If one were to have asked Ryan Link what he envisioned for his life while in his early 20s, he would have never answered anything to do with Broadway or the theater, but here he is at an age he describes as “young enough to do it, but old enough to do it right” and he’s had quite the theatrical success.
“I didn’t get into acting until I was 27. I was a musician and played in different bands in Seattle—none you’ve ever heard of (Chin Muff, Salamander, Clementine)—and I moved to Boston to pursue singing a little more,” he says. “I went to the Berklee College of Music and that’s where I started getting involved in acting and caught the bug.”
Link moved to New York in 2001 and within two years snagged his first Broadway role—Roger in Rent. He followed that up with appearances in Aida, Hair and Wonderland, and currently plays the Emcee in the national your of Once, which is playing the Kennedy Center July 7-Aug. 16.
“I first auditioned for Once in November of 2011 when it was still Off Broadway. I had just seen the movie for the first time and saw the show shortly after that and I was bound and determined to be involved with it in some way,” Link says. “When the show transferred to Broadway they were looking for understudies and I came close to being swing—covering five of the roles and 14 instruments—but it was a blessing in disguise that I didn’t get the job at that time.”
When auditions were held for the tour a year and a half later, this time Link captured the coveted role of the Emcee.
“In the show, I run an open mic, and mostly what I do is play guitar,” he says. “The show has 12 acting musicians and we all play throughout the show accompanying whatever character is singing at the moment. It’s not your typical musical; each character in the show is a musician so it makes sense that they would break out in song.”
The setting of Once is an Irish pub and audience members can come on stage to purchase a drink while the band plays some pub music prior to the beginning of the musical. The story follows an enchanting tale of a Dublin street musician who’s about to give up on his dream when a beautiful young woman takes a sudden interest in his haunting love songs.
“One of the great things about Once is it’s as much a concert of really talented musicians who have gelled into this tight 12-person acoustic band as it is a play, so there’s something enjoyable for everyone in the audience whether a regular theatergoer or not,” Link says. “Having said that, the play itself is fantastic and the dialogue super witty and poignant and hilarious at times.”
Even though he’s found success on stage, Link has never given up on his own music. In fact, in March he released his first EP, Reverberations.
“It was on this tour that I realized I needed to put out a solo record and put my name on some music,” he says. “It’s only four songs—two I had for a while and two newer—but I’m working on a full-length record that I hope to have out by the end of the year.”
When the tour ends, Link is planning on going to Nashville to pursue the independent artist thing a bit more. Not that he’s going to rule out theater altogether. He says he will continue to audition and look for great parts because he’s grown to love the stage.
“I can’t imagine finding a better job than Once so I don’t know what show it could be,” he says. “There’s something about the electricity of being in front of a crowd and knowing that anything could go wrong at any time and it’s very exciting to have that responsibility and completely be in the moment and get lost in what you’re doing and knowing you have an affect on a fairly large number of people. It’s wonderful.”