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Theatre Dept. Press Release   Date: 12/8/08

Play Reading to Honor Late Smith Alumna

Leah Ryan AC’93

Leah Ryan Memorial Funds

The late Leah Ryan AC’93, a playwright, essayist, and writer of post-modern greeting cards, was a woman of letters. She graduated with honors from Smith, winning the Denis Johnston prize for excellence in playwriting three times and the Jill Cummins MacLean Prize once. Ryan then earned her Artist Diploma in Playwriting at Julliard and her MFA from the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, where she won the Distinguished Teaching award and was twice chosen to take part in the annual Iowa Playwrights Festival.

Ryan died on June 12, 2008, of leukemia.

On Thursday, Dec. 11, the Smith theatre department will present a staged reading of Ryan’s play The Wire, in her memory. Directed by Holly Derr, a lecturer in theatre, the reading will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Earle Recital Hall, Sage. It is free and open to the public.

The Wire, which was first produced at Smith in 2002, was named a semi-finalist in PlayLabs in 2005. Ryan described her play this way: “You go to sleep, you have a nightmare about being up on the high wire in front of thousands of people. In the dream, you start to fall. Then everyone else starts to fall. And then you wake up. Or else, you don’t. And if you manage to survive, perhaps even the simple act of setting foot on the floor will seem impossible.”

Ryan’s plays are performed all over the United States. Her play Bleach, a dark comedy about the legacy of the Armenian genocide, received the Maibaum Award for plays dealing with issues of social justice.

Ryan taught playwriting, English, and creative writing to a wide variety of students, including at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, where she was a professor in the Arts and Communications department and founder of their Writing Center. She also worked with groups of high school and college students at Vassar College and at New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater Apprentice Training Program. She received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts for her work with Epic Theatre Centre, creating modern adaptations of classic plays with groups of middle and high school students.

Her publications include the literary anthology For Here or To Go, Even More Monologues by Women for Women, essays in The Best of Temp Slave, as well as work in many small magazines. Her play Pigeon was published by Playscripts, Inc. Her short work also appeared in 400 Words, including the debut issue. She was Fiction Editor and a regular columnist at Punk Plant magazine.

Holly Derr teaches acting, directing, theater history, and play analysis at Smith. She recently directed House of Gold, by Gregory Moss, at the PlayPenn New Play Development Festival in Philadelphia, and Common Decency, by Ann Marie Healy, with the Brown University/Trinity Repertory Consortium. Her New York productions include Anatomy of Isabelle: A Reconstructed Production, The Vagina Monologues, Monsieur X: Here Called Pierre Rabier, In the Penal Colony, When We Dead Awaken, Hollywoodland, Cymbeline, and Like It Is.




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