Assistant Artistic Director, Claire F. Martin, interviews Amrita Ramanan, Director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, about her work as a dramaturg of new plays and classical texts, and how OSF embeds dramaturgy into its artistry.
Learn more about our guest speaker at https://www.osfashland.org/en/artist-biographies/artistic-staff/amrita-ramanan
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The show is produced by Claire Martin and Jeremy Fiebig.
Our Director of Engagement is Ashanti Bennett. Jen Pommerenke also assisted with this episode.
This project is supported by the Arts Council in part by contributions from businesses and individuals, and through grants from the City of Fayetteville, Cumberland County and the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the Department of Natural & Cultural Resources.
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Hello, I’m Claire Martin it’s lunchtime. Hear at Sweet Tea Shakespeare grab a bite to eat and settle in for this Sweet Tea Shakespeare at Lunch Hours enjoy. Good morning. Good morning. Claire how are you? I’m great. How are you doing? Doing really well this morning. Thank you so much for coming on our show. It’s just it, as we said, its great to see your face again. Oh, it’s wonderful to see you and thank you so much for having they may.
Anyone who is listening out there. Thank you so much for joining us today. I am thrilled and honored to announce that we are joined by Amrita Ramadan, who is the director of Literary Development and Dramaturgy at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which is a place that I have mentioned many a time on this podcast. It’s quite formative for me, but she has a resplendent a career in, in theater and specifically in the realm of Dramaturgy before coming to OSF she was the Literary Manager and Artistic associate of arena stage. Ah, and she also served as associate producer and dramaturg of double-edged theater.
She has a sort of rich background working with both classical plays, classical stories and also new players and new playwrights. And I’m very excited to talk with her about her practice and her craft and sort of where she sees theater moving. As we, as we go through this incredibly unprecedented time of the pandemic and also sort of hopes that she has for the after times and kind of just what moves her as an artist. So a Amrita just like, thank you so much for joining us. It’s like an honor to have you on our show kind and generous introduction.
I’m very flattered and I’m really proud to be on your show. Claire I’ve listened to other podcasts. It’s an incredible show that you’ve put this together. Thank you for having me. Thank you for being here. So I think the first thing I want to talk about his sort of starts at OSF just because that is, that is our access point to knowing each other. And also it is where I have been able to witness the majority of your work that that has sort of happened there. So I would love for you to talk a little bit about sort of your role at OSF and sort of particularly meaningful parts of it and maybe a couple productions that have really sort of resonated with you.
Hey, thank you for that. I feel incredibly fortunate to work at the Oregon Shakespeare festival that I’m not even kidding. When I say that the job is very much a dream job. It’s the job that when I was setting Dramaturgy in college, this was the aspiration that I had. And as the director of Literary to the development of Dramaturgy there’s many different components to the job, primarily I would say I focus on the dramaturgical work and essentially commissioning support for writer’s.
I spend quite a bit of my time and energy Dramaturgy in production for the Oregon state, for Festival as well as supervising and mentoring a beautiful cadre of dramaturg that works across the 11 shows that we have the Festival something that I believe have a personal practice is that Dramaturgy is just as important in its full election, as any member of the creative team, a Dramaturgy I feel placed that’s a unique and necessary role and the process of any production.
And so I will always consult with directors and playwrights on who they would like to work with the dramaturg and how they like to collaborate with dramaturg and then make a selection for the show was on stage. And sometimes that ends up being neat sometimes its not. And I think there’s a beautiful combination of how you actually individualize the process of collecting Dramaturgy. So that is a very important part of by role. And then within Dramaturgy I have had the great gift of working across a number of different genres of production. I’ve worked on Shakespeare I’ve worked on musical, such as Oklahoma.
I worked on world premiers. I’ve worked on plays in their second or third production. And each of those provides a very unique, you know, connection to how one thinks as a dramaturg. But I would say what of central is, you know, there is consistently a connection too, how the story is told and how the story is meant to be received by an audience based on the intention or believed in attention to the writer, but the writers are no longer living. And so I feel across every single one of those storytelling is a key aspect of my own analysis and my advocacy, how to advocate for this story, how to at the story.
And then in addition to that, I support the conditions that the Literary off the polls. So we commissioned a number of playwrights to write the original plays. Sometimes the commissions are attached to a specific theme or genre sometimes they’re completely open and ah, it’s a wonderful experience. Being able to constantly communicate with the writer’s and do their work does dialup. And most recently my role has transformed to being one of the curatorial liters of AU, which is Oregon to take for Festival new immersive platform for a digital art and engagement’s and a, this has been a dream of many members of the Oregon Shakespeare festival for at least the last five to six years.
And when I joined in 2016, I was very interested in digital engagement and the practices of digital Dramaturgy a thriving shows of supporting all the audience dialog through digital content. And thankfully when the talkie Garrett, our wonderful, amazing artistic director came on board, she really held a vision that supported this work. So as soon as the quarantine hit, we started activating some of our plans. And if you go to, Oh, you’ll see a variety of conversation series, you’ll see a variety of theories that focus on a different teaching models to support families learning about different elements of storytelling.
You’ll see a event based programming. So we had a beautiful array of programming that actor Christiana Clarke, curated for a Juneteenth. So it’s been a fantastic experience to actually translate storytelling in the digital sphere, in my role, and really consider what does Literary Development look like when you’re working digitally. Yeah.
And O has been, you know, sort of a tremendous, like a treasure trove for me, sort of from home, I’ve been able to access these beautiful recordings of play’s as well. So I’ve been watching these, these events and these wonderful interviews and, and livestreams and other sort of new platform pieces. But also I feel like I’ve been able to dive into the past a little bit. And I heard for instance, the, sort of the, the audio of a pair of Oakley’s they happened at OSF and was in 2014,
But it was, it was completely transformative for me because I had, I had seen Paris please, and I had read the play, but I realized I had never just listened to, to it. And I think that’s common for most of us who are, who are in theater. We don’t typically just listen to, we either read them or we see them. And there’s this very interesting sort of liminal space in between of just hearing actors who are completely and fully in touch with their character who are, who are embodying and living those sort of those beautiful emotional journeys.
But there’s no, there’s no visual language. There’s no visual storytelling attached to it. And I, I felt like I paid attention to the language and a whole new way. And I felt like I heard some of the, some of the imagery that Shakespeare sort of conjuring with his language in the new way. And I felt very, very intimately close to the performers.
Oh, that’s beautiful to hard when you’re,
You know, when you’re seeing a theater in a, in a giant, you know, when you’re seeing a play in a gigantic space, if you’re sitting sort of far back, you can appreciate the spectacle, but sometimes it can be hard to feel like you’re really communing with those actors. Cause they’re just by distance so far away from you, but when you’re listening to a play and it’s just you and the voices in your ears, it, it feels very individualized. I felt like the story was being told to me, like I was like, I was personally being invited into the world. And that was, that was quite inspiring for me.
As I begin a process of, of directing these full cast radio dramas, we did dr. Fastest last month actually tonight we start William Congreves is the way of the world. Next month I have an all women and non-binary cast. We are doing a two gentlemen of Verona, a project called no Jen to gents and we’re taking, we’re taking this, we’re taking inspiration from this idea that there is so much character work that can happen. And there’s so much sort of beautiful relationship building that can happen, even if it’s just for an audio version of apply.
Oh, that’s fantastic. Yeah. I think there’s so much that we can learn from that experience. A, you know, there’s often this, the thing with audiences of Shakespeare time where they would go to here a play. And I think that the hearing of it is something that I’m very excited about in this, in this world and this world that we’re having. And it actually leads me to, I never answered the final part of your question in terms of favorite production, but, and it leads me to that because when I think of my favorite productions on the Oregon Shakespeare festival and they were productions and they were very holistic in terms of the importance of hearing the language in conjunction with also the visual storytelling, that was a place and shaping the narrative and a few people that come to mind, I’ve worked on a production of Henry Henry five with Director Rosa Josie in 2018, which Claire I know you remember very well.
We’ve talked about this production and it’s, you know, it was, it was an incredible production for many reasons. You know, Rosa is a, you know, Bertha is the director of South Asian descent and who, you know, lived in Nepal and then came to the States and has a very interesting relationship with Shakespeare. You know, she predictively gravitates towards what are known to be the history plays. And she’s renamed that John rhe as the political workplace, because she feels like ultimately those places focus on the strong resonance of the politics and war throughout history.
And she has found her course of reclamation in terms of telling these stories with Barry color conscious casting with a, a very dynamic of the approach to the movements and the sensorial world of the place and within an a, a true interrogation of how these plays seek to the cyclical nature of war of ambition of familial ties that we can essentially learn from it this moment. And so her price to Henry five love just extraordinary because the way she was able to fully unpack that play with our castes and find ways to truly uplift all of those resonances with a plan to make them feel absolutely current and connected to our time today, I loved the way that she also was just very in depth and very deft with her texts analysis, you know, every word she considered incredibly meaningful to unpack, but she also is not afraid to make, make cuts for the sake of, you know, supporting a very actionable story.
And so I often find that her route to approaching shaker, which is true, I think for many directors is one of adaptation that she truly adapts a script to this current moment. And then a I’d loved her sense of play. You know, we, we essentially constructed assess that ended up being a number of a community and boxes that were stacked together. And these boxes were able to transform into a barricade into it to a castle, into many different elements that supported the world of the play.
And at the very end, a, the entire cast ran to the boxes and pulled out clothing that with fully dyed and read, and that was meant to represent all of the bodies, all the losses within four. And, you know, the way in which rows is able to take metaphore and create something that is truly This, this is the role and incredibly tangible altogether. You know, you felt that moment and you felt the impact of war. It was regulatory for me as a dramaturg working with her and then another production that comes to mind.
Well, actually two others, I’ll say I, I had the privilege of being the Dramaturgy for the second reductions of no in mid summer, by Francis the cow HIG and Cambodia broadband by a lot to me. And I will openly confess that, ah, as the drama of her guy fall in love with many scripts, I have the opportunity to often meet playwrights through their words. And those were two scripts that I fell in love with in the season planning process I heavily advocated for, and the great benefit have a second production is a second production does a lot.
You too take the sound Istation of the first production and play with it. And so with both of these deductions, both writers were invested in some level of script changes. They were very invested and transforming the production the way in which the plays manifested physically on stage to new theaters and to a, just a new environment with the audience. And both of them also allowed me to tap into my deep passion for dramaturgical research and how you unpack the world of the play.
You know, both of those pieces were rooted in, you know, a, a deep dramaturgical context, no, in mid summer with an adaptation of one of the oldest Chinese dramas and incorporated many different elements around China today that, you know, related to capitalism and as well, and the change. And so being able to unpack both worlds was an incredible experience with the actors and then with Cambodian rock band as well, it’s a play that fancy, you’re a stand at the time of 30 years’ and unpacking the history of Cambodia that is still very unknown in this country in terms of the dentist’s side of the Khmer Rouge and the aftermath of that was hugely necessary for our cast and for everyone involved.
And so I often find myself having great dramaturgical July when there’s a really present relevant potency to the work that I am I’m collaborating with. And when there’s a way in which audiences suddenly find something revealed to them, you know, that there’s a true element of surprise in the process of watching the production. And there’s a true element of desire to learn more. And I felt with all three of those production, that’s what happened.
Oh, that’s so wonderful to hear. And I completely agree. I mean, I, I didn’t get to see snow in Midsummer, but I was transformed by Cambodian rock band and Henry five was actually changed my life. Like I know that’s such a cliche. I know that’s so corny to say, but it actually, it really did that. And the Henry Ford is actually changed my life and made me want to do what I do for a living. And something that has been really was really meaningful for me as I was growing up and attending the Oregon Shakespeare festival every now and again, living in Portland, Oregon, I have always appreciated the Dramaturgy permeates the Festival and not just the shows, right?
The shows aren’t, the shows are beautiful works of art that are so clearly enriched and illuminated and deepened by the Dramaturgy that is happening. And I know that that is in large part due to sort of your, your advocacy and your, your work ethic and the way that you approach your craft, but also Dramaturgy is not limited to those rehearsal spaces, those performance spaces. It really, umm, it is, it’s sort of much more, it’s much broader than that. You know, you see, I see interviews between sort of actors and directors and designers and dramaturgs and interns and cast members where they get to talk about not only the art itself is the process of making the art and the process of discussing how that art, you know, speaks to the world that we’re in today.
The program’s are full of sort of rich dramaturgical Resources so that audiences can feel like they have, they have, you know, hand and footholds on the side of the rock wall of these stories, especially the ones that are less known to us there is there’s just like a profound commitment to like welcoming people into the whole, the holistic experience of theatre. And that doesn’t just begin an end when the lights go down and come back up. Right. It’s it’s, it’s more than that.
And I can recall so many times at Cambodian rock band is a great example of intermission coming and just watching, listening the Russel of pages as all the audience members pulled out their programs, because they knew that there would be Resources that they could read about, about Cambodian history in full pot. And like The because we don’t learn about it. We don’t We I knew nothing about it before I went and saw <