Ryan Andersen, a senior music industry student, has many titles to his name; musician, songwriter, and, now, playwright.
Andersen combined his writing and music skills to compose an original 73-page screenplay called Pages. Pages is a hip-hop musical that is written in spoken word, a rhythmic form that is prevalent in the genre.
The play follows protagonist Ben, who is based on Andersen himself, and his experience meeting and opening up to his romantic interest Kassandra. Ben, who travels to New York City, experiences an instance of bullying before meeting Kassandra in Prospect Park and bonding over Kid Cudi—an artist that Andersen looks up to.
Andersen said that he wrote the play, “To help kids who suffer from mental illness. It’s for the kids who aren’t popular. I’ve gotten bullied a lot through my time in high school and it’s for those kids, mostly.”
Andersen’s rich history in music includes internships with two record labels, recording around 50 of his own songs, and even freestyling for one of his classes with a beatboxer who visited as a guest speaker.
“I wouldn’t be able to make Pages without the hip-hop background I have,” he reflected, right before reciting some of the play’s rhymes from memory.
Pages began as a 14-song album before Andersen decided to reorganize it into a musical. He has been developing the story since he was 18 years old. Now, at 24, he pitched his project to MU’s Department of Music and Theatre Arts on Dec. 1, as well as the Garden State Film Festival. This Asbury Park-based film festival serves as a forum for independent filmmakers to exhibit their work, according to their official website.
Andersen said, “I find theatre cool but I feel like there’s not a huge cool factor when it comes to it, and that’s why I like doing the hip-hop spoken words. Spoken word is big, especially with hip-hop. Hip-hop is obviously the most listened to genre of our generation.”
He continued, “What’s different about the hip-hop in this story is that it’s not about girls and drugs, it’s mostly about love and finding commonalities, sharing stuff with people, and feeling vulnerable.”
By incorporating the spoken words of hip-hop with a theatrical performance, Andersen hopes to reach an audience who will feel a sense of community after seeing the play.
He said, “If there’s a topic going on in our generation, Pages talks about it. There’s nothing it doesn’t touch upon. I want to do something that can help people and people can relate to more.”
Pages deals with topics such as bullying, sexual assault, mental illness, and LGBTQ+ themes. A story about vulnerability and openness, Andersen said that he hopes to set an example for kids who have had similar life experiences.
“A lot of it is through my life,” said Andersen. “I’m taking a lot of risk with this, telling my stories.”
Andersen found motivation from his not only his family, whom he is very close with, but also from the faculty here at Monmouth—particularly James Donio and Rashida Cruz from the Department of Music and Theatre Arts.
Donio commented, “Ryan is one of the most enterprising and committed students I have ever taught at Monmouth. His passion for music and the industry is contagious.”
Picking up pieces of his own life and putting them together to form Pages, Andersen hopes this ten-year project will inspire audiences just as he was inspired by his own experiences.
“I have every confidence that he’ll put in the work and do whatever it takes to succeed,” Donio continued. “I can’t wait to experience this new project.”
PHOTO COURTESY of Ryan Andersen