Today we’d like to introduce you to Ryan Paul James and Melissa Disney.
Ryan Paul James got his start as an actor and radio personality in Florida. Upon moving to Los Angeles, Ryan discovered a new dream and started writing. He was fortunate enough to write ten plays that got produced in Los Angeles, New York, Liverpool, Great Britain and Melbourne, Australia. Ryan’s plays received great reviews from several different publications. One reviewer called him “The Neil Simon of his generation”. Unfortunately, there was no real money writing for the stage so Ryan began writing for television. Since he started writing for several TV shows, Ryan has won many awards and has received great reviews.
Melissa Disney got her start in San Diego doing musical theatre. After college, she fell in love with voice over, moved to Los Angeles, took a million classes and did it the old fashion way – hard work and training. Since then Melissa was the first woman to voice a movie trailer (Gone In 60 Seconds), she was “Ginger” in Nickelodeon’s “AS TOLD BY GINGER”, was the singing voice for Snow White and has been the live announcer for The EMMY’s, The Academy Awards, The Billboard Music Awards, The GLAAD Awards and The Country Music Awards.
Back in 2008, Ryan was a local radio personality in Los Angeles and Melissa came on as a singing guest promoting her album “Love” on his morning show. For Ryan it was love at first sight, however, for Melissa, it took another year. But Ryan had a plan. He cast her in one of his plays. They were married in San Diego in 2010 and now have two children.
Both freelancers, work from home in their studio space. Melissa in her PJ’s and yoga pants, popping in and out of the recording booth and Ryan at his desk, turning down his “work music” every time she records. Their first love is being parents. However, if you’re reading this and you’re a studio executive, they love the work.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Ryan – Hell no! It has been a long struggle and a rollercoaster. There are days that you’re feeling great and it looks like your career is getting ready to take off and then there are days where you want to quit and move back to Florida. I once met with a very established writer/director. He has won EMMY awards and has written movies that everyone would know. I asked him what it was like to “make it”. His answer – “I don’t think I have made it yet.” That was quite eye opening to me.
Melissa – Once I had an audition for a “Melissa Disney type” and I didn’t get it! My agent consoled me by letting me know this was a good thing- I had become a “type”. People were trying to do my voice and sound. I still would’ve liked the job. This business is so tough. The producers are fickle. If you sound like you have a cold, you may be replaced on the spot. That’s why when I was in a terrible car accident in 2001 and lost my voice completely for two weeks while I was the lead on a cartoon series, I had to keep it a secret as I was re-learning how to talk and going thru major PTSD. Most of the struggles in this line of work are in continuing to work in excellence when you’re going through really tough times personally. Once my agent called to see why I hadn’t sent in my latest audition and I had to tell him I was in the hospital going through an awful miscarriage. But then there was a day when that same agent called me to tell me I’d booked the Oscars- while I was heavy breathing in labor with our beautiful son.
Please tell us about you business.
Ryan – As a writer, I will write anything while looking for the next TV show to write for. I have written for doctor presentations and have used large words like – “unglues incarnates”. In other words, I wrote a one hour presentation on ingrown toenails. I have also written for reality TV – yes, reality TV is sometimes scripted.
My real passion is writing a TV comedy. I wrote a pilot called “The Comeback Kids” and I’m proud of it. I wrote this pilot before all the reboots that you see on TV now. On this show, we bring back all your favorite TV stars and have them make guest appearances. The show is about two child stars now in their forties (Richard Horvitz and Dean Cameron) trying to make a come back in Hollywood. In the pilot, we have Gavin MacLeod, Bernie Kopell, Keith Coogan, Erin Murphy and Scott Schwartz. Some networks showed interest but they told me middle America might not get it. I wanted to prove them wrong. We took the pilot and submitted it to film festivals all over the country and world. We won first place in several film festivals and yes some of those were in middle America. I still think the show has a future.
Melissa – I love teaching voiceover acting. I started doing it for a few friends and eventually started the LA Voiceover Academy. We’ve produced numerous videos that people can buy on MelissaDisney.com/store. What I love most about teaching is seeing someone’s eyes light up when they “get it” and helping them on their journey. Honestly, I think you’ve got to learn by doing in this line of work and I base my line of teaching on honesty, from someone who has been there and is still acting for a living. It’s a very mentoring and supportive approach.
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Ryan – Getting to star in a Christmas play called “Arch the Angel”. I was eleven and I still remember looking at a spot on the floor right before I made my big entrance. It was a thrill I never experienced and it was at that moment I knew that I wanted to entertain people for the rest of my life.
Melissa – Singing Beatles harmonies with my family on road trips. Music has always been like a mentor in my life. Voiceover feels like I get to sing every day as I hear the musicality in the words and get to create new melodies. “My weapon is a melody”
Written by Samantha Simmonds-Ronceros
With fully fleshed out characters, classic sitcom design and a perfect excuse for the strange and unusual, the quirky and the oddly profound.
The storylines range from a wild west Uurologist/sheriff, a mob-backed, high-concept restaurant, a billionaire social media influencer colonizing Mars, a brain injured, retired football pro/stay at home dad and a fired Wall Street big shot slumming it as an elementary school teacher's assistant.
These might seem a little far fetched and that is of course part of the point. But they all actually work anyway, quite magically. I can totally imagine a studio executive somewhere giving a green light to any one of these. In fact, I am ever so hopeful that they will!
The performances are wonderful, fully committed as only the best comedy can be, and everyone is having a blast, which, of course, translates directly to the audience.
It’s like the weirdest, craziest dream you’ve ever had written up and played out before your very eyes. But funny…very, very funny. The Whitefire Theatre has a gift for bringing shows to their audience that boldly entertain and invent new genres and “Live Pilots Society” is yet another genius idea made real. I absolutely loved it!
THEATRE REVIEW #792 – Live Pilots Society
“Live Pilots Society – Is Comical Television Sitcoms – Delivered Live to You On Stage!!”
Written By Lorenzo Marchessi
“Gridiron Dad” is a smart and sharp piece written in the context of a professional player who made one public emotional out burst and it happens haunts him throughout his days. Written by Ryan Paul James this is a wonderful showcase for Brandon Loeser playing the football player who had a slight ‘issue’ in the past. His family, played by Joanna Kelly, Sarah Long and Alexandra Zepeda do an amazing job in trying to support their fathers discomfort in not being able to play football anymore – somewhat a forced retirement. The humor and trials that Brandon has to go through are a direct result of everyone around him. From his Doctor played by Janette Auguar, to his Coach played by Dan Anderson, to Mrs. Grant played by Audrey Mitchell, to even the Pizza man played by Dallas Schaefer and finally to even his friend played by Richard Martin – everyone seems to be reminding him (and taunting him) about this one thing he did – that was caught on camera for the world to see. (No spoilers here from me!) Even the ESPN Reporters played by Mike Dye and Kenny Johnston can help but remind the world of Brandon’s most sincere – yet embarrassing - moment. Wonderful ensemble performance by this group of actors.
WHAT’S SO FUNNY?
“AN INTERVIEW WITH PLAYWRIGHT
RYAN PAUL JAMES”
BY AMY WENDLE
Amy Wendle: How long have you been writing?
RPJ: When I really think about it, I’ve been writing for almost twenty years. When I was back in Florida taking acting classes, I used to write my own scenes, and then when I was asked “What play is that from?” or “What movie is that from?” I would lie and say I got the scene from a scene book. I didn’t want to be a writer, I wanted to be an actor. To my surprise, the other actors liked my scenes and the writing. I’ll never forget an actor asking me if he could borrow my scene book. I said that I lost it, but he could buy it at “Barnes and Noble”. I told him that I forgot the title, but it was green with blue writing on the front. Wouldn’t you know it, the next week he found a scene book that was green with blue writing on it. I figured that I should be honest after that.
AW: When did you realize that writing was something you wanted to do as a career?
RPJ: Nine years ago, I joined a theater company in Hollywood called Theatre 68. The artistic director, Ronnie Marmo, and I became close friends. I used to send him funny emails that he and his wife, Wendy would read. One day I was over at their house for dinner, and they suggested that I should start writing. I thanked them, but I didn’t take it seriously. Until one night, I was watching an old movie on TV. All of a sudden I got an idea for a play. I started writing it that night and couldn’t stop writing. Forty eight hours later I had written my first play, “Lost In Radioland”. I told Ronnie about the show, and let him read the script. He liked it, but wanted me to do more rewrites with a very funny actress Denny Siegel. After a few rewrites, Ronnie put the show up, and it was a great hit. It was during this process that I realized just how much I love to write. “Lost In Radioland” ran for eight weeks at Theatre 68, and it later got picked up by Theatre Palisades. We had amazing audiences, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I came away with a hit play and a new girlfriend, who would later become my wife, Melissa Disney.
AW: Tell me about that.
RPJ: (Laughing) Melissa and I were friends going into “Lost In Radioland”. I knew she was a great actress, so I asked her to be in the show. I’m often accused of casting her because I was interested in dating her, but that’s not the truth. It was after we were in the rehearsal process, that’s when I started asking her out. She’s an amazing woman, and I can’t believe that she married me.
AW: How has your marriage with Melissa affected your writing?
RPJ: She is so supportive, and really brings out the humor in me. I can tell her an idea I’m working on, and her laughter is all I need, to know that I’ve got a great idea in the works.
AW: Do you have a favorite play you’ve written?
RPJ: I really don’t, because each one has been such an amazing experience. “The World’s Worst Play, Ever” was some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing and directing. “Desperately Seeking Love” was a very special experience for me, because it was my first Romantic/Comedy. Plus getting to work with an amazing cast with actors like Bernie Kopell, Mariette Hartley, Richard Horvitz, Deborah Geffner, Izzy Diaz, my wife and Katie Zeiner, who’s been in every show I’ve written. That was a special cast and an experience I’ll never forget.
AW: How did you come up with the idea for “What’s So Funny?”?
RPJ: I was writing a couple of scripts for a couple of television shows, and an idea hit me - “what if there was a play about a writer and while he writes, his ideas are being played out by actors”. I began to work with that idea, and before I knew it, I had a play that I was very excited about.
AW: How do you know if your script is good or not?
RPJ: I don’t know. On the day of opening night, I usually have a panic attack and I’m a nervous wreck. When I start to feel better is after I hear the audience laugh for the first time.
AW: What’s the lasting impression you want your audience to have when they leave one of your shows?
RPJ: I want them to come out feeling like they’ve just had a great time. When I write, I try not to write anything that’ll make the audience feel uncomfortable. One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten was somebody telling me they wet themselves because they were laughing so hard. Another compliment was a guy who felt like his wife dragged him to a play, and by the end of the show, he ended up having a great time. That’s what I want, people wetting themselves and realizing their wives are always right.
AW: Who is your favorite playwright?
RPJ: I’ve got more than one. Neil Simon can never do wrong in my book, and I love his style of writing. However, my favorite play is Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off”, but there is one writer that I really enjoy. I’ve recently struck up a friendship with Jonathan Lynn and I look at him as my mentor. I’ve watched his movie “Clue” well over a hundred times, and his British TV show “Yes, Prime Minister” was brilliant television. He has now turned “Yes, Prime Minister” into a play, and it’s some of the best theatre I’ve seen in a long time. For anyone wanting to be a writer or director in theatre they need to read Jonathan’s book “Comedy Rules”. As you can tell I’m a big fan of Jonathan’s, and I’m so honored to call him a friend.
AW: Where do you see yourself professionally in ten years?
RPJ: Hopefully writing for television. I feel like I’ve got some really good ideas for some TV shows. I also hope I’m still writing for the stage, and my plays are being performed all over the world.
“What’s So Funny?” will make its debut at Theater Palisades July 19, 20, 21, 27 & 28. ■
For more information on Ryan Paul James: www.ryanpauljamesproductions.com