5 Years of BLEEP: A Conversation with BLEEP Magazine Founder, Ryan Brinson
From Bakeries to Burlesque to Broadway
By Kimberly Marable
I’m Kimberly Marable, a Broadway actress and co-founder of Broadway Serves, and I was first featured in BLEEP Magazine in the November/December 2011 issue, while I was in Sister Act. At the interview and photo shoot, Ryan & I became fast friends and now watch movies over ice cream and have numerous dinner dates (I’m a fat kid at heart). This marks Ryan’s first time being interviewed for BLEEP Magazine, and is my first appearance as a contributing writer.
Kimberly: Well, how do you feel about being interviewed?
Ryan: It’s odd. It’s the opposite of what I’m used to. It’s scary. Let’s do it!
Awesome! So, here I am interviewing the interviewer. I guess we should start from the beginning.
A very good place to start.
Thank you, Maria.
So, you’re from Texas.
Dallas, Texas originally.
In our previous conversations you’ve talked about falling in love with New York. Can you talk a bit about your journey from Texas to New York, and how that made you into the Ryan you are today?
The first time I visited New York was a spring break trip when I was in college. My first memory was walking to Central Park and thinking, “I mean it’s just a park. I don’t know what the big deal is.” Cut to me spending 6 hours in the park last Saturday. Then I went to Times Square, which I think is most people’s first touchstone to what New York is, because it’s what you see on TV and in movies. I saw three shows on that trip: Beauty and the Beast, Movin’ Out, and then I ended up seeing All Shook Up. With All Shook Up actually, there was a moment when Michael J. Scott was singing and it woke me up to what this thing of Broadway was. I mean I knew what it was, I performed as a kid. I was in The Music Man, as Winthrop, and I sang in choirs and ensembles and whatever else. But it always just seemed like [Broadway was] this thing that happened in New York, or it happened on TV. All of the sudden it was this thing happening in front of me. So, I did an internship here that following summer. I think I saw 15 shows that summer. I went home, I finished school, and went to grad school. Because of a program at Baylor, I was able to come up for my final semester of grad school and I finished my thesis, interned at an Off-Off-Broadway theater doing marketing, and I found a job that would let me move here permanently.
What was that job?
I was doing fundraising, development and marketing at a non-profit that helps homeless people get healthcare. I’ve always had a pay the bills job at the same time as the magazine. So, the first issue came out January 5th or 6th in 2011, and 10 days later I was living here. So it all kind of coincided together.
What was the impetus to start the magazine?
I’d done publication design since junior high. I did yearbook and newspaper in junior high, and in high school I became the yearbook editor by my junior year. Once I got to college, I did more newspaper and more yearbook all the way through grad school. Now, college yearbook is very different from what people think about when they think about “yearbook.” It’s basically a 400-page magazine of the year. It merged all the things I love: history, the university I love (Baylor), and designing something where I had near complete creative control. The magazine came from wanting to keep my skills sharp while I had this non-profit job. It’s also that I love magazines, but I hate the tabloid filter and what it exudes and what it exemplifies. I wanted to talk to real people. When I was at the Off-Off-Broadway theater, I would listen to the actors tell their stories in the lobby, and I was so interested in what they were saying. I thought the chances that people in Texas, or Missouri, or Nebraska were going to hear their story was slim to none, because they’re not the lead in a Broadway show or on a TV show or whatever. So that became the focus of the magazine: hear emerging artists stories in all forms of creative fields. It’s certainly expanded since then, but it remains the goal today.
I think it’s interesting that you’ve described the magazine in that way: telling emerging artists’ stories. Something that I‘ve always thought was really cool and different is that you find art in everything. Whether it’s a baker, a burlesque artist, or a Broadway performer. Could you talk a little bit more about non-conventional ideas of art, and what art is to you?
I grew up in the buckle of the Bible Belt. I loved my childhood and my teenage years. I experienced performing mostly through church, but I sang and I acted, and I choreographed things. I’ve always been a movie lover when it came to art house cinema, the stuff that nobody else sees beside Academy voters. But when I came to New York, it was through stage productions that my mind opened up to the possibility of what else was out there. It didn’t even matter if I necessarily agreed with the message of what the story was that was on stage, or what point they were trying to drive home, it was just the fact that they were doing it, that they were telling that story and they were doing it in an interesting and artful way. I spent a summer in London during grad school and I spent lots of time at the Tate Modern Museum of Art. I fell in love with modern art, because everything is outside the box. While the artist has their intention and what they did it for, you can really interpret it however you want. That’s the joy of art in general, but specifically modern art. I mean, I love a big Broadway show, a big musical, or the “Thor” movies. I’ll always love Britney. But I equally love the stuff in the tiny black box theater in the East Village that I just saw a blip about in the Village Voice, have no idea what it is, and just go on impulse. Or the singer a little club in Chelsea, and there are four people there, but it’s a vocalist unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Things like that are so inspiring. I feel like once you turn the art-knob on in your life, you start to see it everywhere you go. You see it in the way that a restaurant wall is decorated, or what someone is wearing on the street, what they’ve done to their shoes to take them from Marshall’s to magnificent. And at some point that knob switched and…everything is art. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with it, or if it challenges the things I do believe, that’s when art becomes exciting to me. When it forces you to think internally about what you believe. Maybe the end product is that it affirms what you believe. Maybe the end product is that it says ‘maybe I was wrong.’ Or maybe it’s just a seed that can grow at a later date, and can change as we grow, and change what we think. I just love art. And I love artists. The concept of loving the artist became bigger and bigger, and that’s what the magazine has facilitated in my own life. It’s opened the door for me to not only experience art that people might not experience without a Press Pass, but to get to actually sit and talk to artists and hear what their thought is, hear what their brainwave is, and hear their intention. And then there’s the situation like this right now when sometimes they become some of my closest friends. Whatever point that little switch turned on—which, I wish I knew the exact epicenter, because I would erect a monument in its honor in my life. Whenever that was, it has. And I can’t turn it off at this point.
And we don’t want you to. You’ve got many more years of writing to do. You’ve got a lot of great things to say. And I think what’s great about this conversation is that in a lot of magazines, you have a letter from the editor, but those are crafted answers and responses, and not an in depth look into you as a person, and I think your audience is ready to see that, and it’s very exciting.
It is exciting, and still a little nerve-wracking. But I like a challenge.
Well, I’m glad that I’m the one who gets to be here for it. You know, I love your word art-knob. Or was it heart-knob? Both I guess. I think it’s really awesome. My next question is do you have a brief memory that is like the pinnacle of what this magazine is about and/or just a proud moment for you as the creator of this magazine?
Okay, for this I have three easy, easy, answers. The first was when I interviewed Julia Murney. She was one of the first people I interviewed where I knew who she was before I interviewed them, and by that I mean, before I moved to New York, I was aware of her work in Wicked, Wild Party, and whatever else. So, she was not only one of the best interviews I ever had, but she was so lovely, so warm, and so down to earth. I had mentally prepared for a Broadway-diva big deal, and she arrived as Julia, and it was silly and lovely. It disarmed me and it taught me that I probably should be a little more open when I show up to these things because you never know.
The second, the Broadway Inspirational Voices, are my favorite thing in New York City, possibly the whole world. It merges the things I love most. It merges Broadway singers with down and dirty, black gospel music, and choral singing. I’m done at that point. I got to put them on the cover of the “Issue” Issue, which was about different people making a difference through their art. They do all sorts of work, not only teaching kids in schools that don’t have art programs, but they raise money for all sorts of causes that are incredible. So, I got to go to one of their rehearsals, and I interviewed Norm Lewis, who I think is amazing. After our interview, I was going to be sitting in on the rehearsal, but before the rehearsal, they get together and pray as a group. Of course, they are a diverse group of people, religious beliefs and faith systems, and they come together to sing this form of music that is meant to uplift people, regardless of what your belief system is. I remember when they got together in the circle to pray, Norm Lewis pointed to me, and motioned for me to come over and join the circle. It was one of those moments that probably meant nothing to him, and it probably meant nothing to them. But to me, it was a mere moment of inclusion in something that I believe in so passionately, and secretly wish I were singing in. Actually, not so secretly, I actively want to do it. [laughs]
Anyway, the third moment, happened once, but it literally happened again this morning. When my favorite gospel artist of all time, Natalie Grant, was promoting her first album, we were at a fine arts competition, doing one of her songs. She came and saw us perform. As a 16 year old kid from Texas who’d never been anywhere basically, it was one of those out-of-body, weird moments of “this artist is here to hear you do their song.” I did get to interview her a couple years ago when we did a gospel music issue, but I actually go to talk to her this morning about her new album. And she’s so warm and joyous and real as a person. I love a good full-circle Oprah moment, in that this person whom I have loved for 16 years, every song, every album, and every everything… is now someone I’m getting to talk to on the phone and learn about her artistic process, and the things she’s doing. When I first encountered her, she was an emerging artist. And now she’s won ‘Female Vocalist of the Year’ at the Gospel Music Awards 5 times, she’s Grammy nominated, she’s the biggest female performer in Christian music. It’s just a really cool full-circle moment. If I had a fourth, it would be the last issue, sitting in a circle talking about diversity on Broadway, which was by the way, the only time that I’ve teared up at the end of an interview, and you were there to see it.
I’m glad I was there.
That was ridiculous, but it happened, and I’m owning it, because that’s another thing that I’m hyper-passionate about. I don’t know even how to articulate that sometimes because it’s not something that I’ve ever had to deal with, being a white man from Texas. But it drives me crazy when I see any form of inequality. That was one way that I could hopefully do something, if even in a small way.
For sure! For my next question… actually, first of all… That was an amazing answer. Now. Is there a moment with the magazine where you feel like your (he)art-knob was especially on high? Things that were especially touching or…
Superficially, it was the day that one of the Spice Girls retweeted the magazine. Mel C. retweeted the magazine because we were talking about her song at the moment. That’s not a heart thing, it was just a cool thing. I feel like all of those earlier moments fit into this question. The thing that makes me the happiest is when I’m sitting with an artist who’s not affected, and they’re just being themselves, and talking about what they love. When they’re not jaded and there’s no pretense. It doesn’t matter if you’re a dancer in a tiny little show somewhere or in the company of The Lion King. I love that moment when I can hear someone’s heart come through when they’re talking about their art. And not everybody does it, and that’s fine. But when people do, it brings validation, not only to that moment, and to that interview, but it brings validation to five years of working on, and building this magazine. I don’t know if it’s a specific moment, but it’s a specific moment within many moments.
Is the magazine where you thought it would be five years ago when you started?
No. When we started, I didn’t have any idea where it was going to go. I grabbed some of my friends together. “You do interior design. You know a lot about film. You know a lot about music. Why don’t you write about it? I’ll put together in a fun package, and let’s just see what happens.” And we released on this platform, put it on Facebook, and 500 people saw it. And I was like, “Well, I guess that’s 499 more than I thought.” Well, 495 if you count the 5 of us who worked on it. And I thought, “Well, do you want to do it again? Let’s do it every other month for a year,”—because I don’t believe in doing anything small— “ and at the end of the year we can figure out if this is just a fun experiment that we did one time that made us happy, or if it’s something that should keep going.” And I think the readership for the last issue of that year— which is when you and I met— was somewhere around 3500. And eventually I think that issue hit 5000. I thought, “If we’re gonna do it, let’s go all in and do it every month.” So we’ve been on about a 10-issue-a-year thing since then. But I still don’t know where it’s going to go. I still don’t 100% know where I want to see it go, because it’s evolved so naturally. The platform is changing. We’re moving to a website format that’s more all encompassing, a more artist hub feature, which is something I love. “Ever onward and ever upward,” is what I say. I’m getting more opportunities now to talk to people who are in TV or in movies. I’m such a TV junkie that I can’t say no and that sort of thing challenges me. So, are we where I thought we would be? No. Do I know where we’re going? I know the immediate future of where we’re going. I don’t know. Ask me in a year, and we’ll see where we’ve gone since then. Because we’re not going to be stagnant, that’s for sure.
Check out the 5th Anniversary Issue HERE!
Ryan on Kimberly:
“I was spoiled by Kimberly Marable. Completely and utterly spoiled. She was starring in Sister Act on Broadway and after our interview, we became instant friends. When I knew she was going on for the lead, I would wake up early to get rush tickets so I could be front row to see her shine. She is a brilliant light in my life. As one of the founders of Broadway Serves, her heart for service and change works hand-in-hand with her heart for performing. I truly love this woman and love seeing her use all of her gifts to both help and bring people joy.”
Cover photography by Kevin Thomas Garcia
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