'Smash' Choreographer Returns to Teach at Upper East Side College
UPPER EAST SIDE — After he became a top choreographer for the hit show "Smash," Ryan Kasprzak went back to school — to teach.
The Marymount Manhattan College acting alum has been working in the performing arts since graduating in 2002 — including as assistant choreographer for the second season of the NBC series — but recently returned to his alma mater to choreograph a student production.
Asked how he landed such a big gig, Kasprzak explained that he had known the show's Emmy Award-winning choreographer Joshua Bergasse since childhood, and that they also happened to share an agent — creating an unexpected opportunity.
"'Smash' was just sort of a lucky situation that fell into my lap," explained Kasprzak, 33.
"We'd been friends a long time, and he was looking for a new assistant choreographer for the second season."
Kasprzak was still working on "Smash" while choreographing the Marymount students' show, "Triumph of Love," a romantic musical based on Pierre de Marivau's 18th-century comedy.
Despite the scheduling constraint, he wanted very much to work with the aspiring actors — and jumped at the chance when professor Kevin Connell asked to help out with the musical, which ran from March 6 to 10.
"I said, 'I would love to come back and do it,'" Kasprzak noted. "Luckily we were able to schedule when I knew I'd be available."
Kasprzak said that teaching in the same place where he was once a student proved a special experience. Because he wasn't being graded by professors and judged by other students, he felt less pressure and competition.
"To come back and work as a collaborator was so wonderful," he said. "It was such a relaxed process. As an adult, I'm much more comfortable and competent in what I do."
Returning to Marymount also allowed Kasprzak to harken back to some college memories.
The Michigan native recalled coming to New York as "an 18-year-old kid who loved theater" but was "such a disaster" trying to balance city living with school, he said.
Kasprzak, who Rollerbladed to school every day, lived in the 92Y dormitories on Lexington Avenue as a freshman and later split a two-bedroom apartment on East 46th Street with three other guys, he said.
"In my mind, it was just the coolest thing: 'I'm living with some of my buddies in New York!'" said Kasprzak, who now lives in Astoria, Queens. "I think I wore cargo pants every day. The Fugees were big."
Kasprzak said he was also taken aback by some changes to the neighborhood.
"The first few weeks were so surreal. I'd be like, 'Oh, I'm going to grab a slice at Georgio's,' and it's not there anymore," he said.
Connell said Kasprzak's presence was special for him, too, explaining that "he was in the sample class I taught to get the job."
"That was when I was a freshman!" Kasprzak exclaimed.
Students who worked with Kasprzak on the production seemed to enjoy the experience as much as their teacher.
"The first time we met him was back [during] callbacks. I was like, 'Oh, this is terrifying. Here's this guy from 'Smash,'" said Melissa Hirsch, a 20-year-old musical theater junior.
But Kasprzak's demands that the actors immediately do improv quickly made Hirsch feel "totally comfortable," though she does not typically feel confident improvising, she said.
"Everybody from the callback was great," she said.
Angelo McDonough, a 20-year-old musical theater junior, said improv — and Kasprzak's integration of "clowning" techniques — provided a unique learning experience.
"Doing the exercises as a cast — it was such a great experience to see everyone let go," he said.