nobody movie_Back then I was trying to get the stage rights for my favorite movie Newsies (when I was 12)


It was 1992. Early fall. A breezy weekday. I was 12. Bored. teetering. what to do what to do. I know! I’ll find a way to get the stage rights to my new favorite movie Newsies. how you do

I was living in southern Michigan at the time, but I didn’t want to let the 2,289 miles between me and Hollywood get in the way. I had a dream: to play as “Christian Bale” in the very first stage production of Newsies. But – cheese and rice! – Time was not on my side. Newsies was the best movie of all time – obviously – anyone with eyes knew that. Surely someone rushed in to get those glittering stage rights. I had to be that someone.

Ryan Spahn (second from left) with his castmates A Christmas song.

I was already an actor, you know. This coffin was nailed shut in the winter of 1991 after seeing the local professional production of A Christmas song. I turned to my mother and said, “This is what I do. For the rest of my life.” I quickly developed goals. Dreams. deadlines. I even kept an extensive entertainment diary. No personal thoughts – no, no – but a detailed list of industry connections: casting numbers, theater addresses, casting hotlines, etc. I was super pumped. Organized. Committed.

But I was late. For my own career. Kids my age acted on TV shows like You can’t do that on TV and roundhouse. I was tragically behind. I had to make smart business moves. Stat. If I ever meant to make it The next logical step would be to cold call Hollywood.

But how does one do it …?

Max Casella and Christian Bale present Newsies.

Quite fast: Newsies is inspired by real events. It’s New York City. 1899. Everyone is sweaty. Newspaper tycoon Joseph Pulitzer (a mustache-twirling Robert Duvall) has raised the prices at which the “newsies” buy their “daddies.” The newsies don’t have it that way, so through song and dance – Seize the day! – they decide to form a union. Leading the strike are Jack (a glorious Christian Bale) and David (a lovable David Moscow). In the end, the newsies succeed. It’s historical. Bill Pullman, Ann-Margret and a million teenage boys star in What the Orlando Sentinel titled “The best live-action motion picture musical ever Little Shop of Horrors.

Newsies was released in cinemas in April 1992, but the musical masterpiece was available on VHS in the autumn. I could have my very own copy. What I did. It was clenched between my little fingers. But how do I get the stage rights? The internet didn’t exist. There was something like a library up the road and a phone book wedged in my mother’s closet. None of these contained Hollywood’s personal digits. Believe me I checked it.

I sat down at my family’s wooden kitchen table. I opened my entertainment journal. I flipped through the collage of newspaper clippings for all the public auditions I had attended (Sister Act 2: Back in Robe, Polish Wedding, Hoffa), past the notes from my seminar with casting director Jane Brody, past the address for my headshot session with Kendra Dew—until I finally reached a fresh, clean page.

I racked my brains. I looked at the cover of the VHS: a happy Christian Bale being showered with newspapers. My goodness, that’s what I wanted. I turned the VHS over. “Distributed by Buena Vista Home Video. Burbank, California.”


Entertainment Journal by Ryan Spahn, with sister act 2 Open Call audition info (right).

I grabbed my family’s land line, which was wall-mounted with a tangle-free cord that was always tangled. I chose “0”.

“Can I have the number for Buena Vista Home Video in Burbank, California?”

“Hold please.”

A voice came back and gave me an 818 number.

mother?” I shouted. “Can I make a long distance call?!

“Don’t yell from the other room, darling!” Mom came into the kitchen with her arms crossed. “You know I don’t like it when you do that.”

“Sorry, but I need to call Burbank, California.”


“I’m trying to get the stage rights Newsies and they gave me an 818 number,” I said defiantly.

“Keep it short, darling. It’s a long distance.”

“I know it’s a long distance!” I lost patience. “That’s why I asked permission!”

“You didn’t just ask permission.”

“Just stop,”
I rolled my eyes angrily.

I dialed the 818 number. An operator answered. Let’s call her Ruth for the sake of argument…

“Buena Vista home video. This is Ruth speaking. How can I forward you?”

“Hello Ruth” I said passionately. “My name is Ryan Spahn. I’m 12. I live in Detroit. I inquire about the stage rights Newsies.”

“Did you say you’re 12?”

“Yes!” I cried out, more than annoyed. “Can you help me?”

“Wait a moment.”

I waited. Mom stood by curiously. The operator came back.



“I have a number. For Hollywood. Can you write that down?”

That Newsies Page in Ryan Spahn’s entertainment journal.

“Yes,” I opened my pen. Always the student.

“Ask to speak to Brenda.”

“Who is Brenda?”

“She works for Kenny Ortega.”


“Kenny Ortega is the director of Newsies.

“I know!” She obviously didn’t know who she was talking to. “Is that Kenny Ortega’s personal number?”


I hung up with Ruth. My mouth dropped.

“What, darling, what?”

“I just got Kenny Ortega’s phone number.”

“Who is this?”

“The Director of Newsies!!!”

“For real?”

“Yes! Can I call him?”

“Do it!” Mom sat across from me totally hooked.

I called Hollywood. A woman answered.

“My name is Ryan Spahn. I’m 12. I’m calling to speak to Brenda.”

“This is Brenda.”

“I got your number from Ruth at Buena Vista Home Video.”


“I live in Detroit. I’m 12. I want the stage rights Newsies. Ruth told me to call you.” I panicked. Sweat.

“You are 12 years old?”

“Yes! I turned 12 in June!”

There was a long pause. Endless. Mom smiled and died of curiosity.

“Rian? Are you there?”

“I’m here.”

“Can you hold a second?”

“Yes,” I said. I would have lasted the rest of my life.

“Hi?” An older man answered.

“My name is Ryan Spahn. I’m 12. I’m from Detroit. I called to get stage rights Newsies.”

“Hi Ryan. This is Kenny Ortega. I directed Newsies.”

Ryan Spahn’s first headshots as a teenage actor.

I almost dropped the phone. Mom gave the “What, what?” eyes.

“Hello, Mr. Ortega. Nice to see you.”

“You can call me Kenny.”

“Hello Kenny.” I probably cried. I can not remember.

“I really loved your film. Do you have the stage rights?”

“Thanks Ryan. Well, nobody currently has the stage rights, but to be honest, Disney was very disappointed with how the film performed at the box office. Unfortunately I don’t think the stage rights will ever be available. I think it wasn’t a success for them financially.”

“Oh,” I murmured. I’d never understood what defined success, but I could hear in Kenny’s voice that he did.

“But…how about you give me your address Ryan and when the rights become available I’ll send you a letter.”

“Okay,” I said.

I rattled off my home address and we broke up.

I could not believe it. In less than five minutes I was on the phone with the director of my favorite film. I was stunned. Speechless. encouraged. So encouraged that I’ve been auditioning professionally for 30 years now. It is 2022, both the anniversary of Newsies and my personal anniversary.

After high school I moved to Los Angeles. Like the newsmakers, I made the most of the day at every turn. I started crashing my friends’ auditions; show up unannounced. Why not? If Kenny Ortega took my anonymous call, surely a casting director would take my anonymous arrival. And they did. for years. I even booked my first big TV job this way. Here one looks at you Star Trek: Voyager.

As I got older, the charm of it faded. I had to dig deeper into why I was acting in the first place. A constantly evolving roller coaster. Definitely related to my parents’ divorce, definitely inspired by A Christmas song, but certainly strengthened by the fact that you learn early on that people actually want to help. Even if that help is never Hollywood’s measure of success. Which it rarely does. Someone will always answer your call. Someone will always be listening. Someone will always encourage. That’s the way you look, Mom. Even through the rejections, of which there is an endless flood, there are immeasurable gains. I’m looking at you Kenny.

(In the spring of 2012, Newsies Finally opened on Broadway 20 years after its theatrical release. While I never received a letter offering me the stage rights, for years I received a Christmas card from Kenny Ortega that read: A donation has been made on your behalf to support AIDS and HIV research. What a human.)

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