In 1999, when this august publication still had peach fuzz clinging to its soon-to-be-wizened cheeks, Cynthia Ryanen drew praise for one of the best acting performances of the year for her work in STAGEStheatre's It's Only a Play. "Ryanen's bitter, foul-mouthed actress was the effortless standout of a nearly perfect cast. Somebody give this woman a sitcom," wrote the Weekly's Dave Barton.
Fourteen years later, another Weekly scribe wrote of her performance in The Balcony, also at STAGES: "Cynthia Ryanen and [castmate] Rick Kopps are outstanding: complicated, cunning, ruthless, soft, tortured, vain, powerful and powerless. If they never worked again on a local stage, they'd leave legacies based solely on their performances in this play."
In between, and long before, Ryanen has contributed standout performance after performance, from Willy Loman's long-suffering wife in Death of a Salesman to part of the remarkable ensemble in OC-based playwright Amanda DeMaio's Unrelenting Relaxation. She is, simply, one of the finest character actors on our local stages, someone who should be making professional money on a professional stage. But Ryanen isn't crying about it. She's actually been too busy the past 20-odd years going corporate to worry about turning professional.
As owner of Orange-based Role Player Services (RPS), Ryanen takes very trained, talented local actors and drops them in the middle of corporate settings, where they engage with clients as varied as Southern California Edison to the Orange County Fire Authority in some type of communication scenario. Want to train your employees to deal with difficult, disgruntled customers? Call RPS. Want to train them at their motivation or terminating skills? Call RPS. Implementing new sexual-harassment guidelines in the workplace and need to run through a myriad of pervy situations? Call RPS.
It's partly scripted, in the sense that character types and key talking points must be memorized, but it's also heavily improv-based, with actors required to adjust in the moment and deal with a wide range of personalities and communication styles. "It's very sophisticated corporate role playing that demands being in the moment 100 percent," Ryanen says. "They're given a character breakdown, or specific character type, and have things they need to convey and things they need to keep secret, and they have to react to each person completely honestly. Every experience is unpredictable. You have to be able to think on your feet and be comfortable in all kinds of situations. You're basically playing chess every time you're in these rooms. It's organic and very, very real acting in its purest sense."
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Demanding work. And not everybody who auditions for RPS makes the cut. While her actors are paid, it's not as if they're paying their rent every month with RPS checks. Not every actor has the right look or expertise for each job, and with so much talent swimming in Ryanen's pool, most average one to six gigs per month. But they make enough from even a half-day session (up to four hours) that they can pay their cable bills, a far cry from the few bucks, if any, smaller theaters can afford to pay actors for a show and remain fiscally solvent.
"Fortunately, because I have worked with so many different companies over the years and had the great pleasure of working with so many people, I have an excellent, diverse pool of actors working with me," Ryanen says. "I am so honored to employ some of the best talent I have ever seen or worked with."