As part of The Baltimore Sun's Fall Arts Guide, reporters and critics picked 10 up-and-comers whose names you should get to know. See the full list here.
Ryan Haase, 29, songwriter, artistic director of Stillpointe Theatre
As a teenager living in his native Hawaii, Ryan Haase saw a touring production of "Fame the Musical" and decided on the spot, "I want to do that," he says. He just might achieve some fame of his own for a musical he's helping to create.
Haase has composed more than 25 songs for "Dorian's Closet," about a drag queen and a mummified body she kept. Rep Stage in Columbia will give the world premiere in April.
"I didn't go to school for music," says Haase, who moved with his family to Baltimore in 2004. "I took piano lessons in seventh and eighth grades. I learned 'His Eye Is on the Sparrow' because I loved 'Sister Act 2,' and I learned [Scott Joplin's] 'The Entertainer' for my mom. I would like to be better at reading music and playing songs."
But he clearly knows how to write them. A recent workshop held to fine-tune "Dorian's Closet" revealed Haase's flair for catchy melodic hooks and strong harmonies.
"Dorian's Closet" playwright and lyricist Richard Mailman tried out three songwriters without success before Rep Stage co-producing artistic director Joseph Ritsch recommended Haase.
"I told [Mailman] I'm not professional by any means, but I'll give it a try," Haase says. "He had the right to say 'that's trash,' but Richard really enjoyed the music."
Ritsch sees Haase bringing more than musical talent to the venture.
"One of the things I am most impressed with is that Ryan never compromises his vision — he has an incredible sense of vision — and he's really hungry for the work, two very important things for any artist to have," Ritsch says. "I think he has a very special voice."
Haase sums up his own ethos simply: "Not stopping. When there isn't work, make your own work."
After studying theater design and production at Towson University, he helped to found Stillpointe Theatre five years ago with friends. He's artistic director of this DIY troupe, which has a particular flair for staging musicals, some directed or designed by Haase. He contributed songs to a musical created by the company in its first season; it was about a gravedigger who keeps digging until he reaches the underworld.
Haase's list of compositions also includes what he describes as "a 15-minute coming-out musical" set in Las Vegas, and a group of songs about his ex-boyfriends. The latter helped him meet his current boyfriend. "He heard the songs and then we dated," Haase says. "He's a non-theater person, which I think is best."
This fall, Stillpointe will open its sixth season with the musical "Murder Ballad" performed at the Ottobar (the plot concerns a woman's conflicted affair with a bartender).
Also on the horizon is a new musical that Haase and two Stillpointe colleagues — Stacey Antoine (he's also musical director for "Dorian's Closet") and Danielle Robinette — started cooking up over the summer. It's about famous mistresses, among them Sally Hemmings and Marilyn Monroe.
"I love bouncing ideas off of people, hanging out in the living room, drinking a glass of wine and plucking out songs on the piano with friends," he says. "I'm ready to write more musicals."