Shauneille Perry Ryder, Pioneering Theater Director, Dies at 92


She won at least two Audelco Awards from the Audience Development Committee, which honors Black theater and artists, and in 2019 received the Lloyd Richards Director’s Award from the National Black Theater Festival, in Winston-Salem, N.C., named after the Tony-winning director of many of August Wilson’s plays.

Shauneille Gantt Perry was born on July 26, 1929, in Chicago. Her father, Graham, was one of the first Black assistant attorneys general in Illinois; her mother, Pearl (Gantt) Perry, was a pioneering Black court reporter in Chicago. Lorraine Hansberry, who wrote “A Raisin the Sun,” was one of Shauneille’s cousins.

While attending Howard University — where she received a bachelor’s degree in drama in 1950 — Ms. Perry Ryder belonged to a student theater group, the Howard Players, which performed Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” and Strindberg’s “Miss Julie” on a tour of Scandinavia at the invitation of the Norwegian government. “We were the only Black company to tour those marvelous countries,” she told The Record of Hackensack, N.J., in 1971.

She earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 1952 at the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago (now a part of DePaul University). As a Fulbright scholar in 1954, she studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Dissatisfied with the curriculum, however (“they were always doing ‘Cleopatra,’” she said), she transferred to the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art.

Back in Chicago she began acting — she was in a summer stock play, “Mamba’s Daughters,” with Ethel Waters — while also writing for the Black newspaper The Chicago Defender. In 1959, while on a trip to Paris that she had won through an Ebony magazine essay contest, she met the author Richard Wright, who, she recalled, asked her, “They still lynching people back in the States?”

“I remember telling him, ‘They do it a little differently there today,’” she told The Times in 1971. But the next day she read about a Black man who had been accused of rape and taken forcibly to a jail cell; his body was later found floating in a river. “I kept wondering to myself,” she said, “‘What is that man saying about my analysis of things?’”

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