Stars Behind the Stars: Cha Ramos '21
Stars Behind The Stars is a bi-weekly series featuring theatre makers behind the scenes.
This week we sat down with current Dramaturgy student Cha Ramos and discussed her work on the multiple-award-winning web series Queen’s English. Check out the first season on the show’s YouTube Channel.
Ramos is a Sagittarius who works as a Fight Choreographer, Dramaturg, Actor, Intimacy Choreographer, and sometimes Dance/Movement Choreographer.
Tell me about your first time being involved in Theatre.
Cha Ramos: I grew up dancing. I was not at all the best dancer but I was 1000% acting the part. The first full theatre production I did was Hello Dolly! I ended up playing Ermengarde Vandergelder because the original actress got sick. That role is supposed to be a petite little girl and I was very tall and looked 26 at 16 years old. The role involved me screaming and whining and crying at my uncle who was significantly smaller than me, and it ended up being hilarious.
What is your sign?
CR: I’m a Sagittarius. And, if we want to get technical, my ascendant sign is Scorpio, and my moon sign is Sagittarius. I’m a total Sag and I tend to enjoy hanging with other Sags too. Sagittariuses are very compatible.
How did your astrological sign appear in your work on Queen's English?
CR: My sign has an adventurous spirit. I find Sags are particularly willing to try new things. Before Queen’s English I had never really acted on camera outside a class here and there. Because I didn’t really “know” how to act on camera “properly,” I just let myself play and be adventurous and tried a bunch of different things. I believe that in moments like that you have to feel the fear and do it anyway!
In general as a Sag artist… Sags like to travel and I find that I sort of travel via my work. My bachelor's degree is in Anthropology and it has translated into my favorite part of creating art: world building and immersing artists and audiences in that world’s culture. I love working on sci-fi theatre and theatre that creates totally new worlds, or dives deep into specific cultural experiences. I think we have the opportunity to discover so much when we invite audiences into the worlds we’ve made, on both stage and screen. (Plus, the symbol of Sagittarius is Chiron, the archer, so it’s not surprising that I’m also a “warrior” in my work, as a fight director.)
How did you get involved with Queen’s English?
CR: While I was working at The Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm, I met Tyler Dwiggins, a fellow artist-turned-admin. I had been working as an admin there to be a patron of my own art, working full time to support my craft. I learned Tyler was writing a TV show. The impetus for the show came from growing up watching shows like Friends and Sex and the City where straight friends got to have silly, ridiculous, mundane adventures. Tyler noticed that most queer stories were tragic, or queer characters were relegated to being the “sassy gay friend.” He wanted to create a fun and engaging story about the everyday lives of a group of queer friends. So he created Queen’s English, and I auditioned. I had just shaved my head and started coming into my own queerness and androgyny. I was excited when I read the script because every character was an LGBTQ+ non-tokenized, fully fledged individual. I was cast on the show and we filmed in the summer of 2018. The whole team had this wonderfully casual diversity that wasn’t really spoken about but was very present on set.
What is the most important role you have at the theatre?
CR: Professor Morgan Jenness maintains that Dramaturgy is a verb not a noun – she resists being called a Dramaturg. She says she “commits acts of dramaturgy” and that dramaturgy is a ball that gets thrown around the rehearsal room. Anyone can be holding the ball of dramaturgy at any given moment. For me, no matter what specific role I’m playing (dramaturg, choreographer, actor), my most important job is to keep the ball of Dramaturgy in play. There must be a commitment to the thing we’re making that supersedes each individual collaborator.
What is new or different about your work on this production?
CR: I was so surprised by the sheer amount of people on a film set. We think of theatre as collaborative (and it is) but the amount of people needed to make a single moment work in film is wild, and the level of detail is intense. One of my favorite film discoveries was seeing the sound person recording the room sound separately so he could later mix it precisely as he wanted it with the actors’ mic’d voices. The expertise from each department is really fascinating.
How has your Columbia education prepared you for your current position?
CR: I love that the Dramaturgy program encourages artists to be multidisciplinary. In my first semester, I took classes in dramaturgy, playwriting, and directing. I have embraced that I really don’t have to choose one path. I can be an actor, fight director, choreographer, playwright, etc. And that includes film work too. Why not? Through the program I’ve been exposed to so many aspects of the industry and so many artists who do multiple things. It’s really quite mind-expanding.
The running joke at Columbia is “What’s a Dramaturg?” So what is a Dramaturg to you and how does this role fit into your world as an artist?
CR: The dramaturg is the keeper of the world of a play. I first came to dramaturgy through fight direction. I used to talk myself out of jobs by telling a director something like “I don’t think you’ve built a world where this character would actually slap this other character.” Sometimes directors don’t want to hear that and just want me to build a good, safe slap regardless of whether or not it fits. But the directors who did want to hear that told me I was acting as a dramaturg without realizing it. I was protecting and advocating for the coherence of the whole piece and how the violence fit into it, rather than just doing a job. Working as a dramaturg on a production is about making that advocacy the center of my job!
To folx outside the theatre world, I describe dramaturgy as essentially Theatre Consulting. People think it’s about simplifying things but it’s actually about finding the complexities and helping fellow artists to suss out what comes alive in the work they are making. There’s this classic story about the set of Miami Vice, where there was a guy whose job it was to advise different departments about props, costumes, etc. And all he would say was: “Vice” or “Not Vice.” He was a consultant who would make sure that the world of “Vice” was always maintained. I think sometimes a dramaturg’s job is to help the room decide what “Vice” is so we can all go after it 100%.
If you could be any famous child, who would you be?
CR: I first thought of Baby Yoda. My second option is Emma Watson as Hermione.
What’s your favorite play/musical?
CR: Right now it’s Fefu and Her Friends. I’ve been in love with it for years, and the Theatre For A New Audience production was great in so many ways, but I want more people to discover and play with it. It needs way more productions than it’s had.
What’s your next project?
CR: I’m doing a production of Lorca’s Así Que Pasen Cinco Años in it’s original Spanish with current student Josue Castañeda at Columbia. I’m also fight directing a few shows down at New York University, shopping around my original play Fire Burn Them for workshop opportunities, and I have an exciting as-yet-unannounced acting gig on the horizon. And you know if we get picked up for a second season of Queen’s English, I’ll be there!