In Search of Him
Charlie: Ryan, you and I have known each other for years, but if memory serves me, this is the first time we’ve had a chance to work on a show together. It’s wonderful to have you join us at Square Top Theatre this year to develop and premiere The Scent of a Thousand Rains. You joined the project last Fall, and as I look back on it now, the devising process has been quite a journey from devouring the source text to conceptualization and musical development to our current phase of active rehearsals. I know you’ve worked on a good many new works over the course of your career, especially at Taproot Theatre in Seattle, but I’m curious to hear about your process heading into this show. This one poses some unique puzzles for an actor, such as tackling the text’s non-linear form and the structure of the verse. We’re playing with ancient forms that recall Homeric odes, but it’s also a contemporary theatre piece. What has it been like to find this character? What have you discovered so far?
Ryan: You’re right. This is the first time we’ve actually worked together. I was immediately drawn to this when you told me it was “Homeric.” I was excited to focus truly on telling the story, which is what we as actors want to do. It is also rare for an actor to get the opportunity to workshop, develop, rehearse, and be the one to see the show through to opening. It has been a long time since I’ve been able to dig so deep into characterization and storytelling.
I wish I could tell you what it was like to find this character, but I am still searching for him. I get closer to him every rehearsal, but I haven’t got him pegged just yet. Once I have him down, I’ll be able to truly understand the nonlinear patterns in the story. He speaks as he thinks, and that is different than other characters I’ve played, so finding the “Why” is tricky.
What I’ve discovered is that this guy has a lot to tell. He has seen and experienced so much, but he’s still searching. Searching for meanings, a home, or whatever will complete him. I believe he is searching for that form of love we all feel to be unattainable.
Charlie: The Scent of a Thousand Rains is the third of three plays in what we’re calling The Memory Cycle. The previous one was called Now at the Uncertain Hour (2014), and like the Soldier from that play, the protagonist you play finds himself compelled to speak. He has this startling encounter with a woman in Budapest. We find him struggling to reckon with places and people that have ordered his life. And he recognizes, perhaps more so than most of us can in the moment, that those deep connections are only fleeting. He tells us “I have had to ask myself if there is a precise moment / When I gave up the idea of permanence.” This isn’t a piece that wastes much time in irony, which isn’t to suggest the piece is without humor. It’s just that his heart is so unguarded. How do you strike a balance between the somewhat heightened qualities of poetry with his contemporary presence?
Ryan: I try to create a balance by finding the meaning behind the words. This is something I would do in any piece, whether it’s poetry or a something more contemporary. If I don’t know why I am saying something, then it will show in my performance.
Charlie: Yes, but The Scent of a Thousand Rains is essentially a long monologue. That’s a lot to contend with as an actor. How are you rolling with those challenges? Surely those challenges are different from what they would be for, say, Legally Blond.
Ryan: Oh, yes! This is far from any musical I have ever done. It does have its own rhythm as any good story does, but it is much more difficult to play than just hearing the music. That’s where Tana comes in. She provides the only immediate dialogue I get to have in this piece.
Probably Scent is one of the most challenging pieces I’ve done. But my main motto as an actor has been to “not overthink it.” In order to understand this character and his journey, I’ve had to embrace the analyzing process more than I have ever done. I’m trying to embody this man and the story he’s telling.
The trickiest part has been the memorization. This is a very long monologue that jumps location at the whim of the character. I’m just trying to make sure I know why he moves from one place to another.
Charlie: I suppose all this talk of technique and structure might be foreboding for an audience, and no matter what’s going on under the hood, so to speak, I’ve always wanted to make theatre that reaches a broad audience. I’m reminded of the International Centre for Theatrical Research and their habit of premiering any new play for an audience of children first. If the kids stay engaged, then they feel like they can move forward. With the kids’ approval, no matter the complexity of the work, the show can open. It’s a good reminder to guard against creative insularity. What would you say the universal appeal is for this show and for your character’s story?
Ryan: Everyone has been through something like my character’s story. We’re all on a journey through life, we’ve all lost something, and we’ve all been in love in one way or another. I think anyone who sees this piece will have an “Oh, I’ve been there” moment. I’ve always tried to find something of myself in the characters I’ve played, no matter how bizarre they may have been, but with this guy, it was easy to find myself in him. He is a man trying to find purpose and belonging in his life. He is a lover, a dreamer, an adventurer, and a poet. Who wouldn’t want to hear his story?
Charles M Pepiton is the director of The Scent of a Thousand Rains.
Ryan Childers plays the role of Him in The Scent of a Thousand Rains. A veteran actor, he has performed with Village Theatre, Taproot Theatre, Mill Mountain Theatre, Seattle Public Theater, Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, and CenterStage Theatre.