Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

06 August 2011

Thanksgiving in August: Ryan

Before I met Ryan I had very clear ideas about him. I was headed to graduate school in 2006 and the secretary of the department at the School of Theatre had emailed all of the new graduate students to give us various information about what we were to do when we got to town, etc. This was the era of MySpace, and so I had dutifully checked everybody's name to see who they were and stalk them all. Ryan didn't have a MySpace, but he did email the entire group and talk about where to get a car. He was coming to town from New York City and was going to have to buy his first car. In other words, Ryan was my favorite grad student in the class even before I met him.

Once we finally did meet, I remember drifting together instantly in that way that the gay people in the room will sometimes do – once we all figure out where each other is (for safety and for fun and for information and for whatever else gay people need from each other). And I remember very early on, before he and I had spent much time together, Ryan insisted that he and I go out to the gay bar in town. We did, and then we proceeded to talk about theatre the whole night. I think we talked about The Cherry Orchard. And we had also both seen Sir Peter Hall's awful production of As You Like It and hated it.

Ryan was my go-to my first three years of graduate school. He called me out on all of my bullshit, listened to me complain about the boys I had convinced myself I was in love with, talked me into to being sluttier (thanks, Ryan!), and helped me think through my thesis. Ryan was my gay community in Tallahasee... something I have only occasionally had here and in fits and starts. Ryan was also the most exciting person in my classes at FSU, engaging with the material, always bringing new ideas to the plays under discussion in our literature classes. Having him here was a total blessing every minute.

Ryan moved into my house in our third year and we had just the best time staying up late and talking. Ryan's work in his third year at FSU was extraordinary. He directed a production of Federico García Lorca's Yerma with my friend Rae Dohar as Yerma, and then for his last project at FSU he did a riff on Shakespeare's King Lear with an all-male cast. For Yerma I came into rehearsals; for Lear I had seen nothing before I arrived at the show on opening night. To say that I was blown away by Lear would be to vastly understate the matter. I couldn't breathe at the end of this show. I remember leaving the performance after it was over and sitting by myself to put myself back together before talking to anyone. It is one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I've ever seen.

I hate to talk about Ryan only as an artist, though, because the truth of it is that he has been such an incredible friend to me that it would be unfair to treat our relationship as only an artistic one. I am so grateful for all he has been able to give me as a friend, for all of his sage wisdom, his advice when I needed it, his corrections when I am lying to myself, his recognitions of situations and patterns in my life that I can't recognize. In the Summer of 2009 we were both in New York City and we were sitting in a coffee shop on 9th Avenue talking. Andrew had just died, but I was presenting at a conference and thinking about school and teaching and my career. I was struggling, but I wasn't able to put words to it. As I talked to Ryan, he looked at me and he said "Girl, I think you might be depressed." He was totally correct, and I hadn't known it, but he was able to look at me and see me in a way that few people are sensitive enough – or caring enough – to do.

I am so grateful for our relationship. And so proud of the work he is doing now in Maryland as he moves forward with his own artistic project. I can't wait to see another of his amazing theatrical pieces. They work in a unique, fabulous way that gets under an audience's skin like no other. But even more than that, I look forward to the next time I just get to hang out with Ryan: to chat and complain and speak about the future. It is for these moments that I am most grateful for Ryan.