This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993
Beryl Annear Bryant (1893-1973), actress and producer, was born on 9 January 1893 in New York, daughter of George Edwin Bryant (d.1943), actor, and his wife Elizabeth Anne, sister of Harold Desbrowe Annear. George had moved to America after a dispute with J. C. Williamson, but was invited back to Melbourne in 1906 to direct The Squaw Man. Beryl attended the Church of England Girls' Grammar School.
She acted in Pathé Frères' film, For a Woman's Sake (1911), and in Road to Ruin, The Crisis and The Reprieve for Lincoln-Cass Films in 1913. Her first appearance for J. C. Williamson Ltd was in Melbourne in 1917 in Outcast. At her parents' South Yarra home on 22 April 1921 she married a manufacturer Albert Edward Mayor (d.1941) with Anglican rites. They lived in Sydney where their three children were born. In 1923 she joined the New London Dramatic Company; her performance as Blackie in The Faithful Heart was praised for 'its gripping poignancy and naturalness'. She toured for Hugh J. Ward in 1924, starring in The Man in Dress Clothes.
In difficult financial circumstances in 1931, Bryant began teaching elocution. That year she took over Carrie Tennant's Community Playhouse, Forbes Street, which re-opened as Bryant's Playhouse. Her father quit his retirement to help. She ran the tiny theatre as a practice ground for students and as a social venue for theatre enthusiasts, and thought that the small stage lent itself 'to unusual and experimental plays'. Bryant directed and acted. She did seasons of Shaw, Barrie, Shakespeare and Chekhov, and plays by Molière, Zola, Pinero, Maeterlinck, Strindberg and Ibsen. Peer Gynt was staged in the garden of her Vaucluse home.
Miss Bryant, as she was known professionally, was a vigorous promoter of theatre. She was a member of the Sydney Players' Club, the New South Wales division of the British Drama League and the Playwrights' Advisory Board, and was an organizer of Drama Week. To encourage local talent, she held one-act play competitions, offering local writers the opportunity to have their work performed: 'it is futile to wait until playwrights become marvellous men before accepting their plays; they should be given workshops where plays and actors may be tested by trial and error in actual performance'.
Charles Chauvel valued the training she gave his actors; Leslie Rees praised her choice of plays as 'almost recklessly courageous'. A younger generation benefited from her enterprise. Bryant's Playhouse staged the first public performances (1935) of Patrick White's Bread and Butter Women and The School for Friends; his mother Ruth gave financial backing to the playhouse and became a valued friend of its proprietor.
The Playhouse moved to Phillip Street in 1942 and closed in 1946. Beryl had joined Moral Re-Armament about 1935 and from 1946—although in poor health—took part in its stage productions in Europe, the United States of America, the Philippines, Vietnam, Burma and India. From 1956 she lived in Melbourne. Survived by her daughter and two sons, she died on 31 May 1973 at South Caulfield and was buried beside her husband in South Head cemetery, Sydney.
Heather Radi, 'Bryant, Beryl Annear (1893–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bryant-beryl-annear-9611/text16945, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 2 October 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993