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  • Writer's pictureFrank Connelly

Life of Ryan

Updated: Dec 6, 2020

Words by Frank Connelly. Photos courtesy of Ryan Davy.

On April 18, 2020, actors from around the world met on Zoom to read the new script by playwright Ryan Davy, with musical assistance from Adam Davy. The play was well written, and it was fun to hear Scottish and English accents used as the script was being read. For this article, the play must remain unnamed as it has yet to gain a Copyright from the Library of Congress- but suffice to say the play was a lot of fun for those of us who participated in the read through. This article is about one artist who through trial and error has succeeded in furthering his art even in difficult times.

Ryan Davy began his career as an actor by delving into Shakespeare and Musical Theatre, then dipped into the directing world, and eventually landed in stage management and technical theatre. He earned a degree in Production Technology and Management from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow. Since then he has been travelling around the world learning about different cultures in theatre while working in Australia, Italy, Scotland, England, the USA, and Canada.

Ryan sits behind a dark desk in Toronto wearing a headset as a stage manager.

Ryan working in Toronto as a stage manager.

Ryan gains inspiration from anyone who has been able to make it in the industry. Some of his main inspirations come from those who have been successful in putting together their own small companies and producing work relying less on the “big commercial names” and more on new and experimental work. Stephen Schwartz has always been an inspiration to him on the creative side as his two first musicals, Pippin and Godspell which were written when he was still a student, showing that you don’t have to be a seasoned veteran to make a big splash in the scene.

When Ryan picks up a creative project whether it be a show he wants to direct, a book he would like to write, or a script he wants to write, he always goes into it thinking “this COULD be the one.” He likes to think of it as throwing a handful of spaghetti at the wall and just seeing what sticks. Failure is his friend; if you look at a file on his computer labelled “Ideas” you will find dozens of unfinished manuscripts which he started at one point, dead ended on, and set aside to move on to the next idea. What makes that so exciting for him is being able to experience the high of realizing at some point on certain projects that he has something good that he wants to see through to the end.

He always gets a concept idea first. It can sometimes be as simple as “I like Irish mythology”, “I’ll write a book about that” or “I wonder how this book could be adapted to the stage.” At that point, he will usually sit down and start powering out the first few pages. That allows him to introduce himself to the characters and the setting to see if it’s something that he can connect with and continue with. He has a 16-page rule, “I always say that if I can make it to 16 pages in Word, then the project goes from having a 10% chance of being finished to an 80% chance of being finished.”

Ryan speaks from the stage in Italy.

Ryan at work in Italy.

As far as directing goes, he will look at a show and ask himself if there is anything new he could bring to it, whether it be a different way the story could be told, or a completely different way of interpreting it altogether. He doesn’t much like going for the big and iconic shows such as Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera because when people come to see shows like that there are many elements of them that the audience is going to expect to see, so it gives him much less creative leeway as a director. He generally gets the most ideas for very abstract shows, where the writer doesn’t give you all the answers so you can pick them apart and decide how you would personally tell their story. At the end of the day, the most important part of directing is making sure to stay true to the story and to the message that the writer is trying to tell with their piece, and the more ways the writer leaves a director to be able to do that, the more fun he has envisioning the story and how he would want it to look.

In regards to his new play, he has been working on it for a little over 2 years now and it is still very much in the “tweaking stage”, as it goes up in front of friends and colleagues for the first time in read throughs and workshops. He doesn’t want to give away too much about the actual material, but the show takes place in Scotland and is based on a piece of classic literature of which he has always been a big fan. It’s a bit of an ode to Scottish literature and culture. 

Ryan stands on a hill in Scotland overlooking a town.

Ryan in Scotland.

“We wanted to tell this very Scottish story from the point of view of two North Americans, so we are not shooting for trying to ‘impersonate’ Scotland or Scottish music and culture but we are trying to respectfully nod to it as best we can. Adapting a book to a script comes with its own set of challenges. On one hand, you already have the plot and the characters handed to you, but on the other hand, you need to make the piece work in a theatrical setting and as we all know from film adaptations of some of our favorite books, that means a LOT of cutting and rearranging while still trying to hold fast to the world that the author of the book has given us.” Throughout the process of writing the first draft, he keeps asking himself “What would the author want to see from this piece if they were to be in the audience on opening night?”

While he has been busy fiddling around with all of the stage storytelling, his brother Adam, who is composing the new music, has the unenviable task of capturing that same world in the music. When Ryan first pitched the idea to Adam, he was lukewarm about the process, and said to Ryan “I’m not so sure about this because you’re just gonna tell me that my music doesn’t sound Scottish enough”- so that’s where the whole concept of the project being a nod to Scotland as opposed to being “Scottish”. The music that Adam has written is a relatively modern score with a lot of jazz elements thrown in, but there are parts of it where you’ll hear a line or two of traditional sounding Scottish fiddle music hiding underneath some of the orchestration, or at certain points some of the instruments drone a bit to suggest the hum of bagpipes.

COVID19 has been both a blessing and a curse according to Ryan. On the one hand, he has been able to find the time to crack down on a lot of the writing that he’s been putting off for so long. He has found time to do the necessary maintenance on the musical that he’s completed, and his first novel has moved to the editing phase. On the other hand, it’s been tough for all artists due to the uncertainty of when we will be able to showcase our work again and what the scene is going to look like when we all come back again. Will it be even more competitive than it already was, as so many people are going to be foaming at the mouth to get back into it? It will be harder to push new work as the theatres that have managed to hang on are going to be more interested in bringing back known money-makers in the interest of trying to refill empty coffers. How many people are going to be in the exact same boat and will have had all this time to finish their dream projects and will be just as keen to push them? Part of being a creative is you must believe in your own work and be willing to fight for it even in the best of times, so in that sense, on the creative side, not much has changed for him aside from having more time to write!

Ryan stands on a boat in Scotland wearing long sleeves, a winter hat, and gloves.

Ryan in Scotland.

Ryan’s main recommendation to other creatives is “Keep working! Don’t press pause and wait for things to get better. But at the same time, don’t put yourself under pressure. Don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you’re not able to accomplish anything just because you have the time but not the idea. Don’t be afraid to fail. You are always going to start ideas that you won’t be able to finish, but don’t throw them in the trash forever either.”

Ryan hangs onto all of his “failed” ideas because you never know when inspiration could strike again. The novel that he just finished was an idea that he had back in 2012 which he started, set aside, came back to again in about 2017, set aside again, and then finally picked back up and finished just a couple of weeks ago. (Editor’s note: I’m feeling very seen…) Having faith in your ideas and knowing that even though the industry can seem unforgiving, your ideas are worth defending, even if you’re made to feel that they are not sometimes. 

Ryan thinks that we are going to see A LOT of creativity born out of COVID as people can find time to get long held ideas down onto paper. “Get involved in other people’s projects as well during this time. You never know which ones are going to come to fruition when this is all over so use this time to build friendships and connections with your peers.”

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