Cris O’Bryon – actor, musician, coach & con man in THE GRIFT

Have you ever met those people that seem to have an overabundance of talent?  Like they’re good at everything?  Well, Cris O’Bryon is someone like that.  Not only is he an actor, an accomplished piano player ,and  a voice and acting coach, currently he is also helping teach theatre goers the art of the short con in THE GRIFT by the La Jolla Playhouse.

O’Bryon is an actor that is helping theatre patrons experience theatre in a new and interactive way in this new “without Walls”” production set in the Lafayette Hotel. This latest production for The La Jolla Playhouse puts the audience in the show as active participants learning the “art of the con”. Like the show teaches it’s audience, it’s all about using your resources to get information, so I was able to catch Cris between shows so he could be my inside source for what is was like putting this unique type of show together from a performers point of view.

Cris O'Bryon when he's at a rare moment when not acting, coaching, or playing music....
Cris O’Bryon when he’s at a rare moment when not acting, coaching, or playing music….

Cris is one of the many performers that you’ll meet over the course of the show, and while they all have different motivations, they all have the same goal – get the audience on board with their story, keep it moving, and to always keep it entertaining.  So as a performer, how was the process of developing this show?

“We had nearly a dozen different groups of test audiences to come and ‘test the game.’ That is to say, to help us find out what worked and what did not, and where the holes in the plot might be and the best way to create an exciting flow for the guests and connect to the story throughout the evening.”

This means that these audiences had a profound impact on the final product of this show as their feedback became key to informing the creative team what would go on to help shape the shows flow and timing.

“There is a timing that is key to making the show run on time.  We each have to balance how fast each group figures out their clue and discovers what each scene is about with the overall clock-time for each scene. So, if one group is really quick, we have to find ways to engage that group on other parts of the scene, whether by improv or by their own interactions with each other.

We had no idea how much of the script we needed, the internal timing for each of the scenes, so each one of those scenes are the same amount of time not matter how fast or slow the audience solves their clues.  So those test audiences really helped get to that.”

This is a challenging show on so many different levels for everyone. It’s a totally different theatrical experience and it can’t really be compared to anything else.”

For Cris, part of his character’s backstory is music, and specifically the piano.  So for his group they are treated to his fantastic piano playing skills. So much like the chicken and the egg, I had to ask, what came first the love of music or the love of performing?

My love of music came first – I think that is what drove me to perform second – The desire to create what I heard and what I connected with. I was fascinated by the story of music, and when you see these people singing and playing, like in “Peter and the Wolf”, and the composition is so evocative that you can see it in your head, that when you add lyrics, it becomes even more important that you are able to connect with it  as a performer.”

I felt this sounded like great advice in general, but this is probably why he is so successful as a performance and vocal coach as well as an actor and musician.  So I had to ask,  being a performer and a coach for performers, what is some advice you would give people as they are starting out into this field?  Especially younger people getting into the arts?

“Be prepared to work at it longer than you think you should have to, to get to where you want to go.  Be prepared to work at it whether or not you get the roles, projects or recognition you think you deserve in the meantime.  Find excellent coaches who challenge, train, and inspire you to leave your comfort zone and connect you to why you this field tugs at your soul and how to move forward.

Also, if you are more passionate about something else than performing, do that instead.  ].  Find the intersection of what you are skilled in, have a natural gifting for, and what you love.”

Last, before I let him go to teach new people the art of the con, I had to ask him about being a member of the San Diego Theatre community.  Since San Diego is a town with a lot of theatre companies and many of them are high profile regional theatres this allows San Diego to have a lot of theatre options throughout the year, and there is always something pushing the boundaries for our theatre patrons. As someone who has been working in the San Diego theatre community with many of the theatres in town, what do you think it is that makes our region such prolific theatre town?  What is it like to work in this community?

“I honestly do not know, other than that there are many many talented, resourceful and passionate people here who are willing to put their hearts and wallets into making live performance a part of their daily fabric of life.  Producing live theatre has never been easy to do, but somehow it continues to happen.  I believe it is directly the result of intentional investment of time, treasure and talent into creating as a regular habit that so many San Diegans do that make it the wonderful theatre town it is.  There are so many in the community who consistently support all facets of the business.”

You can catch Cris in THE GRIFT at  The Lafayette Hotel through March 22nd!  THE GRIFT is playing at The Lafayette Hotel 2223 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego. Show times are Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7pm; Fridays at 6pm and 8:30pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm, 6pm, and 8:30pm. For ticket information go to www.lajollaplayhouse.org

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