What's Up For Today?

New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy

New York City - Theatre

Much Ado About Sweet Love Adieu
Frank J. Avella Talk to Ryan J-W Smith Talk About His (Smith's) New Work

(Opposite photo of Ryan J-W Smith - Photo Credit Aaron Kneile)

Ryan J-W Smith
Photo Credit John Clark

Born in Kent, England, Ryan J-W Smith is quite the Renaissance man. He’s a playwright, director, producer and accomplished singer. And that’s just on his day off! Ryan has completed three full-length plays (that were very well received in Britain) - all written in Elizabethan verse.

Sweet Love Adieu opens this month at the Lion Theatre and runs through April 1, 2007. I recently had an opportunity to have a cyber chat with Ryan and he proved to be quite eloquent, funny and downright nice!

Frank J. Avella: I read you wrote Sweet Love Adieu, in part, to counter “dumbing down” theatre. We certainly have our share of that here in the states. Tell us about Sweet Love Adieu and how it differs.

Ryan J-W Smith: Sweet Love Adieu is very different from most modern theatre as it is written entirely in rhyming iambic Elizabethan-style verse. Rather than patronizing my audiences I prefer to elevate them and assume a certain level of intelligence, but, I'm trying to do more than just use clever language or revitalize old traditions. Rather, I'm attempting to take the best of the past and fuse it with the best of the present to create something new. Sweet Love Adieu is essentially just a fun romantic comedy that anyone can enjoy, but, by using verse it becomes something very different from the norm. It's also just a lot of fun!

Frank J. Avella: Sweet Love Adieu begins previews at the Lion Theatre on March 15, 2007, how involved are you in the rehearsal process? (Did you approve the director? the actors?...)

Ryan J-W Smith: Well, it's not my production, so I've just tried to offer my help without getting in the way. I met the Director Don Harvey very early in the production process and we got on very well. I think he's going to do an excellent job. I was also invited to sit in on the auditions and contribute my ideas for casting, which I did. Since then I've tried to be on-hand for the director to help him with some of the deeper poetry and more archaic language, along with throwing out some ideas for classic visual comedy and set-piece gags that I've seen work a hundred times with this show. I hoping to be more involved as the rehearsal process nears its end.

Frank J. Avella: How has your work been received in Britain?

Ryan J-W Smith: I'm very humbled to say that my work has been very well received in Britain. Right from the world premiere I've been fortunate to have received glowing five-star reviews with delicious headlines. The last production my theatre company, the Rogue Shakespeare Company, produced was the world premiere of my third verse play Love Labours Won. We premiered it at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe last summer and amongst a plethora of great reviews we received three five-star reviews, four four-star reviews and were awarded 'Pick of the Fringe 2006'. I'm delighted to say that we've been invited back to the same massive 350-seater theatre that we performed in last year, for this summer's festival, where hopefully we'll get a similar, if not even greater, response.

Frank J. Avella: Okay, Mr. Renaissance Man! I see you were a professional tennis player, you write, direct, act, sing (new CD out!) and take photos professionally. Is there anything I missed?

Ryan J-W Smith: Only a couple... ; ) I'm also artistic director and producer for the Rogue Shakespeare Company. I also give Shakespeare master classes, audition workshops and career guidance to actors. Musically I'm also a producer, composer, engineer and rapper (trip hop).

Frank J. Avella: Which of the above do you consider ‘your calling’? Which do you enjoy most?

Ryan J-W Smith: They're completely different, but I enjoy making music and making theatre the most. If I had to choose one thing, however, it would definitely be playwrighting. I love making music, and I think I'm making some really good music now, but I think the music I write is nowhere near as unique as the plays I write. I can't ignore the fact that being able to write how I do is a very special gift - one that I should be very grateful for and should cherish. I feel the mark of any work is in its longevity. Shakespeare's plays have lasted more than 400 years and will, I'm sure, last even longer. I have similar ambitions and that gives me the enthusiasm and drive to work as hard as I can, to write the best plays I can, and to make them as popular as possible.

Frank J. Avella: Elaborate on your previous work for the stage and your background.

Ryan J-W Smith: At a very early age I trained as an actor, turning professional at nineteen. As my acting career progressed I moved into directing, writing and producing. The reason for this was that it became very clear to me early on that if you want to have any kind of success in the entertainment industry, you have to create a vehicle for yourself - and that vehicle had better be pretty unique or it won't have any lasting appeal. As an actor I always had a natural affinity with Elizabethan, Jacobean and Restoration plays. I found the language easy and was often cast in leading roles. As I started writing short plays I had the idea of writing in the Elizabethan style that I loved. People laughed at me and thought I was arrogant to even think it, but, from my point of view Shakespeare was just a man, as were Marlowe, Moliere et al. So, why shouldn't I, a fellow man, be able to write a play just as good, if not better than any of them - or at least have the courage to try? So I did.

Frank J. Avella: Do you currently live in NYC? Is this where you want to remain permanently? Why?

Ryan J-W Smith: I have literally just been granted a three year artist visa by the US Embassy and moved to New York. Living in New York has been a dream of mine since I was a kid, so obviously I'm very happy to be realizing that dream now. Add to that my first play being produced here - and produced on 42nd Street no less - almost as a celebration of my arrival, and you can begin to see how much I'm loving my life right now. I'm certainly going to stay here for the duration of my visa. I'm hoping my successes during that period will determine for me what happens next. I really love New York and I find America in general a very open-minded place when it comes to creativity, promotion and success - and that's something very appealing to someone like me.

Frank J. Avella: Peter O’Toole or Anthony Hopkins?

Ryan J-W Smith: Anthony Hopkins.

Frank J. Avella: How was the Edinburgh experience?

Ryan J-W Smith: I touched upon it earlier - Edinburgh was amazing. It really is the Mecca of theatre. If you want to make a name for yourself in theatre then Edinburgh should be a crucial part of your plan. It's also great training for learning how to be successful as a theatre producer. If you can have critical and commercial success in Edinburgh, then I believe you can be successful anywhere - something I intend to prove to the good people of New York over the next three years.

Frank J. Avella: Sweet Love Adieu, The Power Play and Love Labours Won (your latest work) are all verse plays. Will we see any work from you in contemporary vernacular?

Ryan J-W Smith: As it happens, I've had some interest from the BBC in me writing something for them, but not in verse. So, I guess, yes - you may well see some Smith prose in the near future.

Frank J. Avella: Any dreams of writing for the big screen?

Ryan J-W Smith: I'm planning on adapting my full-length plays, such as Sweet Love Adieu and The Power Play, for the big screen - so yes. But I'm also open to offers and feel I could do wonders for a new classic-style film. Imagine a film like Lord of the Rings or Master and Commander when it's been written in subtle archaic-style blank verse. Gorgeous!

Frank J. Avella: If you were an Academy member, which would you vote for as the Best Picture of 2006: Babel; The Departed; Letters from Iwo Jima; Little Miss Sunshine or The Queen?

Ryan J-W Smith: Well, I only saw The Departed and Little Miss Sunshine out of that list, and it's a tough call out of those two as they are both fantastic. Hmmm... Little Miss Sunshine.

Frank J. Avella: What are you working on now?

Ryan J-W Smith: Right now I'm in pre-production for taking Love Labours Won back to the Edinburgh Fringe. That involves me flying back to the UK to cast the show and putting all my publicity and marketing in place very early on. My theatre company is also helping to market the forthcoming production of Sweet Love Adieu by Oberon Theatre Ensemble this March - so expect to see my name on Rogue flyers and posters around Manhattan very soon.

Frank J. Avella: Dame Helen Mirren or Dame Judi Dench?

Ryan J-W Smith: Judi Dench (I went to drama school with her daughter, Finty Williams, so I kind of have to go that way).

Frank J. Avella: I think I can guess the answer to this one, but...what playwright most inspires your work?

Ryan J-W Smith: Yes, that's a bit of a no-brainer, but, alongside Shakespeare, I also love Moliere and, as much as I love all the 'like-Shakespeare' press I get, I actually think my plays are more like Moliere's plays than Shakespeare's plays. I also love Chekhov, Wilde, Ibsen and Shaw.

Frank J. Avella: Where is the one place in New York City that puts a smile on your face?

Ryan J-W Smith: There are so many places in New York City that I love, but perhaps the Brooklyn Diner on 57th and Broadway really is somewhere that succeeds in putting a smile on my face every time I go there - no matter what mood I'm in when I walk in. I LOVE food and that place does some amazing dishes. I recommend the Cuban skirt steak, the chicken parmigiana and Hungarian beef goulash - but perhaps not all at the same time. It's not just the food, though, it's the atmosphere, the energy and the service - all of which are excellent.

Frank J. Avella: What do you like most about NYC? How does it differ from London?

Ryan J-W Smith: There are so many things I love about NYC and so many ways that it differs positively from London that it's hard to pick one thing. I guess if I have to pick one thing, though, I'd say it's the kindness, open-mindedness and positivity of most people here. It's that, above all else, that's brought me here.

Frank J. Avella: What is your opinion on NYC theatre, Broadway and otherwise?

Ryan J-W Smith: Well, so far I've only seen a handful of shows, so I can't pretend to have a vast understanding of New York Theatre, but Broadway seems fairly similar to London - which is a shame because I feel in London there are far too many musicals and very few boundary-breaking plays being produced in the big theatres. Off-Broadway, however, is another story. There seems to be a wealth of opportunity here in New York that there really isn't in London. London is a very hard city to produce in, and I'm sure New York is no piece of cake, but just the way the city is designed, where the theatre district is, and people's lifestyles here indicate to me that if you have a great show, determination and great marketing then you really can make a serious impact here in New York long before your funds would run dry in London. Why do you think I'm here?! ; )

Frank J. Avella: Person you'd most want to be stranded on Ellis Island with and why...

Ryan J-W Smith: Scarlet Johansson...and I don't mean that in the way you think...well...maybe I do a little...but seriously that girl is an amazing actress. I'd love to write something as a stage vehicle for her - and in fact there's an idea I had a while back that I think she would be perfect for. So, her or Tony Blair - me and him need to have a little chat about certain things...


© New York Cool 2004-2014