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 Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

The second annual gaming festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center brings 8-bits of weekend fun.
Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Environmental Art Project to Light Up Pittsburgh Bridge for the Holidays

Riverlife hopes the temporary project will lead to permanent, decorative lighting of all three of the city's Sister bridges.
Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

Mt. Lebanon Native Daya Nominated for MTV Video Music Award

It's the first MTV nomination for the 17-year-old singing sensation.
Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Remembering A Rescuer of Gentle Giants

Richard Kohl devoted most of his adult life to caring for homeless large-breed dogs.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in August

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Deep In The Heart of Downtown

Downtown Pittsburgh is booming. The Golden Triangle has grown in ways that previous generations may never have envisioned, and the perception of the neighborhood at the heart of Pittsburgh is changing rapidly –– for the better.
And The Winner Is....

And The Winner Is....

Meet the top vote getter in our 2016 Cutest Pet Contest.
The Region's Top Dentists 2016

The Region's Top Dentists 2016

Our latest list includes 368 topDentists in eight specialities from around the region.
Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

Restaurant Review: Smallman Galley

The first crop of chefs in the Strip District restaurant incubator are four real.
The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

The 10 Best Smiles in Pittsburgh

Plus - we poll dentists included in our 2016 list of topDentists for their opinions and tips gleaned from years of experience in their profession.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

ReplayFX Turns Convention Center Into Giant Arcade

The second annual gaming festival at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center brings 8-bits of weekend fun.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Eat, Drink and Learn: The Three Day Blow is Coming

Eat, Drink and Learn: The Three Day Blow is Coming

“A food and drink festival that’s deeply rooted in place — in this case Pittsburgh and the Rust Belt" is coming to Pittsburgh at the end of August.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Garfield Bar Mixtape Is a Great Hangout (And a Good Bar, Too)

Garfield Bar Mixtape Is a Great Hangout (And a Good Bar, Too)

Part craft-cocktail joint and part coffee bar, the welcoming spot wants you to stay a while.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Optimism With An Asterisk As Good As It Gets In Steelers Training Camp

Although NFL teams never simply pick up where they left off the previous season, there’s reason to believe the 2016 Steelers could resemble the team that came agonizingly close to knocking off the eventual Super Bowl Champion Broncos in Denver last January.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Namaste! Sandals Made from Yoga Mats

Sanuk’s Yoga Sling Sandal are super comfy yet chic.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
"Bad Moms" and a Bad "Bourne" Make For a Rough Weekend

"Bad Moms" and a Bad "Bourne" Make For a Rough Weekend

Reviews of "Jason Bourne" and "Bad Moms," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

A Whimsical Wedding in Wonderland

This Pittsburgh bride brought all the details together for a flawless “Alice in Wonderland”-themed wedding.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Coming Soon: Historic Lawrenceville Building Ready for Makeover

Real estate crowd-funding platform Small Change Pittsburgh is raising funds to transform the Butler Street building.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

Online Education at Edinboro University Nationally Ranked

The university landed in the top 10 schools for disabled students seeking an online education.

Comments