There are those who dream of success, and those who create it
Actor. Photographer. Musician.
While many would argue that artists are born, the truth is, some artists are created—forming their talents through experience and education. Ryan Parker is a prime example. This multi-faceted artist’s development into the successful actor, musician and photographer he is today began in an unexpected place that pointed him in a direction he hadn’t even considered until late high school.
“I was in grade 12 and had to fill a spare because I needed the credits to graduate,” he explains. “I took drama because I thought it would be the easiest option.”
He was surprised to discover that not only was it not as easy as he’d expected, but he really enjoyed it. His drama teacher must have seen promise, because she encouraged Ryan to audition for the Theatre Arts program at MacEwan University.
“I wasn’t going to do it at all because I didn’t think I could get in,” he says. “I wasn’t sure I could make a career doing theatre, but she said, ‘You can, and you have to go.’ So she pretty much strong-armed me into it,” he laughs.
Ryan admits that even after being accepted, his plans for the future were vague at best. But part-way through the program, things started to change. Or to be more accurate, he changed.
“ I think art—whether it’s a play, or a song, or a picture—has the ability to hold a mirror to the community. It can teach you about human behavior, the world and life. ” Ryan Parker
“Those two years changed me absolutely—I came out of that program a different person. The people I was with; the teachers I had; the experiences I went through—they changed my view of the world.”
“There are these really amazing faculty who are guiding you, and understand where you are in your life, coming out of high school,” he explains. “And you’re around this group of like-minded individuals who want to be there. It was an incredible energy to be thrown into an arts campus, and so cool to see everyone in the beginning stages of whatever process they were going through. It was that combination of the environment and the people that helped me develop my future expectations.”
What surprised Ryan most about studying theatre was how life-consuming it became. Classes during the day, rehearsals into the night; spending those long hours with the same tight-knit group of classmates, day-in and day-out. His life became all about the theatre arts program for two years—and yet it felt so natural it didn’t bother him a bit.
“I was having so much fun. When you find something you love doing that much, your whole life changes—even your friends. And yet you realize you’re okay with that,” he says. “That shift was so beneficial and I believe I am a better person for it.”
What Ryan didn’t realize at the time was that while he was uncovering a passion and working hard to cultivate his craft, he was learning skills and developing traits that would benefit him beyond the stage. Confidence, focus, clear communication, time management, self-discipline, team work—all skills and abilities that would be critical in creating the successful career ahead.
Since graduating with his Theatre Arts diploma, Ryan has created a name for himself on professional stages that include the National Arts Centre (Ottawa), The Barbican Theatre (London, UK), The Arts Club (Vancouver), The Globe Theatre (Regina), Vertigo Theatre (Calgary) and The Citadel Theatre (Edmonton). He is also a co-creator of the ukulele cover band, The Be Arthurs and the sketch comedy troupe, Blacklisted.
And despite this pretty successful and fulfilling career in theatre, a few years ago Ryan decided to add photography to his list of talents.
“With acting, there’s always collaboration—many voices and opinions,” he explains. “And I was yearning for something that I could just do, and mess up, and learn, and be my own.” So he built a studio in his garage and started PK Photography.
“I think art—whether it’s a play, or a song, or a picture—has the ability to hold a mirror to the community. It can teach you about human behavior, the world and life. It can teach human connection. And then sometimes it’s just pure entertainment and escapism, and those are important, too.”
When asked what he loves most about where he is today, he doesn’t hesitate. “I like that it’s not the same thing, day-in, day-out,” he says. “I constantly switch hats. I’m continuously being tested and pushed and I feel like I’m still figuring things out. But every step I take seems to be in the right direction, and that’s a good thing.”
As for the future, Ryan has dreams of laying the foundation for something that has a lasting impact on the arts community. “To actually build something that lives longer than I ever could would be incredible,” he says. But if that doesn’t happen, he says he’s okay with that, too.
“As long as I’m happy, and my family is happy, then I’ll be good,” he smiles. “I have a pretty great career.”
A career that has even brought him back to where it all began. Ryan now teaches an audition class in the very program from which he graduated. And as if that isn’t a story come full circle …
“Last year I had my high school drama teacher’s son in my class,” he laughs. “Go figure.”
In January 2015 Ryan made his debut off-Broadway in a production of Nevermore - The Imaginary Life and Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe. The production is written, composed, and directed Jonathan Christenson, artistic director of Edmonton's Catalyst Theatre.
Ryan Parker is not only an alumnus of Theatre Arts—he's also a faculty member. Learn more about the program at MacEwan.ca/TheatreArts.