BWW Interview: Ryan Maschke talks Brown Cow Collective and SWEET CHARITY
In anticipation of opening night of Sweet Charity, I sat down with Choreographer Ryan Maschke to discuss Sweet Charity, his career as a creator, and his love of all things Bob Fosse.
Ryan Maschke leapt onto the Calgary scene in 2016 when he played Danny in Grease in Storybook Theatre's Student Summer Intensive Program (SSIP). Since then, he has appeared in various roles on the professional and semi-professional stage including Older Billy in Billy Elliot, Tin Man in Wizard of Oz, and Jason in Bare: A Pop Opera. In addition to choreographing this musical staple, his company, Brown Cow Collectives, is putting Sweet Charity where it belongs: in an intimate club. An audience of 40 will be invited to every performance to sit in the Habitat Living Sound club to experience the show up close.
"I always notice that people that aren't typically theatre goers, usually detach from theatre because it's this big, huge spectacle that you just see on stage. So putting it in a smaller space with a smaller cast and forcing them to be in it with them, makes you think about the story more." What is typically a larger cast has been reduced to just 11. Well known numbers such as 'Big Spender' and 'Rich Man's Frug' are still going to be featured but in a much more intimate setting.
For Maschke, any spacial limitations are worth it to see Sweet Charity on the Calgary stage.
This 1966 musical tells the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a taxi dancer at the Fangdango Ballroom, always looking for love and always a little too naïve for her own good. Through a string of lovers - and iconic choreography by the legendary Bob Fosse - the audience is treated to a heart-warming story about a girl who just wants to find the one.
"I remember seeing the movie [with Shirley MacLaine as Charity] ... I just stumbled across 'Big Spender' one day on one of my YouTube searches and [it] hooked me because I love Chita Rivera so much. It was an entire show about a woman technically talking about her sex life which was so taboo in the 60s. I love it because she never changes for a man. She knows who she is, she's just a little blurred in the beginning. But she gets there."
Ryan Maschke didn't always want to be a dancer, he confessed. He was going to be an opera singer. "I started singing when I was 11. My mom tricked me into my first singing lesson. She told me we were going for ice cream." But after that, he was hooked and ready to take on the opera world. Then he started dancing and found a new love. "Surprisingly, I started dancing for a girl... I realized that I wasn't really in love with the girl, I was in love with what she did. So I started dancing." He was 16 at the time, and has now dancing for a about 4 years. "In my grade 12 year we did ['Bye, Bye Blackbird' from Fosse], and I fell in love with Fosse-style then."
With Sweet Charity, he's able to really show off his favourite styles and dig into Fosse's movement. "Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins are my inspirations. It's super energetic. The dance that I've always done is the jumps and the leaps as a male dancer so there's a lot of influence in that, too. My ladies have been having some fun with that."
Though Maschke has experience in dance and choreography, this is his first time taking on all aspects of putting on a production. "I've never had to get rights before, I've never had to find a venue. It's a huge learning curve that I am loving" He told me. "It's wild because we're kind of fringe-styling it. We have to set up in half an hour and then strike in half an hour because we're in there before the club even opens. For half an hour you can get your drinks and get to know the space and fall in love with the space like we have. That'll be when the ladies come out and talk to people about consent because you are right in their face (especially for 'Big Spender')."
The big draw of Sweet Charity in the Habitat Living Sound is the intimate setting. "It's really site-specific so there's some fun levels that we play with. And I love doing that. Especially because the dancing is not toned down at all for that little space. We still have a full five-minute 'Something Better Than This' and they're working their butts off. 'Brass Band' is still an Olympic sport. [Rich Man's] Frug is still Fosse."
Directing this show is choreographer and director Amber Bissonnette. Maschke talked about Bissonnette constantly reminding him to question his choices as a choreographer. Above all else: the story comes first.
He also expressed a desire to tell stories in Calgary that happen to involve big dance numbers and include everyone's strengths. He told me that he wanted to see more opportunities for adults to dance. "I like working with the dancers. [Throughout rehearsals] I got to know how their bodies work and how they move, then I could start to make things work for them. Like [one performer] is all legs and flexibility so she does a leg thing but [other performers] are just like, 'no chance, that's not happening' and that's okay, I've got other things to feature you in. As long as you are giving me precision and energy, I'm happy, I can work with you."
A testament to Maschke's mantra that as long as you're giving your all and you have that precision, you can do Fosse, local hip hop dancer Hunter Jackson is among the cast, offering a mix of strong attitude and unique talent.
As for what's next for Ryan Maschke, he'll likely be seen on the Canadian stage very soon, but until then: he's currently auditioning for post-secondary schools all over the world. "I prefer a theatre program that immerses you into a company...I want to go to school because it's nice not to have to kick my face for people to want to see me. I like to sing. I really do. It's the first thing that I ever did. I like dancing but my body's starting to hurt and it's just going to keep hurting. I want to take that next step so that when my body does get too old to dance all the time, I will have that ability."
Brown Cow Collective' presentation of Sweet Charity, directed by Amber Bissonnette and choreographed by Ryan Maschke, will run from November 1-9 2019 at Habitat Living Sound. Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/sweet-charity-tickets-73996901725.