A Mission for Life – Ralph Hyman

There needs to be an update to the definition of “Missionary” in my opinion. This is something that I have pondered over the years but never shared for the simple reason that I felt it was derived from subjective perceptions of my own. After meeting Ralph Hyman at an audition for a “Best of Broadway” musical he is directing, becoming part of the show and then spending time to interview him, I now have the evidence necessary to propagate my theory.

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Ralph giving me a lesson in posture in a makeshift rehearsal space.

Ralph flummoxes me and the standard definitions available to describe an individual. The broad positive strokes of acclamation are certainly warranted, but they belie the significant and constant nature of his choice to define himself in the face of opposition with a heart to educate and foster compassionate understanding. Finding in his journey key moments of realization of self and recognizing the necessity of a genuine and public life for the betterment of the community, Ralph has carved a trail for others to travel. Following his lead you may discover yourself and your place in humanity to boldly follow the path to an enlightened life where existence and co-existence are a daily positive experience. Sounds to me like something a missionary would do.

 

Growing up first in rural Iowa and then moving as a child to southern California due to his father’s medical condition, Ralph’s childhood held all the standard obstacles of being Jewish in both settings. While the sad realities of antisemitism are brutal on their own, Ralph found that as he grew into a young man his sense of belonging in the community was also challenged. It wasn’t until graduating high school and gravitating toward New York’s Greenwich Village in 1969 where he found congruence with the person he knew himself to be.

Being gay in the 1970’s carried with it some unique challenges. Rejecting the role models of their parents who refused to share on an emotional level and without positive role models established within their own community, gay men simply expressed themselves sexually. Ralph, as a part of the gay community at New York University remembers the initial clandestine meet ups in the basement of his dorm late at night until the pivotal

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The Stonewall Inn

Stonewall Riots brought many the opportunity to live openly. Ralph has always led others by example in the communities he has lived in through living openly gay. In New York, where there was a community of support as mentioned but also in Alabama and Arkansas where the threat of violence and even death lurked just around the corner. Ralph refused to compromise his lifestyle and in so doing, he might add unwittingly, has inspired others to a truthful self awareness. Whatever the present climate and challenges towards him, Ralph lived genuinely in every circumstance.

 

Finishing pre-med and choosing instead to pursue a Psychology doctorate was the impetus for the move from the familiarity of the Village to the campus of Auburn University in Alabama. It was a step backward in time for Ralph as he recalls again being forced into the post-midnight dark to have space and opportunity to mix in the gay community there. But again, Ralph’s choice was to live openly, to stand out and to challenge daily the prejudices he found there. Theatre had been a part of Ralph’s

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A young Ralph and friends in a high school production.

life from high school days and this had continued to be the case in New York. As an adjunct to his studies at Auburn he also participated in theatre. He made overcoming prejudices against the gay community part of his daily life and his thesis as he called out those who could not look beyond his sexuality to see him simply as a person . This proved to be great training as it was his next move that would combine his principles with his talents to be a voice in a very dark place.

 

Little Rock, Arkansas is a liberal bastion in an otherwise predominately right-wing conservative state.  That said, it is placed literally in the middle of what is still dangerous country for anyone who does not bow to a southern baptist perspective and as if evidence were necessary, as recently as last week at the supreme court level decided to reverse LGBTQ rights previously recognized in another liberal enclave, Fayettville. That Ralph’s internship would be located in such a place seems almost cruel. But Ralph, who had discovered that being true to one’s self provided a contentment and joy that allowed him to endure great trial was undaunted. He set to work as a psychologist but also as a stalwart defender of gay rights and compassionate advocate for gay health and welfare. He founded an AIDS foundation, actively promoted AIDS awareness, travelled to New York regularly to obtain supplies from gay education centres to distribute in Arkansas, he founded a hospice for AIDS victims and adding his love of theatre founded a community theatre that focused on social issues like homophobia. Ralph realized and acted on his knowledge that he had a role to play in the emerging and developing gay community and that literally, there was a role for theatre to reach people and bring them to a moment to think and feel and accept new paradigms. Setting a frenetic pace with his practice, theatre and the practice of education and empathy he set the bar for others to match. This is courage and compassion that cuts a path through prejudice and invites like-minded people to follow. Truly  the result of years of living a genuine life with an open heart, even in the midst of oppression.

It could be said that Ralph has done enough. His activities have touched many with love and compassion. He deserves to rest and enjoy life with his partner of over 30 years in the

lovely Bay of Banderas area and the Romantic Zone of Puerto Vallarta. But Ralph’s love of life and people does not allow his purported status as retired to give credence to inactivity. Ralph still directs plays that educate and inspire and bring both his participant and audience to moments of deep thought and emotion. When I asked him to define for me his motivation for how he has lived and continues to live his life he instead shares an anecdote. He tells me that as he was advocating for gay men’s health and travelling to New York for supplies, he met two other men who were doing the very same thing in other areas of the United States. None of them knew each other or of their activities, yet all three were actively engaged in a vital mission for the time in areas that could easily be defined as hostile to themselves. Ralph says that he feels there must be something at work, some force; be it simply love, a universe seeking balance or perhaps a benevolent Overseer that made the way for he and these men to bring aid. He can’t understand it completely but he quips that it makes him sound like a missionary. I concur and so submit the following:

mis·sion·ar·y

ˈmiSHəˌnerē/
noun: missionary; plural noun: missionaries
  1.  One who acts selflessly for the benefit of others out of a motivation altruistic and genuine in nature.
    Example: Ralph Hyman
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If you are in the Puerto Vallarta area and would like to see one of Ralph’s shows you are in luck. The Boutique Theatre presents, “The Best of Broadway” the first three weekends in March and it promises to be a night of inspiration and laughter. Come on out! Here’s some pictures of the fun we are having at rehearsals and some key words from the cast and crew:

 

  • Photo of Stonewall Inn by By Diana Davies, copyright owned by New York Public Library

 

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