Amrita Ramanan, director of literary development and dramaturgy, is now in her second season at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. With a BFA in theater history and dramaturgy from the University of Arizona, Ramadan went on to an extensive career in dramaturgy before coming to Ashland. Her credits include production dramaturg for five seasons at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC. We met at the Pony Espresso Café.
EH: What is dramaturgy?
AR: It’s definitely a recent field for America; it first began as an official title in Europe in the late 1800s. It’s a position where you support the contextualization of the piece of theater, support the approach and concept of a production (based on the playwright and the director’s vision) and translate that contextualization and that research to both a company of actors and designers as well as an audience. Dramaturgy is bridging the content from what happens in the rehearsal room to how an audience experiences it.
I create research packets, work with playwrights on the development of their scripts, attend rehearsals and am a second pair of eyes for the director and/or the playwright — in terms of the accessibility of a production and elements that they want to illuminate.
EH: What makes a great play?
AR: A great play is one that is truly in the voice and vision of the author: That challenges; that engages; that creates a sense of inquiry and curiosity; that gives us a new perspective or way of thinking; that allows for a way to see the world that we haven’t seen before; or gives us a different sense of empathy for characters; and that suspends our disbelief, that we can believe and commit to the world of it; and that stays with us in some way.
EH: What kinds of plays do you love?
AR: I think plays that illuminate stories that have been marginalized; I love esthetics that are global. I’ve spent a lot of my career working within a western framework of narrative, and so I really like esthetics that transform us, that speak to other cultures.
I love intimate moments — soliloquies, monologues, or moments where we really get to see characters. Moments of laughter are important, within any play, even if it’s a tragedy. It has an ending that is meaningful and fulfilling, but does not attempt to solve all the issues or challenges that the play might present. If I find that if an ending is too neatly wrapped, it’s not of service to the work.
EH: Tell me about next season.
AR: The play selection is really exciting. There is rich diversity in storytelling. There are relevant, urgent, important works of theater that are coming on our stages. We start the season with “Othello,” one of Shakespeare’s most relevant tragedies, in terms of how we deal with race, and difference, and polarization. We’ll follow suit to previous seasons — in being very reflective of a broad representation of authorship in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, social location and geographic location. We are producing five living female playwrights, which I think is important considering the issues that our field has around gender equity.
There are plays that are heavily political; plays that are deeply human; plays that will make you laugh and cry. There are beautiful broad comedies. There’s work that is imaginatively rich. It’s going to be a revolutionary season for us — a broad spectrum of work.
EH: Do you have a favorite play in the upcoming season?
AR: That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child; I care for them all in different ways.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s season runs from February through early November. For tickets and information, visit osfashland.org or call 1-800-219-8161.
— Evalyn Hansen is a writer and director based in Ashland. To read more interviews with remarkable people, visit her blog: ashlandtheater.wordpress.com. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Nov. 27: Story updated to correct the spelling of Amrita Ramanan's name.)