A behind-the-scenes glance at our alumni
Interviewed by Allen Lee Hughes. This month: Clint Ramos ‘97
What are you currently doing in your life and career that you are proud of?
I’m proud of my body of work and the journey I’ve had as a human being that accompanied that. I’m proud of the young talented designers I’ve mentored and now have flourishing careers. But I’m most proud of the service I do in making designers’ lives a little bit better and also in my work promoting and advocating for inclusion in our field.
What secrets, principles, talents, assistance, and support do you feel have made you so successful?
I did not have a clean, straight and narrow trajectory. I made a lot of mistakes. I was very lost when I came out of grad school (and to a certain extent, during), and plunged into a very dark period. When I was given the grace to come out of that, I self-assessed and asked myself whether I wanted to continue designing for the theater. To be honest, I realized that (a) it was the only thing I was interested in doing, and (b) it was the only thing I felt I knew how to do. So, I made a decision to keep on working on projects that mattered to me, with people whose values I shared. Any financial and professional success would have to be incidental. If there’s any secret, surround yourself with people whose values you share and go where the love is.
How are you currently involved with the department? Are there any ways that you would like to be more involved?
I taught Costume I during the Winter/Spring semester of 2017. I also have been a guest on certain senior design thesis projects and sat on in the costume design final thesis presentations. I am informally mentoring some of my old students as well.
Have you worked with any NYU alumni or current students? How did that work out?
I enjoy mentoring current students and, as I noted, have taught Costume I. And yes, I work with NYU alumni almost all of the time. One of my longest collaborations is with Donyale Werle ‘02: We are both principal designers with Encores Off-Center, entering our sixth season; we also founded with others the Off-Broadway designers’ movement that resulted in the first-ever Off-Broadway collective bargaining agreement. Just this season, I also collaborated with David Lander ‘91, Anna Louizos ‘89, Mark Barton ‘03, David Zinn ‘91, and many actors who graduated from the graduate acting department.
Trace your entry into your fields from graduate school to your current pursuits.
I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Public Theater. The first play I designed out of graduate school was there. Bonnie Metzgar and Nick Schwartz-Hall, then-producers for George C. Wolfe, came to the Design Show, saw my work, and recommended that George hire me for that show. I am one of the few people who was fortunate enough to have a gig immediately after grad school. I worked Off-Broadway for a long time, worked two years in television, spent some time in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe, and did not really break into the regional circuit until later in my career. I started designing for commercial theater a few years ago. Today, I do all of the above. I am an immigrant. I’m from the school of “keep your head down and keep on working.”
Talk about your career as a set and costume designer. For example, what do you find to be the most difficult part of your process and how do you resolve it?
I’ll start with the obvious: It is exciting to be able to practice both disciplines and stretch those two muscles. I think the most difficult part of designing both sets and costumes is being aware of the level of support that each discipline gets. I am going to say something controversial: Costume designers often get the short end of the stick. We are trying to change that, but I have to say that parity in pay doesn’t begin to make up for the inequality.
What moment(s) of your career are you most proud of?
Certainly, I am proud of the recognition my work has received, particularly in recent years like Eclipsed, Once on This Island and Sunday in the Park With George. But I am most proud of my off-stage activism with producers and theaters for inclusion, diversity, and access and my advocacy work to get NYC’s first sober high school a reality.
When did you get interested in theater or film design and how?
I got hooked at a very young age doing political street theater in the Philippines. I saw how theater can be a venue for thought, a catalyst for change, and ultimately, a germ for revolution. I have been chasing that high ever since.
What or who were your influences?
I’ve said this before and I’m going to say it again: Paul Steinberg was a great influence. As a teacher, he really encouraged me to employ another way of thinking about design. His work is a constant inspiration for me on how everything important can be distilled to a singular essence. I don’t think my work resembles his work in any way, but the journey of distillation that he imparted to me is invaluable. Susan Hilferty is also an influence in that she taught me the idea that design is a constant dialogue. Of course, I’m influenced by many artists, to name a few there’s- the Dutch-Chinese designer Fong Leng and stage designer, Bob Israel, among many others. Also, the art and music of New York in the 1990s is a recurring leitmotif in my work. And finally, I must credit my students and associates who always make me a better designer.
As you design and meet the challenges of being a freelance artist, are there any voices that you particularly hear from the aggregation of voices?
I hear and tune in to the voices of underrepresented artists in our field and the struggles we have in this industry. I write this response now after having been blessed with a 2018 Tony Award nomination and being the only designer of color nominated out of 39 design nominations. This is maddening to me. We have to, as a community, broaden the breadth of what we consider viable in the American theater. We have to do this quickly— otherwise we run the risk of losing the very vitality it purports to impart. What are some of your other interests in life? Gardening and really, right now, my daughter. She is life itself. I love her so.
Any final thoughts?
I owe a lot of debt to this department and to my teachers so thank you. When I was in school, many of the things that I thought were important seemed to have metamorphosed into matters that are inconsequential. There were things that I imagined and things that were true. What has remained true was this search for belonging and yearning for a space where I can be sustained both artistically and spiritually. No one wanted to make that space for me so I took that mission upon myself. My desire is to make that space for the next generation of designers who lack representation—and hopefully, that effort ripples across and magnifies. I am saying to them “I’m here to help.”
CLINT RAMOS is the recipient of a TONY Award for Best Costume Design of a Play (the first person of color to win in his category), an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence in Design, 3 Lucille Lortel Awards and 6 nominations, 2 American Theater Wing Henry Hewes Awards and 8 nominations, TDF Irene Sharraf Young Master Award, Helen Hayes Award, Craig Noel Award, and 2 Drama Desk nominations, among other awards. He is also the recipient of the Ani ng Dangal presidential medal for dramatic arts from the President of the Philippines; he received this honor twice. He has designed sets and/or costumes for hundreds of theater, opera and dance productions. Selected credits include the Broadway productions of Once On This Island, Six Degrees of Separation with Allison Janney, Sunday in the Park With George with Jake Gyllenhaal, In Transit, Eclipsed with Lupita Nyong’o, Violet with Sutton Foster and The Elephant Man with Bradley Cooper (also West End). Highlights also include Bella, Kid Victory, Sweet Charity, Here Lies Love (NY, Seattle and at the National Theatre, London), Dry Powder with Claire Danes and John Krasinski, Barbecue, The Good Person of Szechuan, Appropriate, Angels in America, Wild With Happy, Bootycandy and many more. He is the principal costume designer for City Center Encores! Off-Center, having designed The Runaways, God Bless You Mr. Rosewater, Wild Party with Sutton Foster, Little Shop Of Horrors with Jake Gyllenhaal and Ellen Greene, A New Brain with Jonathan Groff, Cradle Will Rock, I'm Getting My Act Together..., Randy Newman's Faust, tick, tick...Boom! with Lin Manuel Miranda and Pump Boys and Dinettes. In New York, his designs have been seen at the Public Theater where he has designer over a dozen shows, New York Theater Workshop, Roundabout Theatre Company, Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights Horizons, Second Stage, Signature Theater, Classic Stage Company, Ma-Yi, NAATCO, Clubbed Thumb, New Georges, Women’s Project, Soho Playhouse, Mint Theater, Red Bull Theater, The Asia Society, and many others. Regional and opera credits include designs for Alliance Theater, Asolo Repertory Company, Arena Stage, Alley Theater, American Repertory Theater, Baltimore Centerstage, Barrington Stage, Berkeley Rep., California Shakespeare Theater, Chautauqua Theater Co., Cleveland Playhouse, Cincinnati Playhouse, Commonwealth Shakespeare Co., Dallas Theater Center, Denver Center Theater, Folger Theater, Geva Theater, Guthrie Theater, Huntington Theater Company, Kansas Repertory Theater, La Jolla Playhouse, Long Wharf Theater, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Roundhouse Theater, Shakespeare Theater, Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey, Steppenwolf, Signature, Williamstown Theater Festival, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Opera Boston, Prince Opera Theater and many others. International credits include designs for The National Theatre, West End and the Barbican (London), O’Reilly (Dublin), Kanon (St. Petersburg), Rijksteatern (Stockholm), Thalia (Bucharest), and Tanghalang Pilipino (Manila). Mr. Ramos is a professor in scenic design at SUNY Purchase and has been a visiting professor/artist at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Georgetown University, and Fordham University. In addition to his work in the theater, he sits on the board of SLAM NYC–working towards creating NYC’s first ever recovery high school and most recently sat on the board of FIERCE NY, an organization that is devoted to building the leadership and power of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) youth of color. He holds a Master of Fine Arts from New York University where he attended on the Gary Kalkin Memorial Scholarship.