BWW Interview: Ryan Stana on Creating Entertainment Firm RWS & Associates, Advice for Young Performers and More!
Now celebrating its 10th Anniversary, RWS & Associates is the largest full-service entertainment firm of its kind. Started in 2003 by then 23 year-old Ryan Stana, RWS is a worldwide Production Company that provides the very best in custom-designed, as well as pre-packaged events and live shows for corporations, theme parks, cruise ships, resorts, shopping centers and the fashion industry. Additionally, RWS is North America's largest provider of branded stage shows and experiences.
Founder and CEO Stana recently chatted with BroadwayWorld about the company's humble beginnings and the many opportunities it provides for up and coming performers across the country.
So how did all of this come to be? You got your start as a performer, correct?
I grew up in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. I was an only child whose parents were both entrepreneurs and I really benefitted from that extra attention. From an early age I was always interested in two things: performing and teaching. What I imagined when I was younger my family always made complete reality for me. Like I wanted to have a schoolhouse and my family built that for me- complete with letterhead lesson plans and an annual holiday musical- the whole thing. They taught me that anything I dreamed could be a reality.
So along with my pretend teaching career, I was heavily involved in performing as a child performer. I earned my Equity card working for places like Pittsburgh CLO and Pittsburgh Musical Theatre. By my senior year of high school I started blending my teaching and performing together by working behind the scenes producing corporate entertainment for a company in Pittsburgh that hired me to write and choreograph shows for them. During high school I was the kid that was scheduling auditions and recording studio appointments for corporate events in between classes.
So you had a knack for juggling it all early...
Yeah, I had a knack for doing this and after high school I went on to study musical theatre at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and Point Park University- just wanting to be the next big Broadway star, but I still enjoyed the behind the scenes stuff a lot- especially the whole commercial theatre market. Like cruise ship entertainment, theme park entertainment- that whole genre I really loved. And I always thought that area of the business was always neglected and were run by companies that were lost in the 1980's.
So after college I moved to New York City and decided that I wanted to focus on production work in the corporate entertainment world. So I began working at a company as an associate producer and while I had great respect for their creativity, they didn't know how to run a business. And I became frustrated with it and one day on my way into work I called my parents and they said, "Well why don't you start your own business?" I took their advice and walked in and quit that day, and I went home to my apartment in Astoria and took a gypsy cab to a Staples down the street and bought office supplies and set up a desk in the corner of my apartment. And that's how I started RWS and Associates in 2003!
Wow, so where did you go from there?
In 2003 luckily I garnered clients such as Six Flags and Clear Channel Worldwide but at that point I was just focused on "Oh my god, Ryan. Are you going to be able to make the rent?" Then in 2004 I brought on clients like the International Children's Games, Kohl's Corporation, CoverGirl and Coppertone... they all became clients and that gave me the capital to be able to move into my office in Times Square, and... get an employee! We are now a full service entertainment firm and we offer pre-packaged and custom entertainment events all around the world. And now since starting in 2003, I own a multi-million dollar company with over 300 employees!
It's so random and I'm so proud of it, but I couldn't be where I am without my family and without my awesome employees. They are what make the company.
What were the biggest challenges of those first years?
Having someone trust a 23 year-old when they said they could do a million dollar project for them and do it better than anyone else that had years and years of experience. That was definitely the biggest struggle.