Student's play comes to life on a Carolina stage

Ryan Stevens is a storyteller. He loves to use his art to create characters that evoke an emotional connection with his audience. His play, “The Bee Man of Creighton County,” lets him explore those feelings of uncertainty that many college seniors and recent graduates feel as one phase of their life comes to an end.

A native of rural Belton, S.C., Stevens came to the University of South Carolina as an English major. He says his passion for writing comes from his early interest in reading, television and good storytelling.

“I’ve been telling stories since I could talk. There’s a way to tell good stories and there’s a way to tell bad stories. It occurred to me at a young age that people usually enjoy good stories so I began to look at the art of storytelling,” says Stevens.

He says he tells stories and writes to build people who have histories and futures, hoping that someone out there will find a little bit of themselves in each character he creates.

“Writing is the closest thing we really have to magic. You read a book or watch a story unfold on TV and it makes you feel something. And that something literally came from nothing, it came from somebody sitting at a typewriter saying, 'what do we make Homer Simpson say next?' ” says Stevens.

Stevens was drawn to writing for the theater after seeing his friends’ acting shine on stage. He started writing 5-minute plays with colleagues to give his friends a new avenue to show their talent and at the same time show the versatility that the theater presents.

“Good theater and good play scripts can accommodate every person that comes across it. The play may portray one message, but it will always affect everyone in a different way,” says Stevens.

His most recent play brings a vision to life that is very surreal to him. “The Bee Man of Creighton County” is a stage play about a young girl who is trying to learn how to persevere through setbacks and understand the world is too big and beautiful to let one failure break you.

Stevens explained he wrote the play to be at peace with wherever life was going to take him next. Writing it near the end of his senior year, he wasn’t sure what the future held for him. He struggled with the thought of suddenly having to be ready for life after college. In the back of his head, there was always the option of having to move back to a very small town he had always envisioned himself leaving, and that was a scary thought.

The director of the play, Grace Ann Roberts, a Columbia native and 2015 graduate, says she is intrigued by Stevens’ ability to capture a common feeling for many graduates and turn it into a piece of art.

“At this point in our lives, it’s kind of eerie how much Ryan and I relate to the main character. We both connect to Julie’s life circumstance of uncertainty or with her coming from a small town that no longer presents much growth for her,” says Roberts. “I find the writing to be incredibly relevant to the USC community because I know were not the only ones in this place.”

Now Roberts and Stevens say this experience of writing and producing has not only allowed them to be at peace with their next steps but will make them better writers and directors overall.

“The most gratifying thing is getting feedback in the rehearsal process. After the show, we will have a talk-back where everyone voices what worked and what didn’t. It will teach me where the humanity transcended and where I need to go back and make the character rawer,” says Stevens.

Unlike his main character, Stevens won’t be returning to his small hometown but will be coming home to Carolina in the fall to pursue his master’s in theater. His goal is to work behind the scenes in many other theaters and let the magic of his writing leave audiences coming back for more.

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