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Puerto Rican Actor Plays Benjamin Franklin At CT Repertory Theater

Bessy Reyna Bessy Reyna/
We seem to be experiencing an abundance of riches lately when it comes to Latino actors performing in different theaters in Connecticut. In June, TheaterWorks Hartford, will be presenting the play Fade written by Mexican playwright Tanya Saracho, directed by Jerry Ruiz and with actors Elizabeth Ramos and Eddie Martinez. Connecticut Repertory Theater (CRT) at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, is another venue which frequently invites Latino actors as part of the cast of their plays. Richard R. Henry, who directed the comedy Spamalot  at CRT, and who has appeared in plays at Yale Rep, and Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, and in many other theaters in the USA, has the lead role, in the Tony Award-winning musical 1776 , which will be presented from June 1 to June 10, 2017 at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, (ground floor of  Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts) in Storrs, CT, and opens this year’s  Nutmeg Summer Series. 1776 has a book by Peter Stone and Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards and it will be directed by Terrence Mann. Richard Henry will be playing Benjamin Franklin.
I am always impressed with, and very grateful to actors whom are always so generous with their time, when I have requested interviews, even though they are in the middle of an exhausting rehearsal schedules getting ready for the shows. I’m grateful to Matthew J. Pugliese, Managing Director/Executive Producer of the Nutmeg Summer Series, for facilitating this interview.
For more information about tickets and schedule for 1776, please call  (860) 486-2113.
R: Where are your parents from? Did they speak Spanish at home?
RH: Both my parents are from Puerto Rico. I was born and raised in the United
States going to New York City public schools. We did not speak Spanish at
home or at school. As a result, I do not speak Spanish now. It is
something that I regret, while at the same time I’m too old to consider
picking up.
BR: When did you become interested in acting/singing?
RH: I participated in a talent show in sixth grade. It was a Saturday Night
Live style news sketch with a bunch of very silly sixth graders including
myself. I was playing the nerdy newscaster who the other guys pick on.
There was a section of physical comedy where one of the bully newscasters
started pulling on my tie and choking me. Every time he pulled on my tie
the audience went crazy laughing. They were enjoying themselves so much at
these kids being very silly, the adrenaline rush it provided me was
something I’ll never forget. I pretty much realized then and there that I
would have to get more of this.
BR: Your first play or concert? Memories about it?
RH: My first play was in high school. It was a musical Shakespeare mashup
called Two Gentlemen of Verona: the Musical. It was my first big part in a
big musical show and I was very nervous. What I love the most is that I
realized that all of these kids around me were excited about making
theater and making it really good, as good as we could for kids our age.
I’m sure it was an average high school production of the show but we had
so much fun, in my heart I think it was really good. I was failing math
class because I was not a very good academic student, and after the show,
my math teacher came up to me and told me that this is what I should be
doing with my life. She complemented me and told me to pursue acting as a
career because we both knew I would not become a mathematician.
BR: Favorite composer, music?
RH: I am a great lover of film scores. John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny
Elfman  are a few of the many film composers that I love. Most of these
orchestral pieces have no words in them, so it’s very easy to take them
out of their original context and place it into my imagination when I’m
working on a character for a show that requires the type of emotion that
that music can evoke. Movie scores are beautifully designed to be
emotionally manipulative and that kind of manipulation is the kind of work
we do as actors as well. It’s helpful to hear the sound of sadness or joy
that film scores exude and find ways to put that into whatever character
I’m playing.
BR: If you have participated in different stages, do you have a favorite one?
RH: It’s hard to pick a favorite theater that I’ve worked for because there
have been so many wonderful spaces. The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego is
absolutely beautiful. I’ve worked at their outdoor space doing Shakespeare
in the summertime. It never gets too hot, and there’s always a cool breeze
in the evening. Having real stars above you while you’re talking about
them in a Shakespeare speech is kind of special.
BR: Aside from theatrical productions or concerts have you also worked on
movies and  TV, which one do you prefer?
RH: I have done a few independent film projects and some web series work.
Honestly, I consider myself a storyteller, and I like storytelling in all
it’s forms. So, really any medium that requires an actor is something that
I’m interested in. I love movies but I also love theater. It’s difficult
to get jobs in either arena, but I mostly work in the theater regionally,
in New York City, and on national tours.
BR: Do you have a preference as to the type of work you do?
RH:  It’s an actor’s job to be as prepared as they can be for whatever type of
acting work comes their way, film, television, musical theater etc. You
have to be ready to do it all if you’re lucky enough to get an audition
for it. I would love to do more film and television work but that is a
hard industry to break into. I can’t say which I prefer because I haven’t
done enough television and film work to decide. But like everyone else, I
am drawn to the movies, even though I have made my living and I’m very
satisfied being a theater actor. It never hurts to be ready.
BR: Touring, Do you like it or prefer to stay in one place?
RH: Touring is definitely for the young. I have done four national tours and
one in Europe. The travel is always exciting, but getting on a plane every
week will eventually take its toll. I’m a little too old now to be getting
on a plane every week to go to a different city and do a show. I prefer to
work in or around where I live in New York City.
BR:Your next project?
RH:  After 1776 at the Connecticut repertory theater I will be returning there
to play Joseph Pulitzer in the musical Newsies.
BR: What do you do for fun?
RH:  My boyfriend is a fashion jewelry designer; when I’m not acting I enjoy
assisting him on fashion photo shoots. It’s a whole different business
that I enjoy dabbling in.
Thank you so much for this interview, see you at CRT.
Bessy Reyna is a member of the Connecticut Critics’ Circle.

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