ROE R. Cross Distinguished Professor
2010 - Jim Ryan
A sight-seeing tour is a prime reason Jim Ryan ended up as a professor at Emporia State University.
It was not the kind of tour normally thought of, though. On this tour, Ryan, was witnessing sights that gave him a strong urge to teach young people how to act.
Ryan's life-changing tour came after he finished studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.
"I met and became close to one of England’s finest character actresses, Elizabeth Spriggs (Sense and Sensibility, Harry Potter)," explains Ryan, "who believed in my ability and directed my first one-person show, What a Piece of Work Is a Man, which, upon my return to the U.S., I toured throughout the country. Her encouragement and artistic talents completely changed the course of my professional life."
Ryan, born in Chicago, became interested in an acting career during high school. He majored in theatre as an undergraduate at California State University, Long Beach and in his senior year was selected by the Theatre Department to represent CSULB at a talent show organized by the casting directors and producers of all he major Hollywood studios, including MGM, Warner Brothers, and Universal, and held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.
"I performed a scene with a partner, and following the event ,was immediately contacted by a major casting director at Columbia Pictures. He told me he really liked my work and asked what I wanted to do in the future. I told him I was going to seek further training on the graduate level. He said he wanted to keep in touch. I proceeded to get my MFA at Wayne State University and then was selected for admission to the London Academy for advanced classical training. I moved to England and continued my studies."
Ryan created his one-person show, directed by a member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He took What a Piece of Work Is a Man on the road in the United States, doing 1,400 performances of this and two other shows he created. The casting director stayed in contact with Ryan and eventually cast him in an episode of the original Wild Wild West television series.
This led to numerous other TV roles, including a recurring part in General Hospital. He was then seen by the producer of Kojac, who used him in numerous episodes as well as other shows he produced such as The Eddie Capra Mysteries, Shannon, and the mini-series From Here to Eternity.
"I performed with Hal Holbrook in Sandburg's Lincoln, says Ryan, "and continued to other TV work in shows such as Lou Grant (multiple episodes) and The Young and the Restless. All the while I was acting in TV and film I continued to tour my one-person shows."
Ryan says after each one-person performance he would do a workshop with a question and answer time for young actors.
"I loved this," he adds. "I began to desire an opportunity to work with young actors on a more permanent basis. This led to my leaving Hollywood in 1989 and returning to school to earn my Ph.D. at Michigan State. I loved my wonderful, Peter Pan life as a successful working actor. I was so fortunate. I never had a part-time job and always supported myself through the craft of acting. But I know I made the right decision to become an educator and help young actors learn about the craft of acting and guide them as they pursue their career.
A huge impact moment came for Ryan while at Michigan State.
"I met Dr. Jon Baisch who became, not only my committee and dissertation chairman, but also my life-long mentor; the closest thing I have ever had to a father. His passing this year (2012) was difficult, but he remains with me each time I enter a classroom or rehearsal hall."
"I found rather quickly that I loved these encounters and was saddened each time my schedule dictated that I move on to the next performance site," he continues. "Upon encountering a particularly passionate, dedicated young actor or actress I often wondered what the result would be if I had the time to work with him or her for more than one or two days. What could be accomplished; how far could that person grow in one or two years? As a result of these growing feelings I decided to return to school and seek a Ph.D. I felt called to work with students at the university level; students fully committed to maximizing their potential as a theatre professional. I feel this same calling today."
Ryan is zealous about having his students learn from him a passion for theatre and "a profound appreciation for the civilizing and edifying potential that, not only theatre, but each art form presents to those who are witnesses to or participants in it. I would expect them to promote and protect the arts as vital to the foundational health of their society. In addition my wish is that each student realizes qualities such as work ethic, dedication, perseverance, humility, kindness and a collaborative spirit are essential to success no matter the future pursuit one undertakes.
"I am passionate about many things, including my work and my students. It is such a joy to facilitate artistic and educational growth in a student who is eager to develop his or her talents. I love it when a 'light' goes on, when there is a sudden epiphany and a new level of engagement or mastery is achieved."
Ryan also is passionate about health and running, having been a distance runner for 39 years now. However, he says if asked to truly reveal his deepest passion he would say without hesitation, "It is for my wife and my two sons. I came to marriage and subsequent fatherhood later in life than the norm. Consequently I cherish it. I feel so blessed to come home at night knowing that there are three people waiting for whom I feel such love and from whom I receive such fulfillment. And the amazing thing is … they feel the same."
Not so amazing, really. For with apologies to Shakespeare and his wit, Ryan is truly a good piece of work.