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Ryan Haase is Artistic Director for Stillpointe Theatre Initiative, Technical Director for The Strand, and co-owner of The Parlor, a performance venue in the old Red Emma’s space on St. Paul. Ryan has a nostalgic worldview and a vintage aesthetic. When he and his Stillpointe Theatre friends filter live theater through this lens, magic happens. It is magic and it happens as soon as you walk into a venue where a Ryan-designed set awaits you. No square inch of the venue is left untouched by his vision. You are part of the world of the play. Whatever preoccupations you brought with you to the theater disappear before the play even starts. He uses design to tell a story, cultivate a culture, and express a belief system. He’s a leader and he makes things happen.

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Peter
Wonderful space! What’s the idea behind The Parlor?

Ryan
Being able to present plays in a sitting room. What rich people did back in the day, sit around, drink, draw out ideas, talk about art and theater and music. There’s not enough of that. And to create a place that’s open to the public, of course, but geared towards the artistic people in this area.

Basically, it’s minimizing the space needed for performance. Showing people a new idea on a dinner theater. Some of my partners are very good with food. We’ll do pairing of theater and food like Saturday morning cartoons and cereal bars. Table side s’mores. Nostalgic things. Theater should have something to eat and drink with it.

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Peter
When someone asks, “What do you do?” what do you tell them?

Ryan
I’m a set designer above everything. Lately, I’ve been saying that I’m a creator, because I feel like I just gather the minds in the same room and hope for the best. I have an aesthetic, but I also feed off of everyone else that’s around me. I’m like the Pied Piper of artists.

Peter
Where’s the Piper taking them?

Ryan
Ahhh — to a very different world. One thing that everyone who works with me gets is, “Well, you’re going to act like a cartoon in this show.” Any type of theater or anything we do is always a break from reality. It’s hyper-realized in a weird and whimsical way.  It’s a commentary at the same time.

Peter
How do you establish that whimsical world of the play early in the rehearsal process?

Ryan
When directing I can have a giant idea at the beginning and it will shift the very minute I see my cast on stage for the first time. Or the second I start moving forward with the staging.

Usually when it comes to the visuals it stays pretty similar to the initial design. But things are constantly shifting. You can’t really conceptualize a piece until you have all the ingredients. Everything shifts: money, actors and what they’re good at. Shifts shape the piece.

I’m the bones and everyone builds off of it and we create a living breathing thing. I guess I’m good at convincing people my thought may be worth moving forward with.

It’s always a gamble. The main issue with that is moving forward and doing more stuff means everyone having expectations for the next thing. What can we do to be equally outlandish next time? Which is a good thing for any artist.

Peter
When leading actors towards outlandish how do you decide when to step in a let an actor know it’s not working?

Ryan
At Stillpointe we have previews. I think previews are necessary for any piece of theater. I don’t think an audience should shift the way you look at a piece and make you change it, if you really believe in it. But during a preview you watch actors fall out of moments that you don’t want them to fall out of, so, of course, you’re like, what can I do to make sure this person doesn’t fall out of the moment? Audience needs that moment to stay with the story. People are paying for theater and you want it to be amazing for each of them that decided to spend time with you.

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Peter
You’re in demand. How do you decide where to put your talent, time and energy?

Ryan
My boyfriend will be interested in this question, because I’m working all the time.

I was thinking about this, this morning, so it’s an awesome question to ask. It’s really hard in this community because you don’t want to let anyone down.

Why am I crying talking about this?

Peter
It must mean a lot.

Ryan
I do it in sequence. It’s hard. You don’t want to let anyone down, but you do. It’s someone else’s vision. Everyone thinks that what they’re working on is the most important thing, as it should be.

So, I put projects in an order and concentrate my energy on each one as it comes in sequence. I tell people up front that this is how it’s going to be. At the same time I tell them they will get something they will be proud of. It turns into sleepless nights. While you’re finishing one the next is waiting in the back of your mind.

So, I don’t really turn anything down. In this community it’s hard because we all rise with the tide. I want everyone to do good work. Right now, I’m in an overwhelming period of my life where I’m trying to cut out jobs that I don’t believe in. It’s hard to do that because you don’t want anyone to think, well he takes on everything and he didn’t take mine.

I want there to be more and better designers out there. I don’t see that as a threat. I would love to refer people. I don’t know many because I’m so busy.

Peter
Your thing, how does it work?

Ryan
In order to tell the story you want to tell, the visuals is the easiest way to do it. Director says I want this piece to be melancholy and super drab. And I’m like, OK, yeah. But, you put everyone in grey-face and dress them in blue clothes, and I’m like Oh, I know exactly the tone of this play immediately.

I’m also a huge fan of an opening look. Something the audience sees right away and has fifteen minutes to dwell on what’s about to happen.

Peter
How does being a designer inform your role as Artistic Director?

Ryan
I’m not so good at the technical parts of design, which is why I think I’m a better artistic director. When it comes to the artsy-fartsy stuff, I have it down, a complete understanding of it. The artistic director is always reaching for the stars. The managing director says we have a 9 foot ceiling.

Peter
What does the future look like for Stillpointe?

Ryan
I think it looks promising. We’ve been trying to hit multiple audiences and show them that we can do multiple things. We want people to know they’ll always see a good show. Starting next season we’re probably going to do all originals or brand new pieces of musical theater. We want people to come in knowing that–even though I have no idea what this (show) will be about–it will be good. Like what Woolly Mammoth does for me. My mind is blown every time…because I know nothing going in. Very few times you get to see a play and just enjoy it for what it is.

The past two years were like do some Shakespeare, new works, old classics, contemporary musical theater, and see that people are coming back. We’ve seen that they are coming back. Now we’re going to move towards all new musicals theater writers and playwrights. It’s affordable and artists need it. I’m excited because we’ve gotten to the point where writers are seeking us out. They’ve heard and seen that we’ll produce it well.

Peter
What makes something a Stillpointe show?

Ryan
We’re a buncha kids pretending. Stillpointe shows pay attention to details. When it comes to acting, there’s always that element of not real. Our audiences are open to the escape, and just go with us. We want to take them away from every other thought that came before the show. As an artist I want to feel the same way. So we treat everyone like kids and joke it up.

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