Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

You Should Know: Tammy Ryan

Her plays have been performed around the world, and this Shadyside resident is ready to venture into new genres.



Tammy Ryan initially wanted to be on the stage, but her career path took her behind the curtain instead. She says she’s fine with that — she wanted to be involved in the process of watching words come to life before an audience.

Ryan, 53, grew up in Queens, N.Y., and attended the University at Buffalo in The State University of New York system, where she studied theater and creative writing. She completed her master’s degree in fine arts in the playwriting program at Carnegie Mellon University. She’s won numerous awards, including the 2012 Francesca Primus Prize from the American Theater Critics Association, and she has written her first opera, which will premiere this month at the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s SummerFest.

Her 15 plays often explore global themes. “Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods,” for which she received the Primus award, centered on Sudanese refugees. “A Soldier’s Heart,” which focuses on sexual abuse in the military and premiered last year, came about after she met the mother of one of her daughter’s classmates. That woman was leaving for active duty, prompting Ryan to begin thinking about the toll on a family when a mother goes to war.

Ryan, who lives in Shadyside with her husband and two daughters, says she’s happy to work in a city so devoted to the arts.
 

What was your first play? 
My very, very first play I ever wrote was called “Flying Pigeons.” It’s an autobiographical play about my father and his father who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in New York and had pigeons on the roof, and I think it was a metaphor for our relationship. I wrote it and thought I’d act in it, and I showed it to my acting teacher [at SUNY Buffalo], and he said, “We’re going to produce it,” and he cast someone else to play in it — a boy — so it turned into a father-son relationship.

What came next? 
My next play was “Pig,” which the [Pittsburgh] Playhouse did in 1998. It also ran in 1996 in New York. That started people in the business taking me more seriously, and I got an agent. That play’s still being produced, and that’s kind of cool. With “Flying Pigeons,” I got a lot of attention for it, and I thought, “This is great, I’m going to be a playwright,” and it got harder after that.

How so? 
You have to start learning the craft. I tell my students [at Point Park University, where Ryan teaches playwriting and introduction to screenwriting], there are the plays you have to work really hard on, and others just come to you fully formed. I call them gift plays.

How do you come up with your topics? 
It varies. I write a lot of plays that are inspired by events in my childhood. These plays come to me — it’s time to write them. Some are about experiences as a woman. I often write through the lens of family — being a wife, mother, daughter.

You’re currently writing the libretto for an opera. How did that come about? 
The working title is “A New Kind of Fallout.” . . . It’s about a woman in 1962 who’s newly pregnant who reads “Silent Spring,” and it changes her life. Her husband works for a chemical plant, so there’s conflict there . . . I’m not a very musical-theater person, but Jonathan Eaton [the general and artistic director of Opera Theater of Pittsburgh] approached me about writing an opera, and it appealed to me for a couple reasons. It’s more like a play; he wanted strong actors, and that’s what I do . . . It’s still a work in progress, but I’d love to write some more [operas]. It’s interesting to me how all artists have the same process, no matter what genre.

Do you have a favorite among your plays? 
It’s usually the one that hasn’t been produced yet.

What’s it like seeing your plays produced on a national level? 
I love Pittsburgh. I love the actors, I love the community, but I do also look forward to [having my plays performed elsewhere] because they don’t know me. It’s not Tammy Ryan’s play; it’s “A Soldier’s Heart” by Tammy Ryan.

Looking back, what does it feel like to have had the chance to live your dream and work in theater? 
I wanted to be in the room. I wanted to live the life of a playwright [who] was getting up and writing every day, and I get to see my plays produced; I think that’s necessary. It’s a collaborative process; it’s not like writing a novel or a poem. Writing a play, it’s not done until it’s had that rendezvous with this audience. 

 

photo by Becky Thurner Braddock

 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

The Latest

The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The “Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet” art exhibit intends to encourage passersby to consider the effects of climate change.

Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

The matriarch of the family is the perfect place to look for a meaningful something old.

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

Allegheny Health Network is the latest employer in the region to raise its company-wide minimum wage.

Hungry for Something Good, Pittsburgh? Where We're Eating in July

We eat for a good cause with Leo's Sunday Sauce, wonder what took us so long to get to Lola Bistro and hit the main menu at Muddy Waters. Plus, we go offline with Dave Anoia of DiAnoia's Eatery.

Lidia Bastianich Shares Her American Dream in a New Memoir

PM Dining Critic Hal B. Klein talks to the celebrated chef, restauranteur, television host and author about grandparents, foraging and the plight of refugees seeking a better life in the United States.

They Prayed to Our Lady of the Roller Coaster

Two local priests –– riding the Phantom's Revenge to promote Catholic Day at Kennywood –– create a viral video. Along the way they deliver a most unusual sermon.

The Homestead Artist with a Worldwide Reputation

Jesse Best maintains a presence in New York and Tokyo. But, he says, Pittsburgh has been 10 times better to him than any other place.

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Local Brewery Resolves Trademark Dispute With Sass

After Pitt ordered Voodoo Brewery to stop production of its "H2P American IPA," the company relaunched the beer under a new name.

Sprout Fund Passes the Torch

50 Pittsburghers to receive $1,000 Legacy Award to carry on the nonprofit’s vision.

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Pirates Pitcher Steven Brault has Pretty Good Pipes Too

The Pirates reliever sang the national anthem Tuesday night before the Bucs hosted the Brewers at PNC Park. It's worth watching, especially for his teammates' reaction at the end.

Crime in the South Side Has Fallen Dramatically

Illegal activity plunged along East Carson Street following several new security measures.

Fired by City Paper — Charlie Deitch Won’t Be Silenced

The former editor of the Pittsburgh alt-weekly is creating his own "more inclusive" publication.

Czechoslovakia was Forged in Pittsburgh

Rick Sebak details how the establishment of the European nation began with a meeting Downtown.
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags


The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The Story Behind Those Colorful Globes Downtown

The “Cool Globes: Hot Ideas for a Cooler Planet” art exhibit intends to encourage passersby to consider the effects of climate change.

Comments

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

The Fight for 15 Pays Off: AHN to Raise Its Minimum Wage

Allegheny Health Network is the latest employer in the region to raise its company-wide minimum wage.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

What Anthony Bourdain Meant to Me

Reflecting on the loss of a person so many of us admired.

Comments

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Northeast Kitchen Brings Northeastern Chinese Cuisine to Pittsburgh

Chef You Shan Pei comes to Pittsburgh after cooking in Flushing, N.Y. restaurants for 18 years.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

The Five Best Spots to Get Pittsburgh-Themed Merchandise

Looking to show off your Pittsburgh love? Get your favorite city printed on basically anything at these local shops.

Comments

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

7 Best Pittsburgh-Area Places You Should Try for Doughnuts

When you're craving the real deal, these local spots consistently churn out the very best.

Comments


The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

The Other Moving Documentary About a Curious Pittsburgher

In "Will Work For Views," the video artist and musician Weird Paul is a little bit Dr. Demento and a little bit Mister Rogers.

Comments

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

Man, There's a Lot Going on at Zone 28

The relaunched entertainment complex in Harmarville is casting a wide net, with some success.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

Pirates Can Be Show Stoppers if They Follow Brault's Lead

A Broadway musical about the life and times of the Pittsburgh Pirates? The idea might not be as farfetched as you think.

Comments

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk Embraces Awareness, Understanding to Fight Cancer

Olczyk found out last August, in the wake of a six-hour surgery that removed 14 inches of his colon and “a tumor the size of my fist,” the severity of what he was suddenly confronting.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The 400-Word Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

The fifth "Jurassic Park" film is fun. Empty, somewhat disappointing fun.

Comments

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The 400-Word Review: Won't You Be My Neighbor?

The documentary about Fred Rogers' work and philosophy inspires even more wonder about the television legend who called Pittsburgh home.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

Grandmother's Wedding Accessories Timely for Today

The matriarch of the family is the perfect place to look for a meaningful something old.

Comments

Toppers That Take the Cake

Toppers That Take the Cake

Over the traditional bride and groom standing on top of your cake? Try some of these different ideas for cake toppers.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

PPG Paints Unveils 2019 Color of the Year: Night Watch

Paying homage to the restorative power of nature, this deep green shade is one to watch in the coming year. Here’s how to use it on your walls.

Comments

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

Five Pittsburgh-Based Etsy Shops You Need to Know About

From furniture to wall art and beyond, these local makers created one-of-a-kind pieces for your home or office.

Comments