Bryce Ryness has had quite an interesting path to the world he now inhabits.
Take his childhood for example. There were three things that Ryness was heavily involved in as a child. The first was baseball. And the second one was baseball. And finally, the third one was, well, you see where this is going.
Baseball was all-consuming for him. He would spend hours perfecting the game for most of his youth. His San Ramon Valley Little League team even lost in the western regionals to eventual Little League World Series champion Long Beach in the early 1990’s.
But as much as baseball had a hold on him growing up in Danville, Ryness had other passions, one that his family was happy to foster.
“One time in our living room, my sister and I reenacted the entire show of “Evita” for my parents from the original Broadway cast album,” said Ryness. “I’m very glad there is no video, that would be really embarrassing.”
The courage to perform the heck out of “Evita” at home has led to a solid career in musicals, from “Legally Blonde” on Broadway to national tours of “Rent” and “Hair.” His latest venture is bringing him full circle, back to the Bay Area as part of SHN’s touring production of “Matilda, the Musical.”
Based on the 1988 children’s novel by Roald Dahl, the musical follows the journey of smart-as-a-whip five-year-old Matilda, who runs into a host of problems with her horrible parents. She has even more issues with her school, but finds an ally in her caring teacher Miss Honey. She also finds a best friend in her love of books, which allows her to escape the difficult realities of her life.
Ryness plays the head mistress of Matilda’s school, Miss Agatha Trunchbull, or, “The Trunchbull.” The nicest thing that can be said about Miss Trunchbull may be that she is a ruthless dictator, a woman who hates children and denies ever having been a child herself. Ryness finds great fun in the humor of the role, and in real life, his existence is the antithesis of everything Trunchbull stands for.
When the 34-year-old Ryness took the show’s contract offer, there was one potential deal breaker. He stipulated that his family must be able to accompany him on the tour as much as possible, and the producers agreed. So Ryness and his wife Meredith have taken on the adventures of the road with their five-and-a-half and one year old daughters, and their four-year-old son. Having a full-blown family in tow is not common in the vagabond world of a performer in a Broadway national tour, yet Ryness and his wife wouldn’t have it any other way.
For Ryness, finding an extended family in their adopted city of New York has been a blessing. He equates his family’s core supporters to a tribe, a group of people in urban settings that support each other through the rigors of life. Going out on the road means to separate from this support, and finding a new structure that works for the entire family is critical.
“Establishing a structure and a schedule as we move into new cities is always challenging,” said Ryness. “What is going to be our structure and our schedule there? I don’t have the luxury of being a single person and sleep in until 10, 11, noon. I have to wake up at 8 am and join the parade that’s already going but still get the proper amount of rest to complete the job I’m contracted to do.”
This was something Ryness admits having to learn. As a young man in his late 20’s, Ryness worked extremely hard to forge a career on Broadway. But he also learned that a career cannot overtake a life.
“It’s unfortunate when chasing dreams doesn’t include staying connected to the community, something I learned the hard way in New York City when I was burning the candle on both ends establishing a career,” said Ryness. “I learned that I have to make sure I dream for the future, dream of a solid, healthy loving family. I had to prioritize that. If I am pursuing a career, those things are not going to just magically show up.”
To hear Ryness speak about family is to hear someone who has a firm grasp on the bigger picture. There is a clear acknowledgement that being on a Broadway tour is glamorous, one of the pinnacles for a professional theatre actor. But when those two-and-a-half hours are complete and the audience exits, what is next?
“It’s important to be there when my daughter loses a tooth or my wife has emotional needs, or even when I have emotional needs,” said Ryness. “There is a lot of stuff that happens off stage with my wife and kids, and I take that seriously. Presence is a huge part of my prioritization.”
The last few legs of the tour have been wonderful for extended family. He was able to spend lots of time with his siblings and their families in the tour’s previous city, Los Angeles, and is back in Danville with his parents for the San Francisco run.
Despite the constant, never-ending search for balance in the life of he and his family, he understands what a wonderful opportunity he has, performing a principal role in a show that won multiple Laurence Olivier and Tony Awards since its premiere in 2010.
“The way it was described to me is that the script is the foundation and skeleton of the house and actors are the interior decorators,” said Ryness. “The script and the lyrics to the songs are so sharp and intelligent. What’s been nice is to walk into this beautifully laid out house that is beautifully decorated.”
Ryness is still up on the happenings in major league baseball, but it obviously doesn’t consume him as it once did. Yet, when it comes to what does consume him, theatre and family, it’s safe to say that he has taken some hard fastballs down the middle of the plate and hit a few grand slams right out of the park.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Shorenstein Hayes Nederlander of San Francisco (SHNSF) presents “Matilda, the Musical.”
Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
Book by Dennis Kelly
Based on the book “Matilda” by Roald Dahl
July 15th – Aug. 15th
The Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market St., San Francisco, CA
Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Tickets range from $45 – $210
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com