Inspiring Artists Stories
Today we'd like to introduce you to Ryan Salazar
Current Location: Los Angeles, CA
Ryan, thank you for taking the time to share your story. Can you start by telling us a little about yourself?
Well, a wise woman once said, “start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.” Since Julie Andrews has yet to lead me astray in life, I’m going to continue to follow her advice. The first memory I have of performing – other than singing karaoke at family parties (a. Because I’m Filipino and b. I *used to* have a pretty impressive rendition of “My Heart Will Go On”) – was my first play when I was around six years old. This wasn’t anything professional, it was a week-long program offered through the city that culminated in a big performance for our friends and family of the work we had done in rehearsals that week.
The production was “Winnie the Pooh,” and I had my eyes set on role the of Tigger. Unfortunately, I was a quieter kid back then and I distinctly remember being asked to “Speak Up” during the audition. Needless to say, instead of being the rambunctious life of the party, Tigger, I got stuck with the Nervous Nelly, Rabbit. In hindsight it was perfect casting, but at the time, I was bummed. I buried my feelings in the work, learned my lines, and dedicated myself to the role.
Cut to the night of the big performance. A few hours before we were supposed to head over to the theater, the director called my mom to tell us that the kid who played Owl couldn’t make it to the theater that night and I had to step in. The only problem was, I hadn’t learned any of the Owl lines, nor did I have a home-made Owl costume. But my mom got crafty. She whipped together a makeshift owl costume and taped my lines to the rolling podium Owl stood at and sent me onstage.
I don’t remember much from that performance other than how fun it was to push the podium around the stage and how thrilling I felt being thrown into this new role last minute. I don’t remember worrying about how I, or the podium looked or if I knew my lines. All of my shyness and insecurity got swept away in the commotion of having to prepare last minute. Being on the stage ignited something in me that I hadn’t had in that audition room. Knowing myself, I thought I would have frozen, but I did exactly the opposite. I don’t remember what I said, nor how the audience reacted, I just remember how I felt.
Looking back, albeit on a micro scale, going through that program was my first taste of what it’s like to work as an actor. Though we’re many moons past that performance, the lessons learned from that weeklong program stay with me. Being present, staying authentic, and working to continuously learn and grow are still deeply rooted in my entire career as an actor. Most importantly, I don’t think I would have had the opportunities to share the stage/screen with incredible actors whose careers I admire if I didn’t remember to show up with that same sense of joy I felt while pushing around that podium.
Can you tell us about your work?
In addition to helping out where I can at the Rose Center Theater, I’m an actor...living in Los Angeles. Shocking, I know. Being an actor, living in a city full of actors can make you feel redundant. I still remember the first time I walked into a casting office to find ten other similarly looking guys, wondering how I was supposed to stand out. I didn’t know the answer back then, but over time I’ve come to realize that the best way to stand out is to be yourself, and lean into your strengths in what makes you, you. I’ve learned that the things I spent my childhood suppressing —being gay, Filipino, emotional, quirky, having curly hair, dark skin— were not faults, but rather the parts of me that made me distinctive, unique. Through owning all aspects of myself and finding pride in my individuality, I’ve been able to find my true, unique voice. I feel that I achieve success in my work when I fully commit to a role and inject as much of my voice into the writer’s words. Plus it helps me to enjoy the work more!
Has it been a smooth road overall? If not, what are some obstacles you've had to overcome?
Has it been a smooth road? Absolutely not. It’s true when they say if you can picture yourself doing something else other than acting, do that instead. Otherwise you have to put your head down and just go, as hard as you can, for as long as you can. A mentor and friend once told me that an actor’s journey will have countless peaks and valleys. Rather than focus on the ups and downs of the journey, she told me the main focus of an actor is to grow. As a Virgo who tends to be particular, shall we say? The entertainment industry has taught me to only focus on the things that I have control over. There are so many factors that go into booking a role, many of which have nothing to do with me. With the amount of rejection, self-doubt, and anxiety this industry can create, the biggest struggle that I experience as an actor is internal. Finding ways to quiet my self-doubting inner voice, or self-saboteur allows me to have the self-awareness and mindfulness that is needed to stay present and open to receive new opportunities.
What do you consider your proudest moment?
Since I’ve been talking about firsts, one of the proudest moments of my journey so far has to be my first television booking. I booked a 1-line co-star on a new network sitcom that was just picked up to series. I was so excited arriving at the studio the morning of the shoot, not knowing what was to be expected. Skip ahead a few hours – going through hair and makeup, sitting in a dressing room, taking a couple nervous trips to craftiest – a very nice AD comes to my dressing room to tell me that the scene I was supposed to be in was cut and I was being sent home. I remember the way they said it felt so matter of fact, as if this was something that was normal. Looking back in hindsight… yes, it’s completely normal and actually an experience I share with many other actors. Regardless, I was devastated. Having thought I had done something wrong that resulted in me being sent home, I packed up my stuff, went back to my car, called my agent, and cried. A couple days later, I got a call from my agent that the show was asking me to come back as the same role, but in a different episode. I was confused, but excited, to get to another shot. The night before the shoot, for what would be my second, first day on set, I was a nervous wreck. The morning of, I remember arriving at the studio, and my mentor, who I called before leaving my car, reminded me that I can only control what I can control and that my job that day was to stay open and be present. That day of filming was an absolute blur. I don’t remember much about it other than feeling like a new kid in school, navigating my way through a new environment with its new terminology. We shot my scene and I was sent home. Leaving the studio lot, I was so proud of myself, knowing how hard I worked to get that first booking. To add a cherry on top, the following week I got a call from my agent saying that I was asked back for one more episode. Even with the twists and the turns of my first booking, going from a one line co-star that was cut, to being asked back and having the opportunity to play and learn from the insanely talented Maya Rudolph and Christina Applegate was and is one of my proudest moments of my journey as an actor.
As an actor of color, do you feel that opportunities for BIPOC actors are improving?
I would be amiss to not first acknowledge the journeys and struggles of the trailblazers before us. I don’t think we would see the growth in opportunities that we have seen over the last few years, without them. Do I think we have enough inclusivity in the arts industry? Absolutely not. We still have a long way to go, but I think we are heading in the right direction. With that said, I think it starts at the top. The way to ensure that BIPOC actors are adequately represented in the arts industry is to give us a seat at the table, or as it was put in the musical Hamilton, give us a seat "in the room where it happens." Without a seat at the table to help inform what art gets produced, or which stories get told, diversity in the arts will remain stagnant. Representation matters, and I am grateful to be a part of this new era of a more diverse arts community.
Given our current affairs, what are your hopes for the future of the arts?
First, my hope is that we all start working together to get through this pandemic that has caused so much hardship within the arts community. Without live events, the livelihood of artists and all those who work in the arts industry are literally at stake. From stage technicians, to box office staff, to ushers, this pandemic has upended the lives of hundreds of thousands of families across the country. It is our responsibility to each other to do our part in wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance, and heeding the advice of science and health professionals to help us get through these tumultuous times.
Post Covid, my hope is that through this pandemic, we realize that the arts play an essential role in society. Without them, the copious amount of media consumed, be it music, books, television, movies, plays, and so many other mediums of art, would cease to exist. The only way to ensure that the arts are accessible, especially to the local community, is ensure that adequate funding for arts programs are available. Support your local theaters!
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