Introducing Tom Ryalls

This is the back of an artist announcement card for Tom Ryalls. The design is styled on an American baseball card. The card has a thin white border. At the top of the card, there is a thick black band with the artist name, Tom Ryalls, and a description of their role in CRIPtic, as commissioned artist. Below this, there is a black and white portrait photograph of Tom Ryalls. In it, Tom is standing on stage, he is a caucasian boy with short-ish white hair. He is wearing round, plastic blue glasses and a black buttoned up polo shirt. Below the photo, there is a large black and white logo which reads CRIPtic.

What made you want to be an artist / performer?

I decided to do GCSE drama because I thought I fancied a girl in the class, turns out it was in that class I realised I was gay. I didn’t find a girlfriend but I did find a space in which we were given permission to radically reimagine what the future might look like for us – and I got addicted to that feeling. 

Certain people are taught they deserve to imagine the future, these people are often the most privileged in society. I was definitely never taught to do this, I was taught to follow orders and do as I’m told and this means I began to not imagine beyond what was real and in front of me. The problem with this, is that if you can’t imagine what might come after capitalism, or patriarchy, or ableism then it feels like a mammoth task to overcome it. 

So, I decided to try and recreate that feeling of chaos and wild imagination I got from that drama classroom and the only way I could think to do that was through making shows.

We know theatre isn’t real, we can literally see the stage and the lights and the apparatus that makes it, but with great theatre / live art / storytelling we choose to believe anyway. That’s what I wanted to do, I wanted people to choose to suspend reality for a while and practice imagining beyond what we’re presented with in our day-to-day lives. 

What/who inspires your craft?

I know I should name some theatre makers but really I’m inspired by comic books and YA fiction books, I think they have this sense of imagination, and a belief that anything is possible that you often don’t find in works that are created for adults. As we become adults we’re often taught that a mark of that is to understand the world as it is, instead of as it might be, and I’m really inspired by things that live between these two points of view. I’m not here to pretend awful things aren’t happening, but there are lots of people articulating that awfulness, I am inspired by the bit that comes later where we imagine beyond it. 

I think I mainly work in live performance because of my ADHD – I need a lot of varied sensory input to keep focused on something and live performance caters to that really well. The main inspiration of the liveness of my practice comes from the performance that came out of the height of the AIDS Epidemic, it’s a time when queer and disabled politics came together for a while, and there was this overwhelming desire to imagine how we might do things differently. We find one of the only lead parts for a wheelchair user in “”The Normal Heart”” and the audacity to just say that an Angel crashes through the ceiling in “”Angels in America”” really inspires my sense of imagination. 

What’s your vision for the future of theatre and where do you see yourself going after CRIPtic?

What’s my vision for the future of theatre?

I think we have to understand theatre as a system of production, and that system is inaccessible to many people. Changing who gets to join in on that system, doesn’t change the fact that other people are being left out. You have to eradicate the system of privilege itself, not just have other people oversee it. 

So, my vision for theatre isn’t just about the art itself, it’s a structural overhaul of how we might make the system more democratic. It also can’t exist in a bubble – it doesn’t exist without changing society and I think this is where theatre often falls down. 

I’d like to see less managers and more organisers. I’d like the people who make the work, to be more like the people who see the work, and I’d like them to be a bit more like the people who think the work isn’t for them. I’d love to see more work about marginalisation that doesn’t exist within the lens of trauma and I’d love that to be made because we’re not being traumatised so often. I’d love our economic system to be understood as something that isn’t fundamental to society, but something changeable so we might create a community that doesn’t reinforce systems of privilege in society. 

Where do I see myself going?

Space. No, really. I’m working on a trilogy of shows about growing up with epilepsy. The first one is running this summer in Covent Garden, and that’s the story of what really happened to me in my childhood. The second is a family show which is in development and imagines, based on what we learnt in the first one, how it might be different for other people. And for the third, I want to do the thing I thought was impossible at the beginning of the trilogy, and be the first person in space who’s had epileptic seizures. 

I’d love my CRIPtic show to grow as well though, as we move through this pandemic I think we need to think of self-care in different ways, ways that are less egotistical and individualistic and expensive. It’s important now more than ever that we learn to build systems of support and care, instead of isolated incidents of care and I hope my work around this show can do that.

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