e2: Joel Liestman and Ryan Newton Harris

Listen to the podcast here.

Please meet two of my longest friends (makes them sound stretchy, doesn’t it?😂), Joel and Ryan. They were interesting nearly 30 years ago, and that hasn’t changed. To call them quirky and idiosyncratic is not hyperbole; they really are both of those things. And, of course, I recognize those traits in myself, so I am naturally drawn to our like mindedness. Plus, they just plain make me laugh out loud, and I adore that quality in anyone.

With my dear friends Joel and Ryan. I need to work on my lighting.
Ryan Newton and I are in the middle. The Joad Family, The Grapes of Wrath. MSUM 1992.

Here’s some stuff from our conversation:

I don’t like most musicals from the 1980s. No thanks to Les Miserables, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera. I could tell I was disappointing Ryan, so I valiantly tried to redeem myself by remembering that I like Evita. Phew!

Matt Berck, a classmate of ours, drew this. Ryan and Joel are in the middle seats, playing with OJ and Judge Lance Ito finger puppets. I’m in the back, asleep. This was the trip where I was amazed that we traveled through five states in one single day. It’s the little things, people!

Ryan had the Internet in his dorm room in 1992. Yes, you are reading that correctly. 1.9.9.2. I remember that dorm room so clearly, and I remember being so impressed that he had a computer in his room. If I did know he had the Internet, I certainly didn’t understand what that even meant. I just know that when I said, “Oh I like that song,” the next day, a cassette tape would show up with Ryan’s distinct handwriting on the case.

Their podcast, The Movie Show with Joel & Ryan is intended to be only positive and exhibit Ryan’s encyclopedic brain. I really love that, and the show is a super deep dive into some very obscure places. Take a listen.

Joel is the Barbie doll look alike in the center in blue. Jeff Fietek, Casey Murphy, Robb Rossi and Tom Schwans were all in The Imaginary Invalid, too. 1993. Sadly, no Ryan Newton.

A mutual classmate of ours, Casey Murphy might (or likely might not!) appreciate that we immediately went back to our college-aged selves where he was concerned. Sorry, not sorry, Gerald. It was so fun to talk about Jeff Fietek, Robb Rossi, Jim Bartruff, Tom Schwans and so many others from our years in college.

Tuacahn Theatre is truly beautiful. If you pushed me, I could sing the entire opening song from the musical Utah! that I performed nearly 65 times the summer I was there (“Howdy folks, we welcome you…”). It’s in a stunning place in the world.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Customer Service is apparently an easier job if you have a theatre degree and learned how to be empathetic (I think maybe that’s not a skill I possess???). This is a really lovely section in the conversation, and it’s no surprise that it comes from Ryan. Because, of course, what comes from being idiosyncratic and a bit obsessive is also a truly deep and thoughtful mind.

The most depressing play I ever did was The Grapes of Wrath, and it also holds some of my most joyful memories. I’ve perhaps never laughed as often as I did with Ryan during that rehearsal period.

I’m second from R (next to my then-boyfriend who looks 75. To be fair, he was 26, which in college is closer to 75 than not); Ryan is next to me. Our friend Tim (standing next to Ryan) played Noah, the “tall but strange” brother. Joel’s wife Jen is in front of Tim. She played Grandma; she was 19. Sadly, no Joel. Why? Well, casting mostly came down to who had (you won’t believe this)…red hair. It was my lucky day! Well that, and I was willing to be (briefly) topless for the final scene.
Exhibit A, The Grapes of Wrath final scene. In a quirky twist of theatre magic, Jarrod played my Grandpa in Act I and a starving man whom I nursed back to (supposed) life in Act 2.

You have to listen closely at the very beginning, but Joel has called me “Dayna-girl” since almost the first day I met him–you know, the day I tore my shirt off in front of him and our entire acting class! It’s one of my favorite things about him because it’s just so sweet.

Joel, his wife and my friend Jen and me. Probably around 2010. I wonder why I’m wearing a Sesame Street muppet arm around my neck?

Not unlike my conversation with our mutual classmate Tom Schwans, these two men have known me, even if primarily through social media, throughout my entire adulthood–the good, the bad, the totally self-consumed and the ho hum day to day. Our lack of physical connection doesn’t diminish the way I feel about them or how important they remain in my memories of some of the most formative years of my life, and I am happy they were with me for the ride. It’s probably more accurate to say I am happy we were together as part of the road crew of those years and beyond.

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