A! Magazine for the Arts

Youth Spotlight: Actor/Playwright Ryan Gray

January 26, 2011

This month the Theatre Department at Virginia Intermont College (VIC) will premiere Backstabbers, written and directed by Ryan Gray from Chilhowie, Va. Ryan is a star-struck senior at VIC, where he is pursuing degrees in both theatre and art. Originally from Ohio, he has lived in Southwest Virginia since he was very young.

Backstabbers is the third play Gray has written. His Christmas in Windham Heights was a finalist in Barter Theatre's Young Playwrights Festival in 2005, and Jeremy's Rainbow was presented by Chilhowie High School in 2007.

Backstabbers is Ryan's ninth production at VIC. Previously he appeared in VIC's Leading Ladies, SNOOPY!!! the Musical, Off the Beaten Path, Magic and Mystery, Singular "Sin"-sations, Rumors, Little Women: The Musical, and most recently in Almost, Maine.

Ryan has also appeared in The Wizard of Oz and Snow White with the Missoula Children's Theatre on tour in Marion, Va. He has served as a performer and scenic artist for the Royal Oak Players of Marion, Va., and he spent one summer working backstage at Barter Theatre in Abingdon, Va.

In the future, he hopes to return to Barter Theatre. He also dreams of landing a gig on Broadway in such musicals as Hairspray, Wicked, West Side Story, The Fantasticks and Mamma Mia!

A Conversation with Ryan Gray

Why did you choose the arts?

The arts have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I can still recall lying in front of the television with a stack of paper and a box of crayons drawing anything that came into my mind. Growing up, I was a very imaginative person. I was a bit of an outsider because I was always off in my own little world. When I was 13, I got my first art gig by illustrating the book In the Shadow of Unaka by local author Doris Wallin. I was ecstatic for being chosen to do the job.

When I wasn't drawing, painting, or writing stories I would drag out lots of random objects from my basement and go out into the backyard and present shows and scenes that I would make up. Sometimes I would re-enact scenes from some of my favorite books and movies by putting my own little spin on them. Although I rarely had an audience, except for the family pets, I still found joy and inspiration in being creative and different.

In school I was always doodling in my notebooks and would always immerse myself in my art and drama classes. They provide an escape for me.

Another reason why I chose to make the arts my lifelong passion is because I want to give the feeling of fascination and joy to others who view my work. I like to ignite an emotional response in a person. When someone shakes my hand after a long, hard performance and says that I made them laugh and cry, I feel like I have done my job, and that's all that matters. The audience is my life source. I always want to give them more.

When I graduate, there are so many things I dream of doing. I plan on staying local for a while by finding work at a local theatre or art gallery. I am absolutely in love with New York City. Every time I go there, I feel reborn, and I hope that someday down the road I will be up there in the middle of Broadway and all of the great museums. I believe in my favorite song lyric, "The dreams that you dare to dream really do come true."

Have you appeared in high school or community theatre productions? or worked behind the scenes there or with Barter Theatre?

In high school, I appeared in numerous one-act productions and attended many high school play festivals and forensics competitions. Also, I've been involved with my church's holiday programs and the Royal Oak Players. My junior year I attended Virginia Highlands' Summer Governor's School for play analysis and production and learned all about theatrical history and writing styles.

While I was still in high school, The Missoula Children's Theatre, which comes through Marion, Va., on tour every summer, cast me as the Tin Man in their version of The Wizard of Oz and as the Queen's Henchman in Snow White. That was my first professional experience as a young actor, and I had a fabulous time.

Last summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to work backstage as a spotlight operator and props assistant for The Barter Players musical A Year with Frog and Toad. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed working with such a talented and fun company. Doing technical work is a whole new world, but doing it at Barter really opened up my eyes to everything that must be done offstage to make the magic happen. It's such an adventure!

How have you evolved on and off stage - as an actor, scenic artist, logo designer, props master, publicist, etc.?

Being both a visual and performing artist has made me into a stronger and much more open person than what I used to be. I'm not afraid to be in front of large crowds anymore, and I have been blessed with confidence and patience, which to me are the things that the arts revolve around. Onstage, I have never felt better. It is where I connect with life. It gives me absolute happiness and pure, intense joy. Offstage, I still feel that adrenaline - whether I'm sitting in front of a computer creating a logo, mixing paint for a set, or rummaging through the props department. The work involved has also provided discipline, which has helped me really commit to what I do, because commitment is the key to being successful in any field.