This piece is a part of our Q+A series. Know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.
Profile: If you’ve made it to a Richmond Flying Squirrels game this season, you may have noticed a new voice calling out plays or announcing your favorite player. That voice is Bianca Bryan, who has used her vocal talents for everything from Richmond sports to VA news to local theater. She works with local PBS station VPM, Virginia Repertory Theatre and does several other voice acting projects + helps people create demos on her website.
We asked Bianca 8 questions about joining the crew of 6 total female announcers in all of Minor or Major League baseball, and how someone born in South Africa, and grew up around the world made a home in Richmond.
(This interview has been edited for length + clarity.)
How did you and your family find your way to Richmond?
I was actually born overseas in South Africa. So probably about ‘76, my dad joined the Foreign Service and then they started moving all over the world. So I actually never lived in California, but that’s where we would always go for summers when we were back in the country.
So I would go visit my grandparent’s farm about two hours outside of San Francisco, like a big, sprawling ranch. I grew up in South Africa, Argentina, El Salvador, Chile. And then, I was in and out of Northern Virginia. And so that’s kind of how Richmond got on our radar — because my sister came and moved here first.
She went to William and Mary, and then she moved here for Capital One. And so she was always here, so if it was Thanksgiving or whatever, and I was in college in New York I would come down and visit Richmond. And then all of a sudden, I have two kids and I’m like, where do I want to raise my family? And then I worked for Virginia Repertory Theater. And so it was kind of like, alright, we’re gonna give Richmond a try.
So that’s her origin story, but what got her to stay in the River City?
You said it was your voice acting career that led to the announcing job?
So I went to school for opera music, did opera for about a year, then did musical theater for a large chunk of my life in New York. I do musical theater to this day, but honestly it’s kids that got me into voiceover acting. Because I got pregnant and I was like well I can’t be in a musical unless it’s like a pregnant woman, I can’t be you know, on stage or screen or whatever so I was like, “What can I do to use my talent when I’m pregnant?”
Then I just randomly got a voiceover demo in New York where you pay, you know, a certain amount of money to make your demo, even with no experience. Then it just kind of took off from there. That was 11 years ago, and then voiceover has become by far the most successful part of my life performance.
Also, I work for VPM during the day, so I did all their underwriting announcements so I’m like the secret voice. You’ll never hear my name, you’ll never hear, you know, that’s who that person is, but I do all those sorts of “support for VPM comes from our members.” So I did that for three of their stations so they have the NPR station here and then they have two music stations.
So, that’s my day job, and doing that is how the Squirrels knew about me. But the Squirrels job was really random how it came about. It’s like one of those things in your life that just happened so then you’re like, oh I could totally change the trajectory of my life because I, as a performer, like hustling so I’m always looking for summer jobs. And so I saw a random posting, and usually these jobs are not posted for general hire. But, they posted for it because the guy who had been doing it for two years was moving. So I went in and I joked with my dad, I was like, “Oh, this is so funny.” I applied for this job and like, thinking it would never in a million years happen because most of the time it isn’t.
You know, out of all the major and minor league baseball teams, that’s 190 teams, there are six women doing this stuff right now. So you know, I was like this never gonna happen, and then he called me and asked me to come in for another shift. I went in and I studied hard for the audition. Luckily, I was at the beach with my dad that weekend. My dad is a huge baseball fan. I love going to baseball games but it was more so, you know, my dad would tell us what was happening. But I wasn’t retaining all the facts. Now I retain the facts. Now I can tell him about things I learned! So yeah, my dad helped me prepare, I went in for the audition, the rest is history.
Trace, her 11-year-old son, who is a fixture at many Squirrels games, jumps in: She did a lot of talking with my grandpa. I was down in my bed, and you were talking loudly until like one o’clock in the morning. Because you didn’t tell me that you might have gotten in for the Squirrels. I was like, “I don’t know what they’re doing? They’re talking about baseball? My mom never does that!”
Bianca: I don’t tell you everything I auditioned for, they only tell you what they actually come up to, you know, to fruition! And I never knew how to study baseball. So my dad and I would just stay up late every night and work on it.”
So now that you have a season under your belt, what’s your most exciting game or play you’ve announced?
I mean there’s been really some exciting plays, apparently double plays don’t happen very often in minor league baseball? See, I’m learning all this as the season goes by, but there was a game where we had three double plays and we were like, “it’s a record!” And then I get to do a special read when we have double plays sponsored by Kroger. It’s so exciting because all the reads that I have to do with the game are just like a nine page script. And then I have like these reads that are situational. And so it’s like if there’s a stolen base, if they strike out, which is the one I use the most often, and then the double play one. It’s like, I don’t get to read it very often.
Trace: For home runs, they pick a section or row, and those people sitting there get a free drink. I haven’t won any of those though.
Bianca: We’ve been going to the games since about 2012, when he was 2 and my daughter was four months old, but they make it super fun for kids of all ages.
Nothing goes better with baseball than free food and friends ― which got us thinking about what goes on while Bianca works the production booth throughout the game.
What goes on behind the scenes of a Squirrels baseball game?
Trace: When we’re in the production booth, there’s a man who comes out, his name is Flingy Flamingo, and he throws free hot dogs for people. We stick out the net through the window to try and catch one.
Bianca: They’re working on him becoming a full year round mascot because people love it so much. Of course, there’s Nutsy and Natasha, well you name them all.
Trace: There’s the Almond Brothers, Johnny Cashew, to Johnny Walnut. They’re doing a bobblehead giveaway, where you get them all, that makes a home plate. And it’s called the mixed nuts.
This conversation is making us hungry. 😋
What’s your favorite snack at the Diamond?
Well, we’re very lucky in the press box and production because they provide catering for us every night. It’s a nice perk of the job because I actually have no breaks during the game. So, I am lucky if I get a pee break.
Actually, when I was researching the other PA announcers across the nation, I really honed in on the woman who works with the San Francisco Giants. Her name is Renel Brooks-Moon. She’s been there for like 30 years. We’ve all become friends on social media. It’s almost like a little sorority that we have, you know, and so she’s been doing it the longest ― the second female ever to do it.
She has a whole interview about how she fits in, because you get no breaks during the game, because really you’re announcing everyone that comes up to bat. And then once it goes into a mid-inning break, you’re reading sponsorships, you’re introducing the games that are happening.
So, I don’t get to eat any of the food there, but you probably say your favorite snack but I’m just a classic like peanuts. I would say any newcomer needs to try the Squirrelly Fries though.
Speaking of newcomers…
What would you recommend to someone visiting or thinking of moving to Richmond?
I mean definitely see the Squirrels play. You need to go to a Squirrels game at some point because it’s just a part of Richmond, right? You think of the James River, you think of iconic things.
On the other hand, one other thing that I would talk about is the theater. The theater community here is phenomenal, and there are so many New Yorkers that actually, like, have been hired from like the theaters here in Richmond, and then they realize like, oh, this is an amazing place to live. So we have Broadway stars that live here that are a little bit older raising families or whatever and they’re like, I’m gonna come to Richmond and I can work as a theatre performer.
Trace: I’d say, in Richmond, just start walking around it, you’ll find something you’ll like for lunch and stuff like that.
Bianca: I like this strip, (we were lunching at The Daily in Carytown), because it’s very like New York. You know, I missed the walkability of New York. You know, so then when they come down here it’s like you can actually walk places.
We also love that there’s water very close. We bought a boat and we can go to our boat. And there’s mountains close by too so really if you like, outdoor living which my husband and I are super into. It’s all accessible within two hours.
As you can see, Trace is very involved in her Squirrels gig, but what about her other projects?
Are your kids interested in any of your other jobs you’re doing?
He is actually helping a lot because I also host a television show here called Real Virginia, we post on Youtube, And it used to be on VPM, but now they’ve completely changed leadership and they’ve changed all their programming. So it’s on basically all PBS stations in Virginia, except the local one. But anyway, Trace has been coming since Chris (her husband) is out of town. He’s like, scouting locations, checking if the lighting looks good. So I don’t know, it’s interesting to see how it’ll affect the kids. My daughter is in dance and it’s taking a musical theater class this fall, and she is saying that she wants to audition for a musical and so I’m like, of course! I don’t want to push them, but if they’re interested in it. Sure.
The middle school and high school theater programs here are no joke, I mean they’re all really strong, they have magnet schools that you can go to, which is amazing. There’s the science and technology school, the art school. One of his cousins is going to Maggie Walker. His other cousins stayed at Midlothian, so it’s just really nice thinking about them growing up and the options that they will have that’s just so readily accessible. We don’t have to even seek them out, it’s just depending on where their interests lie.
We love how you seem to keep what you love in everything you do, whether it’s in your career or just for fun. What do you have to say to those in college, those into theater, or maybe someone who wants to start a new path?
I’ve learned, as a performing artist what is going to hit. So, I always tell people, don’t pigeonhole yourself. Like, I only want to be on Broadway, I only want to do, you know, film and television, I only want to do voice acting. Really, the more you do, the more you’re gonna work. So just try and really get good at all the things you’re curious about. Eventually, you will get hired in one certain avenue and you’ll be like, okay, clearly this is what I’m best at, so I should really focus on this thing. It’s keeping that open mindset and just the willingness to learn that’s going to propel us forward.
Sunday was the end of the last series of home games for the Flying Squirrels 2021-2022 season, but you can follow the teams last series against the Bowie Baysox here.