On Tuesday, May 16, Bellarmine alumni Ryan Vasquez ’10 returned to Bellarmine and described his occupation as an actor in Broadway productions such as Wicked, Waitress, and now Hamilton. Vasquez spoke at length about his experiences in the industry, and how Bellarmine affected him.
“I was very busy here. You don’t realize how not busy you will be when you leave. That is something that was a huge shift for me because you will have to fill your days with things that are not school. In college you have class in the morning and class in the evening, and it sounds amazing, but what do you do in between? I just feel like the work ethic that was instilled by this place, of micromanaging your schedule to the minute every single day, is something that I’m really proud of it, this academic approach to everything,” said Ryan Vasquez ’10. “You just won’t see it elsewhere, even at a liberal arts college you won’t see it.” For Vasquez, Bellarmine’s work ethic helped him a lot while memorizing lines with little notice or doing elaborate acts. After getting the role for Hamilton, for example, Vasquez, who at the time had never seen the play, studied non-stop and covered 75 pages of material in time for his audition.
“I get a voicemail from my agent and he says ‘They want you to cover Hamilton! They want you to cover Alexander Hamilton and George Washington!’ I’ve never heard the music before that, and it’s 75 pages of material. He asks ‘Can you come in tomorrow?’ and I said ‘No.’ Then he asked if I can come in on Monday, and I said ‘OK.’ I was just pouring into the material,” says Vasquez, when describing his experience with his first audition for Hamilton. In fact, having his role expanded after the audition to also understudy Aaron Burr’s material, Vasquez studied an additional 75 pages. In addition to drawing upon the academic rigor of Bellarmine, Vasquez also drew on his experiences in Bellarmine extracurriculars. As the runner-up for the national championship of speech and debate, Vasquez balanced both speech and debate and theatre, incorporating lessons from both into the other.
“It [Speech and debate] is such a good supplement to an acting education. You’re fleshing out characters and creating an arc of something that’s bigger than what you’ll perform eventually,” said Vasquez, “A 10-minute piece out of a 2 hour show takes an understanding of the whole show and an understanding of the audience and the journey that they’re going on. Your understanding of the whole piece and where you fit into that piece is something that speech taught to me.” For Vasquez, just as needing to understand the whole argument is pivotal in presenting part of it in Speech and Debate, understanding the whole play and how previous parts have affected the audience is pivotal in performing an act. To this endeavor, Vasquez applied his experiences in Speech and Debate to acting. In addition to speech and debate experience, Vasquez also took part in the Sanguine Humors improvisational group. Improv, for Vasquez, became an important part of auditions or handling “loose” interpretations of the script, where the actors add in a few words or expressions to the act.
“Especially the improv,” said Vasquez, when describing experiences that continue to factor into his career, “of course an audition is one big improv scene where you walk in and talk to somebody you don’t know in a weird context, so I apply improv to that.” Despite drawing on his Bellarmine experience, Vasquez actually had never seen Hamilton until he got the part. Playing James Reynolds and understudying Hamilton, Burr, and Washington, Vasquez received tickets to the show and was amazed.
“So, I went and I saw it for the first time, and I only knew my audition songs, and my mind exploded. There is not a single wrong move in the whole play. When you go see it, people are exhausted after seeing it because the shift of focus is so direct, you are made to what exactly what you are supposed to watch, at every second. Everything serves the story. There’s no scene where you check out and check your phone or have a drink. You just sit and you watch, and 90 minutes later there’s the intermission and you sit back down and watch again. There’s no false move in the entire play.”