Thomas R. Ryan
Inspirational Lecturer, Dramaturge & Writer

A Life Given to Theatre

Tom Ryan, BYH Class of 1953, in 1992
Thomas R. Ryan, London, 1992

Brigham Young High School
Class of 1953


One of BYH's most popular students, Tom Ryan did not have a long history on the Lower Campus. He was born on October 9, 1935, in Greeley, Colorado. His parents were Thomas Richard Ryan and Grace K. Ryan. He received nearly all of his early schooling in Colorado, with a brief time in California.

In fact, Tom spent his first few high school years in Denver, Colorado. But when he arrived in Provo as a junior, he quickly became well liked and respected as an athlete and student leader.


Tom Ryan at BYH in yearbook photo.

Tom became part of BYH so quickly that his classmates elected him Senior Class President. In 1952-1953, that office was called "Governor".

He lettered in basketball, was a standout Thespian, and performed in B.Y. High's famous Children's Theater. He served as a member of the Graduation Committee of his class.

In later years Tom liked to tell people that he got into hot water at BYH for posting Adlai Stevenson posters in the school in 1952 when Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency.

Following graduation, he returned to Colorado and enrolled in the University of Denver, where he studied drama, and performed in various stage plays.

All eyes are on Tom Ryan, extreme left, performing in the stage version of "Bernadine" at the University of Denver in 1954. In 1957 the play was made into a hit movie with Pat Boone playing the lead role. The classic song, "Love Letters in the Sand" was introduced in this film. Tom toured with "Bernadine" to US bases in Korea and Japan in 1961.

He then studied stage directing with Jose Quintero in New York, and that was where Ryan worked with Tyrone Guthrie. Ryan was a stage manager at various Shakespeare festivals in Colorado, Oregon and Connecticut in the late 1950s and mid-1960s.

Ryan taught in American universities for many years, until in 1984, he fulfilled a lifelong dream to live in Britain, where he settled into work as a script reader for the National Theatre, RSC and Royal Court. In London he was flatmates with the theatre director Katie Mitchell.

Peter Wolf, a radio dramatist, described Ryan's gift as a script developer: "He deployed all the experience distilled from a life given to theatre to make the process of working and reworking play scripts a humanising process as well as a technical one."

Ryan understood the struggle involved in writing plays because he aspired to write. He was a member of a writers' group led by Stephen Jeffreys for the Paines Plough touring company in London.

Capitalizing on his knowledge of U.S. government, Ryan demonstrated his concern with American politics and social issues in his writings. He attempted to blend politics and myth in dramatic form.

He married briefly in the 1970s, but had no children.

His partner in his later years, Eileen Cadman, notes that Ryan was an inspirational teacher, dramaturge and writer. She observed that many of the British generation now making their way in TV, radio and the stage, were able to point to Ryan as a supportive influence.

Tom was much loved and valued by his students here in the UK, says Cadman, and is fondly remembered by them and by his friends. He had marvellous humanity, kindliness and humour, and a lack of pretension not always found in the theatre world.

Ryan insisted on the importance of structure in playwriting, and emphasized the need for his students to analyse plays. For 14 years, he ran a playreading workshop, ranging from the Greeks through Shakespeare -- Tom's great passion -- to contemporary works.

Those who attended Ryan's classes received an education rare in its breadth. Tom taught with the playwright Bernard Kops for many years. They had different teaching styles, and while this could sometimes lead to fireworks, their workshops were valued for their creativity.

Tom Ryan also taught at London's City Lit adult education college, and for a time was literary adviser to Polka Children's Theatre -- coming full circle from his days in Children's Theater at Brigham Young High School.

Thomas R. Ryan died at his home in Hornsey Rise, London, UK, on April 14, 2007, at the age of 71. At Ryan's request, his ashes were scattered about at Stratford-upon-Avon, England, Shakespeare's birthplace. Tom's friends honored his wishes in the courtyard at Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare's family tomb is located.

The Oxford University Library was the beneficiary of Tom Ryan's sizeable collection of books on theatre history, classical theatre and dramatic theory from his private library in London - in total some 250 volumes. The University archives also received Tomís large cuttings library and his collection of theatre programmes. Other of Ryan's papers went to York University.


Tom Ryan, living in the UK, at Cambridge in 1995.
Tom Ryan at Cambridge, 1995


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