From dorming fees to ‘RENT’

Sean Ryan discusses his journey to performing national tours


Sean Ryan never knows when he has to jump into a role.

He has to be available at “any given notice” as an ensemble understudy in the “RENT” national tour.

Ryan performs as a swing –– an understudy for ensemble roles –– for the character Mark. 

But just a couple years ago, he was gracing stages at UB.

Ryan, a ‘16 theater alum, returned to UB recently to talk about his life as a professional swing and understudy for the 20th Anniversary Tour of “RENT.” While in college, Ryan performed in “Fame: The Musical” and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella” national tour. But Ryan feels that his time at UB has prepared him for his current job. 

“All of my dance classes through the dance department helped me grow so much as a dancer,” Ryan said. “And all of my acting classes really pushed me to become a better performer.”

Balancing a heavy workload was one of Ryan’s biggest challenges during his time in college. He was taking 22 to 24 credits per semester at one point.

 “But it was all worth it in the end,” Ryan said.

Kathleen Golde, a voice and movement professor at UB, taught Ryan for two semesters. She also got to work with him as an intimacy director in UB’s production of “Spring Awakening.” Golde found Ryan’s work ethic impressive.

“It was clear from the beginning how focused he was and how generous he was. He was equally as committed as a member of an ensemble as he was when he had a prominent role in any given production,” Golde said. “He always went way above and beyond to do all of the research and the homework that he needed to do to be prepared for it.”

Ryan booked “Fame: The Musical,” his first national tour, while still in college. He auditioned during his last semester of senior year. 

His career took off as a result of the tour. He booked his current agent after the tour and his job in “Cinderella” soon after.

Now, he’s traveling the country with “RENT.”

“For ‘RENT,’ I cover five roles.” Ryan said. “As the dance captain, I’m in charge of running rehearsals on tour, and making sure the show stays the same for all 300 plus performances. I have to take notes, and make sure everything on stage happens the way it should.”

Ryan describes his life on tour as “amazing and awful all at the same time.” 

He said living out of two suitcases and hotel rooms is a challenge but he enjoys traveling and seeing the world on tour. The tour gave Ryan the opportunity to perform in places like Tokyo and Shanghai.

The 20th Anniversary Tour of “RENT” stopped at Shea’s in March. Performing in Buffalo again was a dream come true for Ryan.

“I've seen so many touring productions at Shea’s while in school, so getting to perform on that same stage was a very full-circle moment for me,” Ryan said.

Ryan hopes that current students appreciate every moment they have in college and take advantage of every opportunity they receive.

“My biggest advice to current college students is to really take in all the information you can, especially the classes pertaining to your major,” Ryan said. “Don’t take anything for granted because it will all benefit you in the long run.”

Julianna Tracey is the asst. arts editor and can be reached at and on Twitter @JTraceySpec.


 Julianna Tracey is a freshman music theater and history double major. She’s excited to explore all that the Buffalo arts scene has to offer.