From GCP to national tour of ‘Waitress,’ Ryan Dunkin can’t forget his Fresno roots
The stage door: None other than the one leading into the famed Golden Gate Theatre here, just after a matinee performance last Wednesday of the national tour of the musical “Waitress.”
Pictured above: Ryan Dunkin plays Cal in the national tour of “Waitress: The Musical.” Photo: The Munro Review
The actor standing outside signing Playbills: Ryan Dunkin, who plays Cal (the grumpy short-order cook). He’s here to meet the folks from Fresno who made the trip up to The City to see the show.
The connection: Dunkin is a proud alum of Good Company Players who started in the Junior Company. (In fact, he will be teaching at the just-announced Junior Company Music Theatre Intensive Program. His course is scheduled for Dec. 26) He went on to forge an enduring career as a professional in New York, regional and touring productions.
The Fresno contingent: They’re part of a Fresno State Osher Lifelong Learning Institute field trip led by yours truly. (If you aren’t familiar with the Osher program, it’s a great opportunity for people 50 and over to take some really interesting classes. I’ve taught several theater and arts related classes this past year.)
The visit: Dunkin is amiable and gracious, and even though it’s a two-show day and we’re cutting into his dinner-break, he chats with us about the show and what it’s like to be on tour. Several people in the group remember seeing him on stage at Roger Rocka’s all those years ago.
The next tour stop: “Waitress” moves on to “Costa Mesa,” where it opens Tuesday, Nov. 13.
The interview: The week before our field trip, I taught an intro class about “Waitress,” where I showed a 22-minute FaceTime interview I recorded with Dunkin beforehand. You can watch the whole thing, and I offer some written highlights:
♦ He looks SO much different than when I last saw him. Gone was the clean-cut Dunkin. In his place: a guy with huge mutton-chop sideburns, slicked-back hair, and a goatee so bushy it requires its own yard crew. (His six nieces in Fresno have threatened to cut off his long hair, but they do love to put barrettes in it, he says.)
♦ He’s been in the show for more than a year, which rehearsed in New York for a month before going out on the road. When I talked to him, he’d just completed his 402nd show, and he hasn’t missed one.
♦ On his character of Cal: He’s a gruff exterior with a softie interior.
♦ Does he get much latitude to make changes to his character? A little, but not much. “Broadway is a bit of a machine. There is a painting-inside-the-lines kind of thing, but you can ride the line a little bit.”
♦ Dunkin doesn’t seem much like a gruff person. Is it hard for him to get into character? “I’m a sarcastic person,” he says. “I feel like I took that sarcasm and turned it into gruffness.” (And just how sarcastic is he? He lists “sarcasm” as a special skill on his resume.)
♦ Is there a Fresno version of Joe’s Pie Diner (the restaurant in “Waitress”) for him: You bet, but it’s a Mexican restaurant called Marian’s. His family still goes there, and his parents are the only ones who are allowed to write a check.
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♦ He started in Junior Company in the early 1990s when he was about 13. He went to see a show at Roger Rocka’s (thanks to neighbor Dan Aldape) and was intrigued with the idea of performing. Unbeknownst to him, his mom grabbed an audition notice, and when the date rolled around, she drove him there. He didn’t want to get out of the car. She insisted.
♦ He still remembers his audition number: 7. He got into the company, and he was hooked.
♦ So you’d expect that with him being a big national-tour success that Dunkin played every leading role in Fresno. Not so. “I was never a star at Roger Rocka’s,” he says. “I was always in the ensemble. I didn’t really speak in a show until I was a professional.” He’s proud that he’s still making a living on the stage.
♦ His Unified Theory of Acting Success in New York: Dunkin muses that there are two kinds of actors who can make it there in the long-term: the ones who hit it big there right away; and the ones who were just “OK” in their towns. That’s because non-stars don’t have preconceived notions about instant success. They can handle rejection. They soldier on. He’s one of those soldiers, and he’s still fighting.