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Aspiring Director Infuses Art Into Unexpected Places

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director infuses art; Flowers phtoographed by Ed Ryan
Ed R,
Massachusetts

"I try to infuse as much art as I can in life. I think that unexpected places and unexpected times are the most impactful ways of doing that.”

director infuses art; Wheel in gardenEd calls himself the accidental farmer as he used to live in Brooklyn but moved to Westhampton, MA to be closer to his family. A couple years after 9/11, he traded in his city life for the rural landscape. He went for a visit to the family but ended up staying as his sister and mom also were there. What he thought was going to be a summer vacation turned into a way of life for 17 years now.

While Ed enjoys the life he has built, his true passion is the arts. About a year and a half ago, he decided to quit his job as an Operations Manager at Sephora and returned to school for his Bachelor’s degree.

I really fell in love with the culture of their company. I saw so many women and so many people who were just so passionate about what they were doing, whether it was developing people or helping cancer survivors to have eyelashes and eyebrows again. And it was one of those moments where I was like, what am I doing? I love the theater.I love storytelling. And I talked to a friend of mine who worked at a college and he was like you should come back to school and finish a degree in theater.

So that’s what Ed did. He left his job, went back to school and went back to working at a restaurant at night. He felt like it was being in his twenties again and true to your twenties, he wasn’t sure what would come after.

Ed had attended DePaul University in Chicago many years earlier, which was a conservatory for acting. But now, he was attending a small private school in Springfield, MA and found that to be a stark difference from his previous experience. This new school served many first generation college students and a lot of kids from underserved populations, which he found really inspiring to see their determination and their growth. 

Ed found that the way acting was taught and performed had changed. When he had first started acting, the directors would yell and curse to the point the actors would be scared of them while nowadays everything is choreographed and if there is physical touch there is an intimacy coach. He also saw a difference between the way he was taught from Chicago to MA. “I think the Chicago style of acting is different than the East Coast; it’s very method. It’s all improv and Viola Spolin is really the root of it all. I think that’s what’s lacking in some of the education here, is that playfulness and finding that space where you’re really experiencing something and not just pretending?

So Ed was seeing big changes in performing between the two schools and the years in between. It was while he was finishing his Bachelor’s degree in Springfield that Ed took a directing class. For this class he hired two actors that he’d previously worked with while performing in the area, and directed them. During that experience was when he learned that he really enjoyed the process and discovered that what he wanted to do was teach.

SunflowersEd explored his options and landed on the plan of going to UMASS for an MFA for directing. The program also provided an assistantship where you got a lot of teaching experience. However, this program only admitted students every two out of three years, thus he would have to wait. So prior to the pandemic, Ed’s plan for 2020 was to finish his bachelor’s degree by May, perform with summer theater groups in the area like Exit Seven Players or Scheherazade, and apply for the MFA as soon as he could even though it would cost him the year to wait until he could apply.

When the pandemic hit, Ed was taking classes as well as planning an 80th birthday party for his Mom at the restaurant where he worked. He had been putting together a slideshow for the party and rehearsing for a performance at school when everything changed. While he was on spring break everything got canceled.

I was working on some props and things. They were doing Little Shop of Horrors and they’re all frozen in time and they’re still sitting there. Everything is still there at the theater. I kept having this reference of the Titanic, how everything was just kind of frozen in time.

Ed was shut out of performances, he locked down his mom on their farm to keep her safe, canceled the big party and held a Zoom party for her. School switched over to distance learning where performances got shifted to the wayside and the focus was more on production and design. However, they realized that wasn’t what was needed. People needed an experience so the work shifted again to assignments of how they were feeling in some form of performative way. Initially he wrote a short story but felt that it was too long and distilled it down to a poem. 

So Ed finished his degree in May, while being nestled on the safety of his farm. When things started reopening, even though he had anxiety about the outside world, he decided he needed to venture back out and start working back at the restaurant. He felt safe enough because the restaurant was only serving outside and they were doing everything they could to keep people from catching the virus. Even at the restaurant, Ed found ways to add art to his days. 

“I started another art project because we have a new system. We needed ways of getting food to the right table. We were handing people things with numbers and we [didn’t] have enough. So I started painting, I found things and repurposed them. I have a bunch of tiles that I’ve been painting and sculpting some wire clips so we can just hand them laminated numbers, which are much easier to clean than table tents. And they’re bright and interesting. I took summer photographs and sort of hot glued them to these tiles and painted over them and wiped away some of the paint.”

Even Ed’s mom got in on the artistic side of the business. The public had been so responsive and supportive to the restaurant being open that the patrons were being super generous and the tips were crazy. His Mom wanted to say thank you by making signs for the property line. She made a series of little signs that he helped put together. The signs said thank you on both sides and listed everybody on a little individual sign. People could drive by and see all of the different names, which was a testament to the best in people.

Now, while Ed awaits the time that he can apply to the MFA program, he continues to find the art in his everyday tasks. “I try to infuse as much art as I can in life. I think that unexpected places and unexpected times are the most impactful ways of doing that.” 

This aspiring director infuses art into life wherever he can.

See more of Ed’s art and read his poem from the pandemic. Or watch more stories on fuconomy’s youtube channel.