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 Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Best Restaurants 2017

Best Restaurants 2017

This year Pittsburgh Magazine's independent Restaurant Review Panel recognizes 34 establishments as our regions's top restaurants. Our list includes All Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out, Best Budget and Classic Comfort establishments.
Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller’s portfolio includes overseeing five specialty restaurants — Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar, Soba, umi and Kaya — as well as 14 fast-casual Mad Mex restaurants and a full-service catering operation. Even in an increasingly competitive environment, his restaurants remain in-demand and relevant.
Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Apteka, operated by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, is a vegan eatery that draws on Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh roots and Skowronski’s Polish heritage.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Getting Started with Startups: A Peek at Alphalab Demo Day

Getting Started with Startups: A Peek at Alphalab Demo Day

Technological innovators present what could be “the next big thing” at the Carnegie Music Hall in Homewood.
Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference Helps Writers Tell Their Stories

The fifth annual Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference brings writers from across the country together to improve their craft.
Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Watch: Radio-Synced Highlights of Pens 7-0 Win in Game 5

Nothing beats listening to Mike Lange describe a Penguins' goal.
Break It Down: Byham Theater

Break It Down: Byham Theater

When you walk into the Sixth Street entryway of the Byham Theater, Downtown, you will see patches of green and black tile on the walls: These are originals from the early 20th century, says John Mumper, facilities manager at the Byham. The grand theater has plenty of history to go with its 100-plus years; let’s break it down.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in June

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Best Restaurants 2017

Best Restaurants 2017

This year Pittsburgh Magazine's independent Restaurant Review Panel recognizes 34 establishments as our regions's top restaurants. Our list includes All Arounders, Killer Casual, Fancy Night Out, Best Budget and Classic Comfort establishments.
Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Pittsburgh Chef of the Year: Bill Fuller

Bill Fuller’s portfolio includes overseeing five specialty restaurants — Eleven Contemporary Kitchen, Casbah Mediterranean Kitchen and Wine Bar, Soba, umi and Kaya — as well as 14 fast-casual Mad Mex restaurants and a full-service catering operation. Even in an increasingly competitive environment, his restaurants remain in-demand and relevant.
Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Pittsburgh's Best New Restaurant: Apteka

Apteka, operated by Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, is a vegan eatery that draws on Lasky’s sixth-generation Pittsburgh roots and Skowronski’s Polish heritage.
Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

Can the Restoration of a Church Lead to the Revival of a Town?

A small group of dedicated residents sees the restoration of their church in Tarentum as a window to the potential rebirth of their once-booming community in suburban Pittsburgh.
Remembering Henry Hillman

Remembering Henry Hillman

Reflecting on the impact of the businessman, civic visionary and philanthropist.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Getting Started with Startups: A Peek at Alphalab Demo Day

Getting Started with Startups: A Peek at Alphalab Demo Day

Technological innovators present what could be “the next big thing” at the Carnegie Music Hall in Homewood.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Station's Hours Expand and Le Lyonnais Opens Downtown

Station's Hours Expand and Le Lyonnais Opens Downtown

Station, the excellent Bloomfield eatery, now offers lunch service. The Big Y Group opens a French bistro in the space previously occupied by Sonoma Grille.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


Vital Happy Hour Alert: Great Cocktails at the Wigle Tasting Room

Vital Happy Hour Alert: Great Cocktails at the Wigle Tasting Room

The third outpost of local distillery Wigle, found in the Omni William Penn Hotel, is an instant destination for cocktail fans.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Frightened about Game 7? You Should Be

Frightened about Game 7? You Should Be

A win will send the Penguins to the Stanley Cup finals for a second year in a row and re-write team history.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Pittsburgh on a Plate

Pittsburgh on a Plate

The way to a beer lover’s heart is mapped out on notNeutral’s plate, which highlights Pittsburgh breweries (and other points of interest) across the city.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The Alien Series Jumps the Shark with Covenant

The Alien Series Jumps the Shark with Covenant

Reviews of "Alien: Covenant" and "Everything, Everything," as well as local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
New York Bridal Designer Shares Her Secrets

New York Bridal Designer Shares Her Secrets

Pennsylvania native Jaclyn Jordan brings her newest collection to the Blanc de Blanc Bridal Boutique in Carrick.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get to the North Side for Home & Garden Tour, Epic Yard Sale

Get to the North Side for Home & Garden Tour, Epic Yard Sale

Explore lavish homes and gardens with the West Allegheny Historic District’s annual Tour and Tasting, or go on the hunt for hidden treasure during The Great Mexican War Streets Yard Sale.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Explore Your Future with Point Park University

Explore Your Future with Point Park University

The university will host three summer workshops for high school students from July 17-20.

Comments