorite group. For some reason they took me, and by my junior year I was the director. That led to plays and musicals, but improv will always be my first love. I use it all the time in my work as a lawyer.
Q: In your opinion, what is the hardest part of acting?
Relaxing. The worst is when you get up in your head and are working so hard to remember every gesture and note you’ve worked on. It stops you from getting into the character and naturally doing things that character would do. And it especially stops you from observing and interacting with the other actors on stage. When you’ve rehearsed a part enough that the little things aren’t worrying you, all the magic happens.
Q: Which is harder: improv or theater?
Acting in a play, by a mile. In improv, you’re building something together but no one needs to have any idea what it will be, or what will come next. I remember being in an improv scene in which these two guys are on a submarine, and we’re getting all into it and doing all the stuff that submarine guys do, and then a woman comes in and it slowly becomes clear that we are nerds who are on a submarine in a museum and all the frenzy of our “submarine work” just became hilarious. We couldn’t have known it was going that way, and that’s something you just can’t do when you have to honor a script.
Q: What is “Romulus” about? Who do you play?
Romulus is about a fictional final emperor of Rome who’s determined to hold the empire accountable for its crimes. We knew it would be timely given the election, but the real life surprise ending made it even more relevant. I play Tullius, his Lord Chamberlain, who wants nothing more than to hold onto things as they are. Tullius loves the gossipy intrigues of the court and without them, he doesn’t exist. It’d be like Perez Hilton if Hollywood suddenly vanished. So Tullius is totally unprincipled and will do anything to keep the show going, but he does love Rome in the end.
Q: What is your favorite scene or line in the play?
There’s a scene in which Tullius gets confronted by Aemilian, a handsome soldier who’s been a prisoner of war for years. Tullius doesn’t recognize Aemilian at first, but Aemilian tells him that “We’ve been at many parties together,” and Tullius flirtatiously responds, “Oh, I rather doubt that.” It’s so 60s Gore Vidal, so gay, and we get the sense that Tullius has a bit of a wild side. Always gets a laugh.
Q: What has your experience been like working with the Memorial Players?
This company is amazing. I have to give huge props to the director, Rina Steinhauer, and the producer, Kristine Smets, and their respective teams. We have an amazing sets team, headed by John Seeley, and wonderful costumers led by Christine Calderon, and it seems like half of Bolton Hill and a lot of the surrounding neighborhoods are involved somehow. I’d name all of them here if I could. That makes it awful easy to walk in and bring a character to life, and these incredibly generous actors can just work and feel their way to the performance we’ve got. Terry O’Hara, who plays Romulus, is a great example. He’s on stage practically the whole time and rehearsed about 3 times more than anyone else, but he was always available to reblock or rework a scene. I don’t know how he did it. I wish I could be in every show Memorial does.
Q: Why should people come out and catch the final weekend of performances?
Because live theater is a miracle! Every time I see any live show I’m blown away by all the work that went into it. And once in awhile you’re involved in a project where things just come together, and the performances work. This is one of those, and the cast and crew are in a groove. Romulus doesn’t get produced much, and I hope people will come and have fun with us.
“Romulus” has its final performances this weekend!