Broadway Shnuffle

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Ryan Reid recently had one of the more nerve-wracking weeks of her life. Reid, a 2013 graduate of the BAFA program at Lang and Integrated Design at Parsons, had written and directed a play called One Day in the Life of Henri Shnuffle, a painstakingly personal portrait of an elderly New Yorker, which had just begun its run at a below-street-level space on Bond street. She knew that a reviewer from The New York Times had come to the show not long after opening. As the days wore on, however, there was no review. What had happened? Had the reviewer hated the show? Had his editors hated the review? Or would it simply languish, approved but unpublished, until the show finished its run? Reid began to give up hope.

Reid had begun work on the play through her time at Parsons, observing New York City’s elderly population as part of her design thinking classes. This led her to start composing short stories in her writing classes at Lang about the “very strange and sad life” of an old person, living in the city alone and without family. She called this man “Henri Shnuffle.” Then, Reid’s grandfather was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and she wanted to do something larger with this character. A play seemed like a natural step.

Writing the play was relatively simple. But, given how personal the subject matter was, Reid also felt like she should direct. This posed something of a problem. Reid, who also plays the accordion and designs jewelry, admits that she is “an introvert, and more happy doing my little projects” than interacting with big groups of people. The first day of rehearsal, when she first stood in front of her crew of professional theater people, in a room with more years of combined experience than she is years old, she says she “was more nervous than I’ve ever been. Figuring out how to still be myself and use the fact that I’m a designer to my advantage when I’m directing, I found out is very helpful.”

This interplay between design, art, and practical work is what drew her to the BAFA program in the first place. “I like intellectual pursuits, but I also like working with my hands and collaborating with other artists,” she says. “Being a BAFA student let me do all of those things, and balance the two sides of myself.”

So, here she was, right in the middle of the run of an extremely personal play, developed across her flexible education tailored to her personality. Would the Times ever print their review? The answer came almost a week after the reviewer saw the show, on the night after graduation as Reid was out to dinner with her parents. Her phone buzzed. A friend had found the review and emailed it to her.

“I read it first on my own,” she says, “and they all watched me and said ‘What does it say?! What does it say!?’ And then I got to read it to my family.” The review was very positive, saying of the piece, “It’s sobering to contemplate how Dad or Grandpa gets along when no one else is around.”

Reid plans to continue in the theater after a brief break, planning a tour of “Shnuffle” and other shows with her company, the Sprat Theatre Co.