Musical theatre alumna Jessica Ryan, ’03, is an actor, writer, producer, director and entrepreneur — often simultaneously.
She’s loud, witty and a conversation with her wouldn’t be complete without a little off-color language.
She can also be considered a digital revolutionary. Her company, Broadway Unlocked, is changing the way theater professionals connect to audiences.
Broadway Unlocked increases interactivity between artists and their fans through the use of social media, live-streaming, Google hangouts, a web series and more. Ryan said this opens up the theater industry to those who feel it is out of their reach.
“The barriers to entry for Broadway are extremely high,” Ryan said. “There’s the geographic issue if you’re not in New York, and there’s the financial issue with extremely high ticket prices. If we can teach ourselves how to use technology and digital media, we can connect theater to more people.”
Bringing theater into the 21st century was actually a happy byproduct of Broadway Unlocked’s original mission, Ryan said.
The idea started when her friend and fellow Missouri State alumnus Avery Ragsdale, ’15, was raising money to benefit a counseling program that helped him and fellow musical theatre alumnus Antuan Raimone, ’02, through trauma from childhood abuse.
“In 2010, Avery approached me after he’d finished a year of therapy at the Crime Victim’s Treatment Center,” Ryan said. “He said, ‘Would you help me put on a little cabaret to raise money for them?’ But of course, I’m not very good at doing things small.”
That was just the beginning. To date, Broadway Unlocked has raised more than $175,000 for survivors of violence and abuse with events like their #GiveBack concert, co-hosted by MSU alumnus Jermaine Blackwell, ’02.
Ryan has mined her network of Missouri State alumni who are Broadway notables, including Kyle Dean Massey, ’04, and Nathan Tysen, ’99, to galvanize supporters.
“Theater people — we aren’t shy about (giving a voice to victims),” Ryan said. “We can’t always write that check, but we sure can show up on a night and be our charming, gregarious selves.”
At 11 years old, Nathan Tysen, ’99, fell in love with a story he read.
The book, “Tuck Everlasting,” is about a young girl who comes to love and protect the Tucks, a family that drinks from a spring and then cannot die.
“‘Tuck Everlasting’ had a profound effect on me,” said Tysen, the first person to graduate from MSU’s musical theatre program. He connected with a character his own age dealing with questions of mortality and the afterlife.
Nearly 30 years later, he adapted the story for Broadway.
The idea of a musical adaptation began to fall into place when Tysen, an award-winning writer and lyricist, met his writing partner Chris Miller in New York University’s graduate musical theatre writing program.
Miller also loved the story, and felt strongly that it was destined to be a musical.
However, because the Walt Disney Company owned the book’s cinematic rights in 2001, it would be nine years before their vision could be fully realized. In the meantime, Tysen and Miller were gaining acclaim with musicals such as “The Burnt Part Boys” and “Fugitive Songs,” and work for the television series “Sesame Street” and “The Electric Company.”
They decided to give “Tuck Everlasting: The Musical” one last shot in 2006, pitching the idea to Beth Williams, a producer at Broadway Across America.
“The serendipitous moment of all of this is that night, after a meeting with us, Beth met with another producer, Barry Brown,” Tysen said. “He slides a book across the table to her and says, ‘So I just got the rights to this book called ‘Tuck Everlasting’ and I am looking for a partner.”
Tysen, the lyricist, wrote all the words for songs, and Miller composed all the music.
“Tuck Everlasting: The Musical” made its Broadway debut this April at the Broadhurst Theatre. It ran for 67 performances.
Critical reviews called the adaptation “rapturous” (The New York Times) and “wonderfully crafted” (Associated Press).
But the best review, Tysen said, came from the book’s author, Natalie Babbitt.
“She was happy that we were loyal to her material, but understood we had to take some liberties in order to make it a viable musical. After seeing the Broadway production she said, ‘You cracked part of the ending in a way I never could have.’ That was awesome. … I feel blessed that I got to take one of my favorite stories and turn it into a musical, to put my take on it, and that people trusted me with that.”