Even though he grew up in a theater family, Ryan Levin found his way into acting on his own when he auditioned for the school musical in high school. Now, he balances his time teaching at the Early Childhood Center at Temple Israel and acting — most recently, working alongside his dad and starring as Peter van Daan in the Park Square Theatre production of The Diary of Anne Frank. Get to know this teacher and actor in this week’s Who The Folk?!
How is your Passover going so far?
It’s going great! I had a seder at my parents’ house. We have this traditional seder where we have all these local actors and people from the Twin Cities over. Not all of them are Jewish, and we have this traditional seder where they come and we do an abridged version of the Passover seder but it’s lovely.
Have you grown up here in the Twin Cities?
Yeah. I was born and raised in South Minneapolis all my life.
How did you end up teaching at Temple Israel?
I started working at Camp Teko as a counselor, and I knew I wanted to work with kids in the daytime — I wanted that to be a day job of mine. The people at Teko are connected with Temple Israel and they made the connection saying, ‘Hey, we need guys to work at our preschool, and wondered if you would come in for an interview?’ So, I interviewed and I’ve worked there for four years now.
Wow. What do you like about working in early childhood specifically?
I’ve always loved working with kids. It’s really fulfilling and kids are so funny and smart and … I feel like it’s a very powerful position almost because you’re giving a lot of information about the world that they don’t know yet. And you’re teaching them their first words and giving them a lot of information. It’s a very daunting job but it’s also a very exciting one.
What ages do you usually work with?
The school is from ages… a couple months to five years old. But I mostly work with 3, 4, 5-year-olds.
You mentioned that they needed more guys. Did they need men specifically to work at Temple Israel?
There is a majority of women at the preschool, but I think being a guy at an early education program is very valuable because there aren’t a lot of men in the field. And there are men that work at ECC who are fantastic, but a majority of them are women. I’m happy to be one of the guys that work on that team.
You are also very involved with the theater community. How did you first get involved with that?
Well, I have a family that’s very involved in theater. My mom is a playwright, a very accomplished playwright. She wrote the show Autistic License, which toured the nation. My father’s been working as a professional actor since high school; so I was kind of raised into it. But I found my own interest in it in high school when I auditioned for my first musical, Li’l Abner, where I made a whole lot of friends doing it, and discovered I really enjoyed acting as well. It was just the start of my love for it. After I graduated high school, I thought, ‘this is what I want to do the rest of my life.’
So you are starring in the upcoming production of The Diary of Anne Frank. How’s that going?
Great! It’s wonderful. I grew up watching it — I was one of the middle school/high school students that came to see it, however many years ago. And it’s really crazy to be in it, with some of the actors who I actually saw in those productions and it’s a great feeling, it’s a really exciting feeling to perform for those kids who may be seeing theater for the first time, and hearing such an important story. That, and I get to be working with my dad, which is really weird to be working in a professional — I mean, it’s wonderful, it’s absolutely wonderful but it’s like, we’re working in a professional setting together, and it’s a show that I actually auditioned for and it wasn’t something he asked me to come join him in, so that’s pretty wild.
What has it been like working with him on this?
It’s great. He’s great, and I learned a lot from him growing up, watching him perform, and it’s interesting — it’s kind of a milestone in my own career, to have made it to a place where he also works and I think we have a mutual respect for each other, and I think he’s very proud. He is very proud, he told me. During one of the performances, before a show, he said, “I’m really glad you’re in this, and it’s really fun working with you.” So it’s good, and we have a great relationship.
So you’re playing Peter van Daan … what has he been like to play as a character?
Doing research on him, there’s not a lot said about that character besides through the diary or how Otto Frank has talked about the van Daans. I bring my own sort of personality into the character. He starts out as this young 16-year-old boy and I bring a bit of myself when I was 16. It’s interesting to go back to the youth, the hormonal, the emotional and all the hard things you had to go through when you were 16 and put that on stage. It’s been interesting and fun to play.
You mentioned that you had a personal connection to this play. What about this story resonates with you?
Unfortunately, the show is very timely. We can correlate it to so many things that are happening in our world today. I feel like a big part of it for me right now is that it’s a story about a young, articulate woman speaking out in a time of complete terror and injustice, and we’re going through a time where the kids in our world are speaking out against injustice. The kids’ voices are super important, just as Anne Frank’s was. I feel like that really connects with everything that’s happening today.
What, if anything, do you hope people take away from this show, especially with how timely it is?
I want people to know that these people were very real, and it could happen again. And, the Holocaust was so long ago, but I believe theater and bringing this show to an audience, it humanizes these historical figures in a way that they’re so reachable. I hope that people walk away knowing that these people were real and that the situation is very real. And I hope they can relate it to what happens in the world.
Favorite Jewish food?
Latkes are my favorite. I just made some this past Hanukkah and they came out terrific and I’m really proud of that.
Favorite Jewish holiday?
I love Rosh Hashanah. I think Rosh Hashanah’s a beautiful holiday, the Jewish new year. I think that’s a great time of coming together and I just think it’s sweet, all the traditions behind it are cool.Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!