Ryan Jude Tanner returns to QHS to work with students, spearhead scholarship

Ryan Jude Tanner, right, takes a photo of the cast of Cinderella warming up before a performance at Quincy High School on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. Tanner announced Wednesday that he's spearheading a scholarship in Kathi Dooley's name. Dooley is retiring at the end of the school year. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
Jake Shane 1|
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Nov. 8, 2019 12:10 am

QUINCY -- Already busy with nine theatrical casts taking stages throughout the world, Ryan Jude Tanner spent part of this week focused on another one -- the cast of the Quincy High School production of "Cinderella."

Tanner, a Broadway producer and 1997 QHS graduate, workshopped with students sharing his insights for the musical.

"It's been delightful to be back here with students," Tanner said. "It's good to be in A Building."

Tanner, who sang in the choir and was part of the stage crew for musicals during his years at QHS, now focuses on producing, or finding investors willing to help fund shows destined for Broadway.

"I've gotten pretty comfortable asking people for money," Tanner said.

And when he's asked, he does what he can to help, especially for Quincy Public Schools.

Tanner, who's called Tulsa, Okla., home since 2004, began reconnecting with QPS by donating show tickets and trips to New York for the Dream Big Gala -- and did the same thing last year when Jonathan Van Ness and the cast of "Queer Eye" asked him to donate a trip to New York for longtime QPS music director Kathi Dooley and her husband.

"I started thinking I really want to do something more, and when I spoke with Kathi privately, she was very grateful for the trip, but would much rather that money go to the kids," he said. "I realized the thing we could do that's going to most honor her commitment would be a future commitment to the music department."

So he spearheaded fundraising for a $25,000 scholarship endowment with the QPS Foundation, announced this week, to honor Dooley, who is retiring at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

"The intent, the most important thing, for me is to continue to help students in the music department who lack the financial ability to attend any of the educational experiences attached to the program," Tanner said.

Tanner worked with foundation Executive Director Kent Embree, Director of K-12 Music Todd Pettit, Quincy School Board President Sayeed Ali and Erin Knapheide to develop the scholarship. "Those four folks really helped make this so much easier and have been eager and happy to celebrate Kathi," he said.

Tanner already has exceeded $25,000 in pledges to endow the scholarship, but he and his husband, Jay Krottinger, want the effort to have an immediate impact with a minimum $500 award beginning this year.

"These endowed scholarships sometimes take three, four or five years until they create enough revenue to make the award," he said. "What we have done is pledged to fund the award privately. The first recipient will be selected this spring."

Tanner hopes to see the endowment fund grow with contributions from other QPS alums affected by Dooley and parents of her current students. Donations to the fund may be made by checks to Quincy Public Schools Foundation with Tanninger-Dooley Fund on the memo line and mailed to 3322 Maine, Quincy, IL 62301.

"This is all about her. I'm happy that I could spearhead it and that I have the abilities to contribute," he said.

Tanner and Krottinger, along with Patricia Chernicky, make up Tulsa-based Tanninger Entertainment, formerly Square 1 Theatrics, which has two productions in development -- "The Outsiders," a musical set to open this summer in Chicago and "Becoming Nancy," a musical being workshopped in Atlanta.

The pair won a 2013 Tony Award for the revival of "Pippin" and a 2019 Tony for the revival of "Oklahoma!," and also has touring productions of "Oklahoma!," "Come From Away" and "Waitress."

That success wouldn't have come without what Dooley taught students off stage, advice he still follows to "be kind. Stay deterined. Keep Trying. Do your best. Keep marching. Keep writing. And never dim your own light," Tanner said.

His latest "biggest, boldest" effort is establishing an entertainment fund allowing investments in their productions at a smaller capital per show, an atypical model for producing.

Instead of a singular investment in a singular show, the goal of the $3.5 million fund is to mitigate risk to investors by investing in diverse theater projects over three Broadway seasons.

"The arts are so important. People say that all the time, but I get to live it, breathe it, help other actors live out that dream and make their living at it," he said. "To go back into my community and try to be transformative and help others move forward, has been really magical. It feels really good to be home."