Call Redialed: NEW Joan Ryan Interview: "Touch The Sky" benefit for Shane's Inspiration, honoring Chita Rivera at Carnegie Hall
I have been a fan of Joan Ryan since she starred as “Tina Pallodrino,” the crazy music & arts teacher on NBC’s Saved By The Bell. Throughout our two interviews and newly developed friendship, I have continued to get to know Joan on a more personal level! She is one of the most giving people I know.
It’s no surprise that Joan is co-producing a fantastic benefit concert at Carnegie Hall on October 1. This concert is entitled Touch The Sky, which benefits Shane’s Inspiration and will be honoring the legendary Chita Rivera!
Touch The Sky is a benefit to build a Shane’s Inspiration inclusive playground in New York City. Touch The Sky will take place on Monday, October 1, 2018 at 7:30pm at “Zankel Hall” at Carnegie Hall. This playful evening of song will feature the amazing voices of Broadway, Television, & Film including Joan Ryan, Billy Stritch, Jim Caruso, Melissa Errico, Liz Calloway, JK Simmons, Michael Wetherly, Charlotte D’amboise, Evan Ruggiero, Ali Stroker and The New York Children’s Chorus. Click here for tickets!
1. On October 1, you are producing/performing in Shane's Inspiration's Touch The Sky benefit honoring Chita Rivera at Carnegie Hall. How did this evening come together? A year ago, when I knew I was relocating to New York, I decided to do a show at Feinstein’s/54 Below or a similar venue, and have a few of my well known Broadway friends join me. I figured it would be a good introduction to New York. I decided to do it as a benefit for my friends at Shane’s Inspiration, an organization I have been very close to for many years. I then approached the co-founders and my friends, Catherine Williams and Tiffany Harris with the idea. Tiffany, Brad Thornton, the head of development, and I met over lunch to discuss what was going to be my evening at a club in New York. Tiffany and Brad said that they were in partnership with Carnegie Hall and asked how I would feel about changing the location. I couldn’t have said yes fast enough. In addition, I offered to co-produce the evening and that has been so rewarding, as well.
2. How did you decide to honor Chita Rivera for this night? What was the phone call to her like to let her know about this honor? Well, I’m very lucky because Roma Torre, NY1 news anchor and theatre critic, is family. When I decided to do this, she was my first phone call. She also agreed to jump on board the minute I asked. I had just seen Chita at Feinstein’s/54 Below and was so blown away. Then it occurred to me that Chita has had a life time of inclusion, inspiration and acceptance, so she would be the perfect person to honor with the very first Shane’s Inspiration “Touch The Sky” award. So Roma called Chita and Seth, we all starting calling talent and assembling a fabulous production team and the rest is where we are today!
3. Those attending the benefit are in for a real treat. The list of performers reads like a who's who of Broadway/Television: You, Billy Stritch, Jim Caruso, Melissa Errico, Liz Calloway, JK Simmons, Michael Wetherly, Charlotte D’amboise, Evan Ruggiero, Ali Stroker and The New York Children’s Chorus. What can you tell us about these artists' involvement in the benefit? All of these artists are so generous with their time and talent and as soon as we asked, they said yes. We are thrilled to have them on board and wait till you see their numbers! Also, this is Shane’s Inspiration’s introduction to New York and these incredible performers are helping to add visibility here for Shane’s Inspiration.
4. In addition to producing this benefit, you are also performing. What song will you be singing? Why did you choose this specific song? Well, Ron Abel, our musical director, has written a stunning arrangement of a Sondheim song and a Stephen Schwartz song together…And it will be fun to sing because Stephen Schwartz will be joining us in the audience that night.
The song I chose speaks to this evening, what it means to me, my moving to New York and why I chose to do this benefit in the first place. It’s very personal to all of it, as well as totally apropos to the evening. Can’t wait to sing it!
5. How did you get involved with Shane’s Inspiration? I have been close to Shane’s Inspiration since the beginning.
When I was pregnant with my now 21 year old daughter, Kelsey, my friends Catherine Curry Williams and Scott Williams were expecting their first child, Shane. When Shane was born and passed away two weeks later, I witnessed my friends, along with their best friend, co-founder Tiffany Harris, take this profound grief and turn it into something that made an immense difference for children of all abilities and their families. Had their beautiful son Shane lived, he would have been paralyzed and not able to play on a playground.
When Catherine, Scott and Tiffany realized this need, they raised money for the first playground and now there are roughly 68 Shane’s Inspiration’s playgrounds worldwide. This will be the first of its kind in New York.
6. What have you learned about yourself from your involvement in Shane's Inspiration? I’ve learned that life is much better if you make what you do, for the most part, about something bigger than just yourself. From the very beginning to now this whole experience has been so exciting, creative and satisfying.
From co-producing and performing in this evening at Carnegie Hall, I learned what I am capable of and to always surround yourself with a great team.
7. What is one personal story you have witnessed from seeing kids play at a Shane's Inspiration built playground that maybe you wouldn't see at another playground? Just one? Impossible!
When my daughters were small, I took them to play at the playground for a buddy day, where one able bodied kid is buddied with another with disabilities. My kids walked away from that incredible experience knowing, number one, how good it feels to spend a day in service to others and number two that these kids are just like them, but they can’t necessarily play the same way. They also learned not to be frightened of kids that look different than they do. They couldn’t wait to go back. I also witnessed firsthand how the parents of these children are the true heroes.
More on Shane’s Inspiration:
Shane’s Inspiration is recognized as a worldwide leader of creating Universally Accessible Playgrounds (UAP) and educational programs that unite children of all abilities. Its mission is to foster social inclusion for children with disabilities by creating a unique and safe place for children of all ages and abilities to come together through the vehicle of inclusive play. Since launching in 1998, Shane’s Inspiration has directly served more than 40,000 children through their education and community outreach programs. The international nonprofit has helped raise millions of dollars to build, design and program nearly 70 universally accessible playgrounds around the globe, with an additional 55 in development.
More on Joan:
Known for her recurring role as "Tina Pallodrino," the crazy music and arts teacher on the long-running series, Saved By the Bell, Joan has appeared on-screen in numerous television shows and movies including two years as "Kathleen Houghton," everyone’s favorite psychiatrist on The Young and the Restless.
Winner of Broadway World’s Best Female Cabaret Artist, Joan Ryan has been called "a mesmerizing performer who moves smoothly from larger-than-life drama to small, captivating emotional moments," by the Los Angeles Times. Rex Reed, of the NY Observer, said "she can explore the nuances of a piercing ballad with the investigative talent of a forensic expert, then ignite a show stopping Broadway melody with the combustion of a freight locomotive on the Philadelphia Railroad." Her stage credits include the original LA cast of the musical Ruthless!, the West Coast premiere of Anyone Can Whistle, Footloose, Triumph of Love, Little Shop of Horrors, Les Miserables, among others. Last year she participated in a national tour performing hits from composers Andrew Lloyd Webber and Marvin Hamlisch.