Theater Professor Awarded Prestigious Fellowship

Among many recipients of color, Clint Ramos plans to use the fellowship to promote inclusivity in theater

The+Tony+Award-winning+theater+designer+sees+education+as+an+essential+part+of+his+creative+development.+

ANDREW BEECHER/THE OBSERVER

The Tony Award-winning theater designer sees education as an essential part of his creative development.

By VICKY CARMENATE, Staff Writer

Clint Ramos, head of design and production within the Fordham Theatre Program, has broken barriers for people of color in the theater industry. He was the first person of color to win a Tony Award for Best Costume Design in 2016, as well as a two-time Obie award recipient in 2013 and 2019.

Now, in 2020, Ramos has been recognized for his artistic achievements by the USA Fellowship award, which comes with a $50,000 grant to expand his creative work. 

The USA Fellowship award honors artists’ accomplishments within their fields. Fellowship awards are given to the following concentrations: Architecture and Design, Craft, Dance, Film,  Media, Music, Theater and Performance, Traditional Arts, Visual Arts, and Writing. Ramos won the Theater and Performance award, supported by The Doris Duke Foundation.

The foundation gives out 50 awards each year, and Ramos was especially happy that this year’s were predominantly given to people of color. “It really means that they made an effort to look at that and say yes, we have to look at this and maybe pave this path for other people of color,” he said.

Ramos’ goal is to use the money for the grant to explore art in a new way. “I think that what the grant allows me to do for this year is to really look at my craft. I get to take a breath and not feel the pressure to take all of the jobs that come my way,” he said. 

Ramos still makes an active effort to push inclusivity in his work. “It is a white-dominated field, like most of the fields in the arts,” he said. “What’s great about it is that I can use it and branch off and really look at my practice and see how I can diversify.”

Ramos attributed his absence in the spring semester of 2020 to the opportunity to costume design for the new movie “Respect,” a musical biopic about the life of Aretha Franklin. 

Working on “Respect” is a different experience for Ramos than his stage work. Going from theater productions to a full-scale movie meant dressing 1,000 extras and being in charge of a full team of other creatives.

Ramos also had the opportunity to set design “Slave Play,” which recently wrapped its Broadway run. Audiences of the theater are typically filled with the upper white class of New York, as ticket prices are a luxury, but audiences at this show proved more diverse. “Slave Play” showcased three interracial couples that look at history through the lens of race, love, sex and sexuality in the 21st century.

Ramos’s opinion on “Slave Play” was that it “opened up a Broadway play to a broader audience. We managed to fill those seats up with young people and women and people of color because we were able to sell the tickets at such a low price.”

Though Ramos is doing noteworthy work in his field, he still feels connected to Fordham and his students. “I always say I need to teach because it naturally makes me a better artist and practicing my art also makes me a better teacher,” he said. “I find it to be a necessity rather than something I just do.”

Ramos finds that complete transparency of his work is what enables students to grow and learn within themselves. He told his students that “as an artist of color, this is how I do my work and what I put up with within the industry. Complete transparency is the only way to teach my students — I’m not going to sugarcoat my life because it wasn’t easy.”

Being able to teach in New York City aids his own artistic growth and that of his students. “What’s really special about Fordham is that we are in New York City, my home, but it is also the artistic center of the Western world, and to be able to teach in that city is special,” he said.

Working in New York gives Ramos the opportunity to show his students what he is doing in his field actively, which includes bringing his students on set of different projects he has participated in.

Theater set design student Katie Heaton, Fordham College at Lincoln Center ’23, said that working with Ramos has been a great experience. She expressed her gratitude for the opportunities and guidance he has given her. “He’s provided amazing connections for us. Getting invited to the dress rehearsal of ‘Slave Play’ was a really awesome opportunity.” 

Ramos gave an ode to his students, “I am missing my students this semester, but I will be back in New York in two weeks from now. I can’t wait to get back in the streets of New York to be shooting this movie.”