Director Ryan McRee graduated from USC in 2017 with Bachelor degrees in Theatre and Narrative Studies. He just finished up working as an Assistant Director for "Two Fisted Love" at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble. I sat down with him to discuss his post-graduate life in the industry, and his advice for those hoping for success in the theatre industry.
Q: So, what is the role of an assistant director?
Assistant directors are interesting, they're probably one of the least defined roles in theater, and that's largely because it really depends from director to director. Sometimes, it's purely sort of administrative, sometimes if the director is interested in having more of an artistic collaboration, you do get sort of an artistic say in things and an artistic voice, which is what I've sort of tried to do in my work. I've also done prop wrangling. I've done some rehearsal stage management. It really is one of those roles where you kind of just find ways to be as useful as possible, and if you're with a good director, they'll give you ways to be useful and they'll let you be part of it, but occasionally you'll be in a situation where you are looking around like, what is my place here? And I think you just gotta be proactive and find jobs to do because there's always something that needs to be done.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring actors and theatre-makers for finding a job in the industry?
One of the most important things is to be pleasant to work with and be useful, but also, have a personality and be a human. I think the mistake a lot of people make, especially as a production assistant or an assistant director or someone kind of on that low logistical scale, is that they feel like they just kind of have to be a person dressed in blacks, running around, not speaking and just kind of doing things. But what I've tried to achieve is this balance between be helpful, do what you're told, do your job, but also don't be afraid to speak up
Q: Continuing with the idea of advice, what's one piece of advice you would like to give a USC student about what they should do before graduating and entering the real world?
Create as much work as you can with other students that are there and really build. Nowadays we talk so much about networking and marketing yourself and like, that's valuable, but I really hate schmoozing and I think the difference is that you got to find an artistic community of people you can really do work with and that you're excited by and that inspire you. And I think that really making connections in the sense of doing valuable work and trying to get the best out of the people around you is extremely valuable. One of the best things to walk out of school with is a network of young people who are all trying to do the same thing.
Q: What was the most influential part of your USC career that helped you become more of a person ready to be in the professional world?
I would say two things were probably the most important. The first was the ability to do student productions at USC. I ended up being in several shows at USC, including an SDA show, and then I actually got the opportunity to produce and direct a lot of my own plays and that's incredibly valuable. Starting to get a mind for the logistics of producing, because it's not only an artistic training that I think you need to get but a practical one, in the sense of how do these things happen and how should they happen. It's a really cool breeding ground for learning how to efficiently and professionally produce work. I would say the other thing is the faculty. When you do find those faculty members that you really admire, and that you really think you can learn a lot from, find ways to shadow them. Bob Bailey, Steph Shroyer, and Sharon Carnicke were three of my most incredibly important influences at USC. I found ways of working with all three of them outside of the traditional classroom setting. I think if you get into idol worship it can become unproductive, and I think the best way to learn from people is to pull what you really admire from their process. Essentially everyone is an amalgamation of their teachers and their influences and being able to critically separate what's useful and what's not so useful I think is what makes particular students the best students.
Q: So what's next?
Since graduation, so for the last eight months or so I've mostly been assistant directing on relatively decent scale theatre projects and I think that my next step in my career is to move into being an assistant director on big shows to being a director of small shows and just putting little projects together. I'm working on a show with a playwright that I worked with a few months ago, Ruth Fowler, on a one-woman play that we're looking to produce for the fringe festival. I think after having been able to learn and observe and really work as an assistant, I think now my next step is really to start building that side of my resume and to build my own portfolio so that I can entice bigger organizations to take me on as a collaborator.