Michigan Actors Studio
October Student Feature: Ryan Ken, Certificate Student
We love our students! Each month, we will pick one of our students to feature. Maybe next month it will be you! What made you decide to start studying acting?
I've had a lifelong curiosity about acting. I did a couple of plays when I was very young and took a drama class in high school, but I mostly felt too scared and insecure to pursue it. Truthfully, I enrolled in a class on a whim because the curiosity became something I just couldn't shake. I haven't shared this before but for years, I used to give myself pep talks in the mirror trying to build up the courage to just sign up for a class. In the end, I didn't want to have regret about avoiding something that might bring me joy even if it was frightening. Even if I wasn't good at it. Acting always seemed like a mesmerizing magic trick, and my desire to learn how it worked eventually outweighed my fear of being bad at it. It's given me the embodied practice of doing something even while as it frightens me in the moment. I'm scared every time I act, but I do it anyway. That's what courage is--doing something while scared. I never imagined I would be a person with courage.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever received about the art or craft of acting?
I will never forget what Kate told us in the cold reading workshop. If you go into an audition wanting to be liked, all anyone will see is your character wanting to be liked. The goal is to demonstrate your ability to make choices and be thoughtful. Your interpretation may be an entirely different planet than what the casting agent or the director wanted. But you're there to demonstrate your interpretation of a character not what you assume what someone else will want. Once you've given your interpretation, your objective is just to be coachable or take direction.
Give an example of a breakthrough you've had.
I have spent most of my life as the kind of person who wants to be liked and to please authority. When I started my classes, I had an inclination to want to show you that I "did my homework." I wanted my classmates and instructors to know that I had read everything. I could give you the intellectual breakdown of the emotional life of a character. But that desire to show off or to be "right" has never served me as a performer and has only gotten in my way. I've had to embrace being wrong. And that's not quite it either. I've had to accept that the framework of "right" and "wrong" isn't even useful. People are imperfect, contradictory, and nonsensical. Those are the most delicious parts of a human being to play, but you can't get there if you're wasting your time trying to be perfect.
What is your dream role?
I don't know that I have a dream role, but I want to play people in the world as I see and experience it. My life is full of the richness of human beings we seldom see on stage in their fullness--trans folks, nonbinary folks, disabled people, elderly people, fat folks, ordinary-looking people, queer folks, Black people, Indigenous people. I want to make work where these stories are given more than "supporting roles." I want them at the center.
What do you have to say to your fellow MAS students?
Thank you for consistently being open, generous, and eager to learn. Your bravery has helped to make me brave in ways I could have never fathomed. Whether you're in a class to become a professional actor or just to trying something you've been curious about, your willingness to be among the people who try, actually try, has healed things in me I never imagined confronting. I hope to continue learning from you and to collaborate inside and outside of the studio.