by Lorie Lewis Ham
Recently we had the chance to chat with longtime local actor and singer Amelia Ryan. Amelia has also voiced some Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast episodes for us and will be voicing another one in October.
KRL: Are from the Valley? If not, where are you from and how did you end up here?
AMELIA: I’m from the East Coast, and I lived in Germany for 11 years, where I married and had two kids. My husband and I decided to move to the States, and then he got a job in Fresno, so we came here over 25 years ago!
KRL: Current day job? And some of the other jobs you have had through the years?
AMELIA: I’ve had a lot of jobs: actor, singer, bartender, typesetter. Now I’m a retired English teacher, although lately, I’ve been teaching English on a volunteer basis to recent arrivals from Ukraine. I’m also interested in building a business as an accent and dialect coach, both for actors and for those interested in modifying their accents.
KRL: That sounds like a very interesting idea! Schools attended?
AMELIA: I was a drama major at Boston Conservatory briefly, and an opera major at the Hartt School for longer, but once we moved to Fresno, I attended FCC and graduated from Fresno State. I’ve just finished a series of pretty intense online speech and accent workshops with Knight-Thompson Speechwork.
KRL: When did you first get involved in acting and singing and why?
AMELIA: My mother was a wonderful singer and music was always in the house. I always sang. I became interested in acting as soon as I realized that it could be an actual job. I also had an aunt who acted in community theater, and I knew that my paternal grandfather had been an actor in Russia.
KRL: What was your first part?
AMELIA: In third grade, the teacher put on a play called Alice in Wonderland and the Six Simple Machines, and I was Alice. I remember that I used the pulley to get out of the rabbit hole. I also remember how it felt to perform for the school—pretty addictive. My first play in high school was The Crucible; I played Betty Parris. I was already singing and dancing, and at 16 I got my first chorus gig in a summer stock theater in North Carolina. We put on six musicals in eight weeks!
KRL: What are some of the shows you have been in, what parts have you played, and with what companies?
AMELIA: In my youth, I played Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, but I didn’t get to perform another Shakespearean role until I came to Fresno. A favorite operatic role of my youth was Olympia in The Tales of Hoffmann, and a favorite musical role was Lili in Carnival. One of my favorite theater experiences was being part of the company of New Playwright’s Theatre in Washington, DC, performing in the premieres of two musicals by Tim Grundman. That was pretty magical. I was also in the second-ever production of Ashman and Menken’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater at Arena Stage, which is a show I still love. I performed in a number of theater companies in the DC area, and then I was a member of the opera company in Kiel, Germany, for half a season; I quit to get married.Later I was in the chamber opera of Constance, Germany for two summers. Here in Fresno, my favorite role was Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza at Stageworks Fresno, directed by Joel Abels. I performed twice in Woodward Shakespeare Festival productions and in several readings, and I’ve been in nine productions at Second Space, I think, not counting understudy assignments. My most recent shows with GCP were This Random World, directed by Dan Pessano, and Enchanted April, directed by Denise Graziano. Other favorites were The Glass Menagerie, directed by J. Daniel Herring, and “The Heiress,” directed by Karan Johnson and Elizabeth Fiester. Before the shutdown, I also got to play Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret in Selma, directed by Michael C. Flores, which was a great experience.
AMELIA: I loved doing my shows for the Rogue Festival. The first was a one-woman play that I wrote: State Your Name for the Record, which went from comedy to something quite serious. The others were of me singing songs I like and telling stories, with an autobiographical format. I loved doing those. I also had great accompanists in Terry Lewis and Tim Fletcher, and I enjoyed singing traditional Irish songs in a separate program with Kathryn Johnsen on harp. There was something very freeing about performing essentially as myself, and just dipping into character for different songs. As for traditional theater, when I was younger, I was ambitious about doing plays where my character was central to the plot, but as I get older, I appreciate a juicy character role that isn’t on stage so much. It’s less tiring and requires less memorization, to be honest.
KRL: Do you have a favorite type of show to perform in?
KRL: What do you like best about acting/singing?
AMELIA: I love good writing, and I’m pretty picky about doing roles that I think are well written. I love finding the person and interacting with good actors. It’s like the make-believe games I played as a child only better. In a small house like Second Space, you can feel the audience taking a journey with you, and it’s especially rewarding when you can sense them making a realization about the character or about something you’ve said.
AMELIA: Singing is much harder than it used to be. I used to love everything about it, but it’s more work now. If I’m going to be singing, I have to start warming up weeks in advance because I’m not singing every day the way I used to. Memorization is not as easy as it was either—lines or lyrics; I find that it just takes more time and effort. I think I could still learn another role with a monster line load if I had to, but do I want to? Also, I’ve discovered that playing a character who’s in a lot of emotional pain is exhausting. I’m not sure I would want to go there again.
KRL: What is the hardest?
KRL: Future goals and dreams?
AMELIA: Right now, I’m very wrapped up in being a grandma, so one big goal is to move to the East Coast to be nearer to our daughter and her family. As for performing, I’m sure I won’t be able to resist going out for a role I think I’m right for and that I think would be fun. (My idea of fun isn’t everyone’s.) I’m more interested in coaching actors than in directing a full production, but I’m also enjoying retirement and having time for my many hobbies.
AMELIA: That changes all the time. I have not been a very courageous woman in my own life, and I admire courageous women. There are actors, singers, and writers I admire a great deal, too many to mention.
AMELIA: I’ve been married for almost 35 years and have two grown kids, both with partners, and a ridiculously adorable granddaughter.
AMELIA: I took some wonderful acting workshops in my youth with members of the Arena Stage Company, and I’ve had some great singing teachers. I believe that basically we all teach ourselves, though, and I think what has helped me most is to observe and listen in a receptive and analytical way. What did that person do that I liked so much? What did I like about it? How did they do it? I also read a lot of books by and for actors.
KRL: What do you feel has helped you the most in growing as an actor and singer?
KRL: What advice would you have for someone wanting to get into acting?
AMELIA: Read a lot of plays and see a lot of theater. If you’re in high school or college, take the theater classes that are offered if you are a theater major, and seek out classes if you’re not. See plays and movies and good television, read the reviews and think about what you agree or disagree with. Try writing your own reviews to clarify your thinking. Go to auditions. Do it.
AMELIA: I’d love to play Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest before I’m too old (I’m getting there!) and Madame Armfeldt in A Little Night Music. And I haven’t given up the idea of playing Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir.
KRL: What is your dream role?
KRL: Was your first Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast the first time you ever did any voice acting?
AMELIA: No, although it was my first time recording a short story. When I lived in Germany, I was an American Female Voice for listening comprehension tapes that went with English-learning textbooks. I also did the voiceover narration for a documentary (the English translation) and I’ve done a few commercials.
KRL: Why did you want to audition for the podcast?
AMELIA: I thought it would be fun and interesting. And it was!
KRL: How has voice acting been different from acting on stage?
AMELIA: It’s interesting to focus just on the words and not to worry about the visual, except for the world that you see in your mind’s eye. I used to read aloud to my children a lot, and it’s more like that. A big part of acting on stage is listening to the other actors and responding to them, and that’s taken away. It’s just you and the words.
KRL: What have you liked best about it, and what has been the hardest?
AMELIA: Reading fresh material has been the best part. The hardest has just been the technical challenges of recording remotely since I don’t have a home studio, borrowing a good microphone and finding the best room in my house for recording.
AMELIA: So many! Reading and writing, learning languages, playing music. Last summer I spent a month in the west of Ireland, attending a language school and traveling around. I love to travel and hear live music. I started playing the anglo-concertina during the shutdown, and in Ireland I got to play in a session with my online concertina teacher, so that was pretty great.
KRL: Anything else you would like to add?
AMELIA: Live theater is back! Go to see shows at 2nd Space and Roger Rocka’s and at other venues in the area. There’s a lot of talent in the Central Valley. And, of course, listen to the Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast.