Ryan Winters tackles life-threatening situations every day as a head and neck specialty surgeon at a New Orleans-area hospital.
And even though this 1999 Hanford High graduate always has wanted to be a doctor, he credits time spent as a theater technician in high school plays for teaching him knowledge as important as what he learned in medical school.
"Specific to technical theater, which was the aspect I was most involved in, the lessons I learned are many," he told the Herald. "Medicine, like technical theater, is very much a team sport. The multidisciplinary teamwork required to care for a complex patient is analogous to opening night."
He also says there was one special woman who inspired his love of theater while at the Richland school. Her name was Ruth Richman, the mother of fellow classmates.
Richman, who died last year after battling cancer, had a profound effect on Winters and many other students at the school, he said.
"As with everything Mrs. Richman did, all were welcome and encouraged to participate (in theater)," Winters said. "Go see a Hanford High show, enjoy the tradition of first rate Hanford theater, wish all those involved well as they head toward wherever their lives may take them. Enjoy being a part of it. That is Mrs. Richman's real legacy."
To honor her, Winters and the Richman family established a $500 scholarship this year specifically for Hanford High theater tech students.
"Ryan wanted to help out other drama students, particularly students who do technical theater, the unsung heroes of drama," said Matt Leggett, drama director at Hanford High. "And he wanted the scholarship to be named after Ruth Richman."
Winters, whose parents, Maggie and John, still live in Richland, said another motivation for naming the scholarship after Richman was to keep her memory alive.
"It's a way to carry on that benevolent force that was there throughout my tenure at HHS for the benefit of future generations because that was Ruth Richman," he said.
Tyler Grandgeorge and Levi Plumb are the two theater tech students who won the scholarship this year.
Grandgeorge, 18, is the son of April and Kurt Grandgeorge. He spent four years in drama and though he doesn't plan to pursue theater at college, he values what he learned as a theater tech. He plans to attend the University of Washington to study history and pre-law.
He acted once, in Hanford's production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, but preferred to keep his involvement behind the scenes.
"I was only on stage for about five minutes (as an actor)," he said. "Tech and acting are very different worlds. I love being able to see the real work that goes on to make things work on stage. There really is magic going on (back)stage. Who doesn't want to see how the tricks work?"
Plumb, 18, is the son of Danny and Lynn Plumb. He plans to attend Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle. He said technical theater has been a humbling experience.
"When I do my work backstage or up in the booth, I do not do it for the recognition," Plumb said. "I do it so the show being performed is at its fullest. I enjoy being the gears and wires that make the machine work."
He's been an actor as well as a technician for school plays.
"I have done both, (but) much prefer to be backstage in the dark," he joked.
And working behind the scenes always was Winters' preference.
"The multitude of participants (in a play), each with an essential and unique role to play, must come together seamlessly and in perfect time for the outcome to be successful," Winters said.
"This is just as true if those participants are costumers, set designers, makeup artists, grips, house manager and stage mangers."
The same is true for a hospital staff, he added.
"Nurses, pharmacists, physical therapists, speech therapists, hospitalists, oncologists and surgeons," Winters said.
"Individuals must give their best or the team fails. It is a simple, powerful lesson I carry with me daily. I think my time in HHS drama was the first I understood what that actually means."
As for Winters' parents, they agree that their son's theater experience has been important to him.
"Ryan's involvement in theater has made him a better doctor," said his mother Maggie Winters. "We also believe theater involvement teaches students skills that will be used every day of their adult life, regardless of their career choice.
"The ability to collaborate, solve problems creatively, better manage time, be organized, speak in public without fear, take leadership, accept and give constructive criticism, mentor others, deal with disappointment, share success and listen empathetically."
Her son also continues to stay connected to theater in New Orleans.
"For now, I am an avid patron of community theater," he said. "Unfortunately, I haven't been able to mesh my residency work schedule with any rehearsal schedules."
Winters also would like to see the Ruth Richman scholarship money grow each yea,r so more theater tech students are recognized for their behind-the-scenes work. Anyone interested in donating can contact Matt Leggett at Hanford High at 967-6500.