BWW Interview: Ryan Raftery Talks Launching IVANKA 2020 at Joe's Pub
Chris Struck caught up with Ryan Raftery, writer and star, of the one-man musical comedy IVANKA 2020, coming to Joe's Pub later this February for eight shows starting on February 23rd and running until March 13th. Full information and tickets can be found on the Joe's Pub website here. Photo Credit: Brendan Burke
Ryan, you have roasted a few celebrities through musical comedy now. With another musical coming, IVANKA 2020, (at Joe's Pub on February 23rd) what inspired you to tell these stories in this way?
I like to focus on New Yorkers. You know, I'm a New Yorker. I've always been fascinated by the people who live here who shape the rest of the world. I focused in the past on Anna Wintour, Andy Cohen, Martha Stewart, and Calvin Klein.
So how did you come to Ivanka?
I like to stagger the genders of my subjects. As a writer, I find it fascinating to write from a female and a male perspective. So after Calvin Klein, my first choice was Megan Markle, but after I started researching, I realized that with today's political climate, it was not the best idea.
I started to think, it's such a shame because I had a great idea of what I wanted to do. But, because of what's going on in the White House, times have changed and the way we look at things...Everyone is just a little more sensitive. Then I started thinking about the White House, and it didn't take long before I said to a friend of mine, "If I'm going to do anybody in that White House, I'm going to do Ivanka!" And I was off and running right from there.
Maybe give us a teaser of some of the things that we can expect?
I'm a comedian first and foremost, and I would never call myself a political comedian. But, there's a comedic element to my shows. I knew that the Ivanka show had to have a comedic element, right? So, I thought of the movie, US, that Jordan Peele did. Lupita Nyong'o plays two halves of the same person, so I saw that and got the idea, "what if Ivanka had Multiple Personality Disorder?" And then, I brought in this idea of the movie, The Manchurian Candidate. That's what this show is: Jordan Peele's Us meets The Manchurian Candidate meets Disney's Anastasia.
In the cartoon, Rasputin bewitches a necklace to bring about the demise of the Romanovs, and now 100 years later, Russian officials have found this necklace and given it to Ivanka. So Ivanka's been unwittingly a sleeper agent, until the start of my show when "Bad Ivanka" reveals herself for the first time.
Intriguing, so what has inspired the music of the show?
I love Broadway. There are a lot of songs in my show from Broadway. There always are. It's always a mixture of pop and musical theater. This show is no different than that. We're very excited.
I write parody lyrics, for instance, for Part of Your World. Essentially "Good Ivanka" is a Disney Princess whereas "Bad Ivanka" is a Disney Villain. Disney is a huge inspiration for me for this show.
What are some of the challenges of performing a one-man musical that make it exciting?
That's why I wanted Ivanka to have two personalities. There's "Good Ivanka" and then "Bad Ivanka" who is a Russian Spy and speaks in a Russian accent, back in Moscow, controlling her through this whistle on her necklace. Then, Ivanka also wears an earpiece, and Tiffany Trump is in the sound booth feeding her information at certain points throughout the show. Although it's just one person that you're seeing, you're getting the illusion of other characters.
I do feel like the monotony of having one voice for an entire show, can sometimes get, for lack of a better word, boring, so I wanted to make sure I could change it up with different characters. So, these are two distinct characters with different voices and who carry themselves in different ways.
That's an interesting tidbit. Did you hire a vocal coach to help with the accent?
I trained with a good friend of mine (on the Russian accent). As soon as I started working on the show, I said to her, I'm using you as the inspiration for this character. There are some times in the show when I actually speak Russian, so she would record it on my phone; I would go home and listen to it over and over again, and hopefully, I do a serviceable job.
That's dedication. Have you ever thought of expanding some of your work and writing for a different stage?
Yeah, a friend of mine who unfortunately passed away, Damon Intrabartolo, he wrote a musical called Bare (2000). He and I wrote a musical based on this 80s movie called Reform School Girls. I wrote the book of that musical, and he wrote the music and lyrics. Unfortunately, he passed away before we could finish it.
The goal, whenever I started doing these shows, was to take it to the next level. You know, I would love to...The reason I keep going back to Joe's Pub is not only because they're my theatrical family now, having worked there for five years, but you get everything under one roof. I've explored the option of taking one of my shows to a larger theater, but you know, you have to raise a huge amount of money. It just seemed like not the right time.
I love Joe's Pub. When I'm writing now, I can see the room. It's kind of great when you're writing something that you can actually see the room where you're performing in. Though the show's also going on tour. I think in May, we start traveling with this show, and we've been doing that with all the shows. It's been a really fun experience.
So going back to Ivanka 2020 and the other shows that you've done, do you think that you're always finding new inspirations, or do you think there is an underlying motivation that's driven you throughout your journey?
I think that what drives me is the fact that I just love being on stage more than anything else. I went to Los Angeles for a few years and did a little bit of TV and a little bit of commercials, but it was always my goal to come back to New York and work on Broadway. Then, I came back to New York, and I auditioned for things, and for whatever reason, it just wasn't happening for me.
I never knew that I was a writer until I was forced to write something for myself. I started doing straight-up cabaret about six years ago, and I found that I didn't want to just sit on a stool and sing. I didn't think that was enough for me. I knew that I was a comedian. I knew that I wanted to be funny, but then when I had a day job working at a fashion company and I had just finished my last cabaret, a friend of mine came by my desk, and said, "What are you going to do next? Write what you know. You work in fashion."
Then, when I did the show about Anna Wintour, all these celebrities started coming. I got all this press. So, I thought maybe this is it. Maybe this is my niche, and I'm lucky enough to find it. Now, I'm fortunate that I've been able to build up this audience that comes to see me, and I'll go places and people will know who I am.
It's kind of crazy to me because all I wanted to do was get on stage. And now, I've committed to doing one of these shows every year. It takes me about nine months to research and write everything, and now we have two more weeks of rehearsal.
Having been living in Trump world for so long, the only thing I want to do with this show is to make people laugh.
In the past, with some of your musicals, you've really gotten to break the fourth wall so to speak and interact with some of the people you're profiling. Would you want Ivanka to sit in on this show?
(laughs) I don't think that there's any chance of that happening. This show is not an epic takedown of Ivanka Trump. I want to focus on what's positive and possible. It's not interesting to me to stand on stage for 75 minutes and totally bash one person. That was the idea of having a "Good Ivanka" and a "Bad Ivanka." Regardless of what you think about her, one of the characters on stage is going to have your point of view at one point or another.
When you're doing a show, do you have some audience interaction? In other words, when you're doing these musicals, do you get the audience involved a little bit?
That comes back to writing for Joe's Pub. A great thing about the space is that people are very close to the stage. The front row presses against the stage, so they are less than three feet away from me. With every show that I do, I know that I'm going to have some sort of audience interaction, so for instance, the scene in my show where Ivanka does her speech at the Republican National Convention is set to a dance version of Don't Cry for me Argentina and that is set entirely in the house. Of course, it's not Ivanka at that moment, it's "Bad Ivanka" who takes over, realizing how important of a moment this is for getting her father elected.
You've had some pretty exciting things that have happened to you while performing your work. What's one story that you like to share that's either happened while you're performing or because of performing?
The show that is closest to my heart so far is the Martha Stewart show because I researched her so much. I guess I would have called myself an admirer of hers before, but knowing what I do now, I would call myself an ardent fan. I just have so much respect for her. And, she was very aware of the show, she sent her entire company to come see it. The CEO came twice. Her assistants came. Her gardener came. They all wanted to come back-stage.
They told me that Martha wanted to come, but then she couldn't at the last minute. But then, we actually met in person at an event. Her assistant saw me first and literally gasped. (gasps) like that. She brought me over and introduced me to Martha, and then after getting a photo together, I said, "Do you realize I played you?" Then I scroll through my phone and show her a picture of me in drag, and she just said, "Not bad."
Not bad indeed. Thanks for taking the time to speak with me.
Photo Credit: Brendan Burke