“Susan Ryan, you are my hero,” said film producer Randall Emmett as he congratulated his friend and former theater teacher during the Creative Coalition’s Teachers Making a Difference Award luncheon at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
“Congratulations on your 2015 Teachers Making a Difference Award.”
The luncheon included a host of students in the industry, like David Arquette, John Leguizamo and RJ Mitte, who honored their former instructors for making a difference in their lives. Ryan was honored by Emmett with a speech in front of the film community for believing in him when he was just a middle school student.
“I have learned as much from my students as they have learned from me,” said Ryan. “There is a place for everyone in theater.”
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Ryan found her place at a very young age.
At 12-years old, she got her feet wet in theater by being chosen for Popeye’s Playhouse, a popular Miami children’s program hosted by Chuck Zink in the late 1950’s.
After graduating from Coral Park High School, where she won a Silver Knight Award in theater, Ryan attended Miami Dade Community College with a pre-major in theater.
After two years, she earned a scholarship from Miami Dade to attend Florida State University where she continued to study theater. Since then, Ryan directed a host of school plays and community theater, like The Village Act in 1982.
“I have a passion for educating students about all aspects of theater to bring out the natural talent that young kids have,” Ryan said. “At the age of 11 to 13, they [children] have the innocence to be risk takers.”
Ryan has been a theater teacher for 40 years, 30 of them spent at Hammocks Middle School, in Miami, where she met Emmett as an eighth-grade student in 1984.
“He [Emmett] had something special from the beginning,” Ryan said. “He was wonderful at improv and was very intuitive.”
Emmett has produced more than 70 films, some of them include Extraction with Bruce Willis and Kellan Lutz; Escape Plan, Lone Survivor and a current production called Silence with Martin Scorsese. In all of this, he thought of his former teacher when the The Creative Coalition asked for suggestions for this year’s award.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Emmett. “Susan changed my life and gave me the strength to believe in myself... I wanted to honor her for her undying commitment to children.”
When Emmett got the call that Ryan was selected as a winner, he was excited to honor his hero. Emmett paid for Ryan to attend the festival and luncheon with an all-expenses-paid trip to Utah that included dinner at Grappa, an Italian restaurant in Park City.
After 40 successful years as a drama teacher for Miami-Dade County, Ryan has started packing up her classroom for her transition to retirement, which begins on May 29th. Although she is retiring from the public school system, she’s not retiring from theater.
“I try to create a family with my students because it shows them that there is a place for everyone in theater,” Ryan said.
She hopes to relocate to South Carolina and get involved with children’s theater on a part-time basis. She does plan to keep in contact with her drama students through Facebook and she closely follows their theater, television and/or movie careers.
“It’s every teacher’s dream to have a student you had 30 years ago remember you, recognize you, and tell you how much of a difference you made in their lives,” said Ryan.