In this nasty cold and flu season, actress Bianca Bryan is using every trick she can to keep her voice strong and healthy for her role as the circa 1900s aviatrix daredevil Emily Stilson in Firehouse Theatre’s production of Wings: The Musical.
The haunting chamber musical revolves around the journey Stilson takes as she fights her way back to language and comprehension after a stroke.
Trained in opera as well as musical theater, Bryan sings 90 percent of the time she is on stage in Firehouse’s production. She admits to “being a little more neurotic than usual” when it comes to protecting her voice.
“I’ve done some research on singing strenuous roles and how to stay healthy,” she says, noting she’s taking vitamins and using humidifiers and a diffuser with essential oils.
When she took this role, she knew she would be going back to her vocal roots – she has a bachelor’s degree in opera from Manhattan School of Music. But, she hasn’t sung opera since she became more involved in musical theater, films, commercials, and television.
What drew her to Wings was the music. “It’s so challenging,” she says. “I was also drawn to the character. The character has to speak to me and she did.”
Bryan enjoys being able to tell a character’s story even, she says, if that character is evil. “It’s about finding where their truth is, where they justify themselves.”
In Wings, she takes an introspective look at the rehabilitation process Stilson’s mind is going through after her stroke. “What do people cling to? What do they remember when they have lost the ability to speak or move,” Bryan says. “Emily is experiencing something she never expected to experience. This is fascinating to explore.”
A familiar face in Richmond’s theater scene, Bryan got interested in singing when she was in elementary school, often belting out the songs of Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton. She didn’t get serious about music until high school.
“My sister was always in chorus and she said I should do it too,” Bryan recalls. “My sophomore year, my chorus instructor told me to start private voice lessons and that gave me the validation I needed.”
The child of diplomat parents – she was born in Pretoria, South Africa – Bryan lived in Africa and South America before eventually moving to Northern Virginia. She has a masters in acting from Brooklyn College in addition to her degree in opera. She moved to Richmond in 2012 after spending sixteen years in New York City.
The mom of a 5-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, Bryan and her husband didn’t want to raise their family in New York City. She discovered Richmond by visiting her sister who moved here after college. “Richmond became my home away from home,” she says.
The city was definitely on her radar when she received a call from Steve Perigard in 2008 when he was casting The Clean House for Virginia Rep. “I can still see where I was when I got that call. I was at Macy’s on 34th Street,” she says.
Moving to Chesterfield four years later was the “best thing we have ever done,” she says. “It was kind of a blind move, but we felt like it was the right place to be.”
While she knew Richmond was a strong theater town, she didn’t realize it was also booming in film, television, and commercial work. “That has been a nice addition to my working at WCVE as a funding credits announcer,” Bryan says.
Since moving to Richmond and working with Modelogic, she has done commercials for a variety of well-known businesses including Walmart, Geico, and American Family Fitness. She also does corporate videos and worked as a stand-in for Mary Elizabeth Winstead in season one of Mercy Street and as a utility stand-in for Homeland.
When it comes to theater, Bryan tries to rotate the theater companies she works with in order to get a “different experience with each company,” she says. “I also limit myself to three shows a year. My goal is to have done each of those three with a different company and for each show to be drastically different from the one before because I want to utilize different parts of myself.”
Wings: The Musical runs through March 10 at Firehouse Theatre. Go here for showtimes and tickets.