Ryan Solomon, 22, graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in May with a degree in mechanical engineering, stemming from a lifelong passion in science.
But his other passion leans more toward the creative side, and one not often found in the engineering realm: theater.
The West Chester, N.Y., native has been active in performing arts for as long as he can remember, and joined Penn’s Mask and Wig Club — the nation’s oldest collegiate all-male musical-comedy troupe — during his undergraduate years.
He now works in mechanical engineering, but isn’t leaving theater anytime soon either.
Q: Are people surprised when you tell them you do theater and you also have an engineering background?
A: “Yeah. It’s confusing. It’s inherently confusing, and it’s especially confusing to people in the engineering and theater worlds. But I have a lot of fun and I have a lot of support from both ends to maintain both of those passions. But people are definitely intrigued [and] definitely perk their ears to hear that I both have a degree in engineering and I’m also an actor.”
Q: Do you think there’s any crossover between doing theater and being an engineer?
A: “Absolutely. I can’t stress that enough. There’s a massive amount of overlap. I like to say creativity is the cornerstone of engineering because you have to be creative in the problems that you’re solving. As an engineer, what they consistently tell you is that you are always being trained as a problem-solver. Your job is to take a problem and find a mechanical engineering solution to it, and in order to find a solution to a problem that no one has solved yet, you have to get creative. There’s tons and tons of room for creativity in engineering, and with my theater background, I provide a unique perspective from outside of the engineering realm and bring it into the engineering realm.”
Q: What does it mean to you to be a part of the Mask and Wig legacy?
A: “I feel incredibly fortunate. When I originally joined, I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. But I, like a lot of people who do Mask and Wig, feel incredibly fortunate and incredibly close to the history, to the continuing of the tradition, to the camaraderie, to the great product that we do. … It’s an amazing, amazing experience, and I’ve made some of my closest friends I’m likely ever going to have performing in this group.”
Q: Do you plan on continuing theater now that you’re out of college?
A: “I do. I’m going to absolutely strive to keep that as much a part of my life as possible. I made a conscious decision to focus on work for a while and get myself situated in the working world, but I fully intend on continuing things like by joining an amateur theater group, by taking classes at Upright Citizens Brigade — doing all of those things to really get as much as possible.”
Q: Is there anything from your Jewish upbringing that influenced your two passions?
A: “My parents got me into theater, actually. Both my mom and my dad performed in theater at the Pittsburgh JCC, so I grew up watching films of them performing in The Wizard of Oz, in Grease, and I remember wanting to be like my father and be Danny Zuko. and I remember watching my mom and wanting to be just like my mom. I definitely think inadvertently Judaism played a huge role in doing so, because if they never went to the JCC I don’t think I would ever seek it out as an option for me.”
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Philly Faces is an ongoing series of profiles of interesting young professionals in our Jewish community. If you know of a young professional we should speak to, email [email protected]