Meet Ryan Driscoll

NYU Steinhardt News

Meet Ryan Driscoll

Assistant Director of Music Theatre Ryan Driscoll discusses his work on the new Broadway musical Come From Away

What is your role in Come From Away?

I am the music copyist for the production. The music copyist prepares all of the printed music for the orchestra of a new musical. With a few small exceptions, the composer of a musical rarely writes the orchestrations for the score; more often they only write the vocals/melody and piano accompaniment. After a song has been written, arranged, and rehearsed, it is given to the orchestrator who—after consultations with the composer, director, music director, and producers to decide on the specific instrumentation for the show—writes the orchestration in full score format. Once the orchestrator has finished writing, it is passed to me to extract each instrument’s parts for editing, formatting, and publishing to ultimately create an individual book for each member of the orchestra.

Is a music copyist involved only in the beginning of the show’s production or throughout?

The copyist usually begins their involvement with a show when it begins its first full-scale production (with an orchestra), which many times is an out-of-town workshop or regional production, and continues with the show through the official opening on Broadway. There are basically two parts to copying a new musical. The first part is the initial copying of the orchestration as I described earlier. That’s the easy part. The difficult part begins after the first orchestra rehearsal and during preview performances. Whenever music is cut, rewritten, or revised, it needs to be re-orchestrated and therefore, re-copied. If a musical has an 18-piece orchestra, then any revisions need to be made 18 times in 18 different parts. During previews, there can be many of these revisions on any given day that have a very short window of time (sometimes as short as a few hours) to get into the parts before the evening performance. The copyist has to be extremely organized and efficient with their work so that there are no mistakes. It’s because of this that we continue with the show through the opening. After that, the show is considered “frozen,” meaning no more changes are made and therefore we are no longer needed.

What is Come From Away about? What are some of its big messages that viewers might appreciate?

Come From Away tells the true story about the residents of the town of Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001, and the five days that followed. Gander International Airport was at one time the largest airport in the world due to the fact that all transatlantic flights would stop there for refueling before the jet age. When the FAA shut down US airspace on 9/11, 38 planes were diverted to the Gander Airport and stranded there for five days. The town’s population of approximately 7,000 nearly doubled overnight and the show tells the story of how the residents put aside their lives for 5 days to take care of the “plane people” from all different cultures and parts of the world. While the story is obviously born out of the events of 9/11, it is in no way a retelling of those events but rather a story about the goodness, kindness, and love in the human spirt and how people are willing to set aside differences and take care of one another in the face of devastating events. It’s an incredibly moving and uplifting story and you will most likely find yourself laughing and crying with tears of joy rather than of sadness. In the nine years that I’ve been a music copyist, this is by far the most proud that I’ve ever been to be a part of a production.

How did you get involved with the show?

As with many jobs in the performing arts, my involvement with this particular show was due to the relationships and networking that I’ve had during my years in the business. I was offered this job because of the one before it, and so on. For a number of years now, my business partner, Zach Redler (also an NYU graduate), and I have been working with the orchestrator August Eriksmoen. I had done some small projects for August in the past and in 2013, he asked Zach and me to copy the Broadway production of First Date. Since then, we have been August’s exclusive music copyists working on the Broadway productions of First Date, Gigi, Bright Star, and now Come From Away that he has orchestrated.

What are some other positions you have held on Broadway?

I transitioned into my role as a music copyist in 2008. Prior to that, I was a music theatre performer having performed off-Broadway originating the role of Hermie in the new musical Summer of ’42 and performing regionally as well. I began working as a copyist with Annie Kaye and Doug Houston of Kaye-Houston Music. I met them when I was the music assistant for the Broadway production of Cry Baby having been hired to notate all of the daily updates to the piano/vocal score during the rehearsal process. Annie and Doug were the supervising copyists on the production and were about to start work on the new Broadway production of Shrek. They hired me to work with them on that production and I subsequently worked with them for many years. I owe much of my success in this business to their mentorship. Some select shows that I’ve worked on include: Shrek, The Addams Family, West Side Story (revival), The Scottsboro Boys, Hugh Jackman: Back On Broadway, Scandalous, Allegiance, Bare (off-Broadway revival), Big Fish, Fun Home, First Date, Bright Star, Cabaret (2014 Broadway revival), Lady Day, The Visit, Gigi, and Tuck Everlasting.

Come From Away is opening on Broadway after a successful run in Toronto. What will your involvement be here?

The show has now had four out-of-town productions since June of 2015 (La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., and The Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto) and many of the changes and revisions have occurred over the course of these two years. Changes are always inevitable so my involvement will be similar to the work that is done when a show is in previews. Whenever the music director and orchestrator need to make changes, it will be my job to implement them into the parts. It’s not uncommon for me to be at the theatre on a daily basis putting in changes prior to a performance. The benefit is that now with the show opening on Broadway, traveling consists of a subway ride to the theatre instead of extended stays in whichever city the show is playing.

You’re a three-time Vocal Performance grad. How did your NYU Steinhardt education prepare you for being a music copyist?

I owe so much of my current career (both as a professor and a music copyist) to the education that I received at Steinhardt. In addition to my core courses in vocal performance, we as MPAP students are required to study music theory, aural comprehension, keyboarding, and music history. From a young age, I had always been fascinated with how music looked on the page and during my time in undergrad, I began to use the music notation software Finale to notate assignments and transpose songs for fellow classmates. I was constantly applying my music education that I was receiving towards how I would copy a song. Another time during undergrad, I was given the opportunity to orchestrate and music direct a new musical that the Vocal Performance program produces every year. That opportunity was crucial for me in applying all of the skills that I had learned that far—theory, orchestration, conducting, acting, and copying—to a make a final product. I don’t know of any other school that offers a voice student, or any music student for that matter, so many areas of exposure and education. I have always believed that Steinhardt is for the go-getter. If you have other interests in music outside of your specific area of study, there are a plethora of opportunities to foster your interests. Those opportunities are priceless and deserve to be explored.

Now that you’re a professor and the Assistant Director of Music Theatre for the Vocal Performance Program, how do you expose your students to different types of careers?

I don’t make light of the fact that a career in the performing arts can be a very difficult endeavor and I don’t hide that from my students. If you think about performing every second of the day and have a great desire to do so, then you should do everything you can to achieve that. That being said, for more of us than not, there will come a time when we need a “survival” job to pay the bills while we are in between performance gigs. I think the more that students and performers are able to recognize alternate skills that could potentially lead to jobs, the better off they will be. When I was in undergrad, I had no idea that music copying was a legitimate profession but as I saw that I could make a little extra money transposing songs for friends, I began to further my skills with the software and with the art of music copying so that it could be an added source of income for me if I needed it. When I decided that I didn’t have a desire to perform anymore, music copying was an obvious choice and one that I loved—and still love—very much. I make sure during the Song Analysis courses that I teach to talk about the shows that I’m working on with my students so that they are aware of the many different artistic disciplines that take place on a musical production. I hope in the future to bring my students to rehearsals or introduce them to the cast and creative teams of the shows that I work on. This all in the hope that it might reinforce a student’s desire to perform or perhaps even trigger an interest that might lead to an alternate job within the performing arts that is still artistically fulfilling. It’s one of the things that I feel most blessed with—the fact that I’m no longer performing but still feel artistically fulfilled between teaching and working as a copyist.