T. Ryder Smith stars in PTC’s upcoming World Premiere Ass. He plays Jule Waterman, the ailing genius sculptor who has to come to terms with his dysfunctional relationship with his family and failing health.
Ryder is no stranger to PTC, he also appeared in the 2014 production of Much Ado About Nothing. We sat down with T. Ryder to ask him a few questions.
Do you relate to your character in Ass at all?
This question gets at the heart of the acting process in that’s it’s often more about trying to understand a character than it is of directly relating to them. And certainly, in this case since relating to someone as ruthlessly egocentric as Jule wouldn’t be much fun for anyone! But an actor can find various correlates for a personality like Jule’s in different aspects of their own life and in the world, and to extrapolate or intensify them into a semblance of his inner life and his outer actions. My own avenues into Jule are probably best kept to myself but I think the key, especially to playing extreme characters, is to discover the hurts and needs that underlie their behaviors. And also, to appreciate that Jule, for all his arrogance and selfishness, is driven by love and passion, however often those feelings get buried or deflected. It also helps to remember that Jule’s ultimate desire, despite the personal havoc, is to make good art.
Which in fact is one of the primary questions the play asks: is an artist answerable to their biography?
How important is it that all the original cast members returned?
It is wonderful that we did, and perhaps important in the sense that all of our work is now informed by how the pandemic has changed both us and the world. In March of 2020, when the production was cancelled 10 days into rehearsal, none of us had any idea what was to come. Or, incidentally, if the play would ever happen again. And so, to find ourselves back in the room, picking up where we left off after all that has gone on since–and the range of different experiences each of us has had–has been simultaneously inspiring and confounding. We have all asked, in our different ways, whether we can remember how to act anymore, and, in another sense, whether we “should” act in the same way as before. I don’t think anyone can predict the long-term changes this still-ongoing era is prompting in us and in the culture, but many in the acting community feel that theatre can be made in different ways going forward, and to different ends. I believe that crises can, despite the pains, point us to better futures.
What have you done to keep busy between March of 2020 and now?
I have been lucky enough to be able to spend time between my apartment in NYC and a family home in MA, where I took the opportunity to tackle some often-deferred major repair jobs on that very old house. So, I have spent much time during the pandemic applying my quite inexpert skills to shoring up ceilings and chimneys, clearing woods and marshes, and exploring the mysteries of repairing leaky roofs. As an actor, I have been lucky enough to narrate some audiobooks and to act in an occasional film or tv job. Mostly though I have been engaged in practicing other arts, and in trying to find ways to be useful politically. As I said above, I feel the pandemic, despite its miseries, has afforded us all a chance to explore a better future.
What do you enjoy about PTC and/or Salt Lake City?
I’m sure the folks who live here are used to hearing it, but this is a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world. The light is remarkable, and the mountains transform through every hour of the day, seeming closer or farther off, their colors changing, the peaks bare or patched with snow, hidden in mists or sharp against a clear sky. I also think you learn much about any place by walking and using public transport, and both of those methods yield daily wonders here. The exceptional views, of course, but also some really impressive architecture, and beautiful parks. Utah’s transport system is quite good, by the way. And while I am very much still exploring the city, I have to say I am delighted with the several used book shops (Ken Sander’s Rare Books should be declared a national treasure), that the Moshe Safdie-designed library is remarkable, and that to have a Sprouts, a Trader Joe’s and the wonderful Natural Market within two blocks of each other at the Trolley Square stop is an experience of humbling largesse. I also love the Museum of Natural History, and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts, and lastly have to praise whoever does the landscaping of the University: such an amazing profusion of native plants in every bed, surrounded by stones here, mulch there, sand another place: everywhere on the vast campus you discover another stunning flower or majestic tree. And with benches always nearby, to sit and take it all in! Superb work.
See T. Ryder in Ellen Simon’s witty and humorous drama Ass premiering October 22nd. Purchase tickets here: https://tickets.pioneertheatre.org/TheatreManager/1/login?event=221