By Lynn Venhaus
It might be July, but actor Ryan Cooper is thinking Christmas. And Halloween. Well, he’s an accomplished performer at any time of year, but it’s during those holiday seasons where he really shines.
For the upcoming season of St. Charles Christmas Traditions, he will return to his blue-lipped, blue-clad jester-like character Jack Frost for the 13th year.
He auditioned for the first four or so years, but now is contracted for the part.
“One of the perks of longevity is that many of the old-timers that have been the same role for a number of seasons get to return to our holiday alter-egos without the audition process,” he said. “But I’m just a baby in the whole scheme of things. We have cast members that have been involved in the festival for 20 years.”
St. Charles Christmas Traditions involves 80 characters who make the season bright, along with many special activities, along the town’s historic Main Street. Hours are Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, Nov. 23 – Dec. 24.
Two years ago, Ryan created the sister festival for the Halloween season called Legends and Lanterns.
“It celebrates Halloween by looking at the origins of the customs associated with the holiday. We have interactive villains from history and folklore — Lizzie Borden, the Big Bad Wolf, Medusa, and so forth, a Victorian mourning museum, and many other fun attractions and activities,” he said.
He also participates in the annual Voices of Valhalla event at Valhalla Cemetery in north St. Louis County, where narrated hayrides travel the grounds and actors portray some of the noteworthy individuals who reside there.
“It is a really wonderful event. Larry Marsh does all of the research and writes the scripts, and has such a talent for finding the most fascinating characters to portray,” he said. “We recently did ‘Echoes of Valhalla,’ a one-night ‘greatest hits’ of some of the most memorable characters from over the years, onstage at the Florissant Civic Center theatre.”
Ryan is truly a man of many hats.
This summer, Ryan starred in “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” for Stages’ Theatre for Young Audiences. He played Zeke, King Julien, Mason and Foosa. It’s his third year in the children’s musical, having played the Mad Hatter in “Alice in Wonderland” and the Cat in the Hat in “Seussical.”
“I absolutely adore working with Stages. I pinch myself every time I get to do a show with them, because I have been such a big fan of the company since I saw my first Stages’ show in 2005 – “Man of La Mancha.” It is incredible the amount of love and dedication the staff puts into their theatre for young audience shows, just as they would for any of their mainstage productions. It is a joy to be a part of,” he said.
He particularly likes performing theater for youngsters.
“There is just something so special about doing shows for families and young audiences. There is always an electric energy. And knowing that there are people in the audience who are experiencing live theatre for the first time, and that I get to be a part of it is the cherry on top of the cake,” he said.
Another summer activity he enjoys is hosting the annual Best Performance Awards on the second Sunday in June, which is produced by non-profit organization Arts for Life. Awards for excellence in community and youth musical theater are presented.
In addition to an opening monologue and introducing presenters, Ryan inserts comic bits that are often sight gags and involving theater or familiar characters. He returned as master of ceremonies June 10 after taking a break last year. He had emceed in 2014 – 2016. Because he is so popular with the crowd, AFL has locked him in for the 20th awards in 2019.
As a teenager, Ryan began getting noticed in community musical theater, especially for being funny. He won three BPA awards for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedic Role — as Bud Frump in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying,” Carmen Ghia in “The Producers” and Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
“Hosting is such a sincere honor for me. This year before the show started, while I was getting ready, I thought back to how my first BPA ceremony I attended was in 2006, where I volunteered as an usher,” he said.
“So, to get to act as master of ceremonies was a surreal moment where I realized how lucky I am to get to be a part of this community. I don’t get the chance to be as directly involved with the wonderful community theatre scene like I once was, so to have Arts for Life as an opportunity to be with old and new friends that make up the vibrant and talented St. Louis theatre family is such a privilege.”
He had moved away in 2013, hired to work in the long-running Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and the short-lived Storybook Circle Giggle Gang shows at Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla.
Upon his return, he was hired as a tour guide for the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
“It’s where I get to take on my biggest acting challenge — acting like I know anything at all about sports,” he said.
“Seriously, it’s great. I’ve been giving tours there for four and a half years, and even though I am not a sports guy, as a native St. Louisan, you grow up with at least a great admiration and appreciation for the history of the St. Louis Cardinals,” he said. “I am happy to share their stories and hear the stories of the people from around the world that I get to interact with every day. Plus, as a performer, I get to have a captive audience for an hour at a time while on tour — what’s not to love?”
In addition, he is a docent at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.
“So, between that, and getting ready for the third season of Legends & Lanterns, and my 13th season with Christmas Traditions, that’s what the rest of my 2018 looks like, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love it!” he said.
Here are Ryan Cooper’s answers to our questions:
Why did you choose your profession/pursue the arts?
I feel that it’s something that happened organically over time. I had done shows at school when I was younger and had always enjoyed them, but I think the real formative moment was when ‘The Producers’ came through the Fox on its first national tour. I was hooked, and said to myself, ‘that’s what I want to do.’ My poor mother had to put up with me marching around the house singing tunes from the show for months after that.
How would your friends describe you?
Ha! I think my friends would definitely describe me as quirky — though they assure me they mean it in an endearing way.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
I am crazy about going to museums. I love history and I love learning, so I try to go to every exhibit I can. History museums, science museums, art museums — I can’t get enough. A few years ago, I was vacationing in St. Petersburg, Fla., and my first stop was not to their beautiful beaches, but to the Florida Holocaust Museum. That about sums it up.
What is your current obsession?
My current-yet-long-running obsession is all things Titanic. I’m a total nerd. When I traveled Ireland in 2009, I visited the final port where the ship was docked at, and did a one-man re-enactment of James Cameron’s epic three-hour film in 30 seconds — video proof of which I post on Facebook every April 10 for “Titanic anniversary week.”
What would people be surprised to find out about you?
Every spring, I travel over to the nation’s capital, where I give multi-day tours of Washington D.C. to school groups from around the country. A fascinating town — not to mention the abundance of excellent museums!
Can you share one of your most defining moments in life?
That would hands down have to be working for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. I am a huge Disney fan, and used to go to the parks every year with my mom. I have wanted to work there since I was four, and in 2013, I was lucky to see that dream realized as I joined the casts of the long-running Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and short-lived Storybook Circus Giggle Gang shows. While I didn’t get to stick around for as long as I had hoped, it was a phenomenal experience, both personally and professionally. I got my Actors Equity card with “Hoop,” and for the first time, really experienced up-close the “business” side of show business — both the good and not-so-pretty parts. It’s an experience I treasure.
Who do you admire most?
Since I was in second grade, I have had an enormous admiration for Anne Frank. She has been an inspiration to me for my entire adult life, and her words have provided countless moments of peace and hope in times of need. I have a well-worn photo of her in my wallet that goes with me everywhere.
What is at the top of on your bucket list?
Speaking of Anne, the tippy-top of my bucket list is visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. I will for sure be there June 12, 2029 for her 100th birthday — but hope to get a visit in well before then.
What is your favorite thing to do in St. Louis?
Oh gosh! That is a tough one. I am crazy about this town and feel that there is still so much I’ve got to explore. With that being said, every time I go to Shaw’s Garden (Missouri Botanical), and it doesn’t matter how many hundreds of times I’ve gone, I am in awe. Now if only I could get my backyard to look that good!
I’ve recently dipped my toes in the water of being on the director/producer side of things. In 2016, I created “Legends & Lanterns: A ‘Spirited’ Journey Through Halloween History,” a festival that takes place along Historic Main Street in St. Charles and delves into the origins of our most beloved All Hallow’s Eve traditions, while allowing visitors to rub elbows with some of the most infamous villains in history and folklore. So, I’ll be back directing that this October, then on to my 13th season as Jack Frost for the “St. Charles Christmas Traditions” festival.
All About Ryan Cooper
Birthplace: St. Louis
Current Location: Unincorporated North St. Louis County
Family: Only child to my awesome “Mommie Dearest,” Cindy Cooper
Education: Trinity Catholic High School, Fontbonne University (B.A. Performing Arts)
Day Job: Tour Guide for the St. Louis Cardinals (among many other jobs)
First Job: Jack Frost at St. Charles Christmas Traditions when I was 17.
First Role: Royal Child #4 in Riverview Gardens High School’s “The King and I” in 1998
Favorite Roles: So many! Including: Man in Chair (The Drowsy Chaperone), Bud Frump (How to Succeed…), and Thenardier (Les Miserables).
Dream Role: This is a total cop-out answer, but I truly don’t have one — yet. I’m working on it.
Awards: Three-time Arts for Life Best Performance Award winner for Bud Frump (How to Succeed), Hysterium (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), and Carmen Ghia (The Producers)
Words to live by: “No individual has any right to come into this world and go out of it without having left behind distinct and legitimate reasons for having passed through it.” –George Washington Carver
A song that makes you happy: “It Had to be You”
Photo Credits: AFL BPAs Gerry Love, Stages St. Louis, The Producers and St. Charles Christmas Traditions provided by Ryan Cooper, and featured image by Lynn Venhaus.