Booking It! Lindsay Mendez and Ryan Scott Oliver On Breaking Type, Breaking Out, YouTube Success and Self-Producing

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20 Jun 2014

Ryan Scott Oliver
Ryan Scott Oliver
Matthew Murphy

Playbill.com's new feature series Booking It asks leading industry members to share professional insights, need-to-know tips and essential tricks of the trade for up-and-coming and established theatre artists. This week we speak with actress Lindsay Mendez and songwriter Ryan Scott Oliver.

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Following her critically acclaimed turn in the Off-Broadway musical Dogfight (receiving Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League nominations for her performance as Rose Fenny), Lindsay Mendez's career took "flight" when she was cast as Elphaba in the hit musical Wicked, performing in the musical's tenth-anniversary cast and making various television appearances in celebration of the show's milestone. She has also been seen on Broadway in the 2007 revival of Grease, Everyday Rapture and the 2011 revival of Godspell. Off-Broadway, she has also performed in Ryan Scott Oliver's musical exhibition 35mm. She also collaborates with jazz pianist Marco Paguia, and their album "This Time" is available on iTunes.

Composer-lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver has written eight musicals and is a 2011 Lucille Lortel Award nominee, a 2009 Jonathan Larson grant recipient and the 2008 Richard Rodgers Award for Musical Theatre recipient. His work has been featured at the Kennedy Center, Off-Broadway and on television. His musicals include We Foxes, The Frog Prince Continued, 35mm: A Musical Exhibition, Darling, Mrs. Sharp, Out of My Head, Quit India and Jasper in Deadland, which was critically embraced in a recent Off-Broadway run starring Matt Doyle and Allison Scagliotti. Read more about his work in Playbill.com's Contemporary Musical Theatre Songwriters You Should Know.

Together, Mendez and Oliver teach Actor Therapy, a five-week master class in which students receive feedback and critique on their audition material as well as repertory suggestions, life coaching and guidance. Mendez and Oliver also invite industry professionals, including casting directors, agents, performers, songwriters and more, to each session of Actor Therapy. For more information, visit ActorTherapyNYC.com.

Mendez and Oliver sat down with Playbill staff writer Michael Gioia, also a frequent Actor Therapy student, to discuss breaking "type," bursting onto the scene, audition advice, YouTube success and more.

Let's first talk about "types." In Actor Therapy, you often talk about how the typical "types" are diminishing, and we — as actors — have room to make or create our own so-called "type."
Lindsay Mendez: I think going into a room for an audition, the best thing you can do is represent who you are specifically as an individual and what you can bring to a creative process in a room — as opposed to being worried about "where you fit" because that's really their job to decide where you fit. Your job is to just present the best "you" you can. That's always my first thought when I'm going in to meet new people and audition for them.
Ryan Scott Oliver: "Type" is useful only in suggesting the development of skillset. When you're learning to do this, the idea of being the brassy, comic belter suggests certain things you should be working on to develop yourself. But, in terms of actually existing in the professional sphere, no one writing now is going, "I'm writing Ado Annie." No one is doing that — even when they're writing a classic show. In fact, when they're doing, for instance, the Kelli O'Hara-Matthew Broderick musical, Nice Work, they're intentionally trying to create interesting, never-before-seen riffs on classic characters. Again, they're trying to break type consistently, so ["type" is] only useful in developing a skillset. I don't think it's realistic to work towards — and this is an issue we face a lot in class — becoming the Adelaide of all time, becoming the soprano-ingénue of all time. I think that's not feasible. It's not helpful; it's not realistic anymore.

For you, Ryan, when you're writing as a contemporary musical theatre writer, what do you keep in mind? What are you looking for?
RSO: You're looking for incredible people. On one hand you are writing for a voice type, but the kind of soprano that Katie Rose Clarke is and the kind of soprano that Kelli O'Hara is are two different sopranos. Jessie Mueller can also sing soprano, and she's a completely different soprano than either of them. And, furthermore, if you get a great person, I think there isn't a composer out there who is going to be like, "Wow, this person is totally right for this part, in every way shape or form, but it's a third out of their range" — they'll change the keys. And that's the way it should be. You're looking for incredible human beings to embody your roles.



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