Supporting creative work by women
Laura Ramadei is currently giving a powerhouse performance in Lesser America‘s production of American River, Micheline Auger’s play about the intersection of small town America, meth and hope for tomorrow. The production runs through July 22nd at Theater for the New City.
She also co-founded Lesser America, which was named one of NYTheatre.com’s People of the Year in 2011. Not bad for a company that has only been in existence for two years.
Laura spoke with Works by Women about playing the wounded character in American River, the challenging beauty standards for actresses and what excites her about theater.
WORKS BY WOMEN: You co-founded Lesser America two years ago. Why the name? Tell me more about the company’s ethos.
LAURA RAMADEI: At the time we launched the company, we fancied ourselves pioneers – hailing from different parts of the country to create something groundbreaking from the roots up. I think our aesthetic also communicates an affinity for nostalgic Americana. And we like the ironic, self deprecating tone of “Lesser America”. An earlier idea was Greater America, but there was something too grand about that option. We produce accessible, highly entertaining work that we call “pop theater” – but our work also has a quiet darkness to it, even in our comedies there are subtly haunting undertones and/or sharp edges. I don’t think we’re interested in producing anything fluffy and the name of the company reflects our taste.
WBW: What type of theatrical work excites you?
LR: I’m somewhat of an easy sale – it’s hard for me to limit my preferences to a specific genre or style. That said, I love being surprised, whether I’m caught off guard by the events of the story of a theater piece, or if there’s an unexpected convention that takes me out of the cognitive, analytical experience of watching artists work. I’m also particularly thrilled by plays that embrace their medium. Theater has to compete with a lot of great entertainment (movies, online media, etc) that’s often cheaper or free to see at less inconvenience, so I’m overjoyed when I see work that can only be done on stage that produces magic that wouldn’t exist in any other space but the theater. It’s nice to have proof that theater is absolutely necessary.
WBW: What can audiences expect when they come to see American River by Micheline Auger?
LR: It’s a challenging play, frankly. The audience can expect to have a great time, but they won’t leave without that grimy after party feeling of regret, mistakes, and too much of a good thing. I’m also curious and a little terrified to find out what people think of my character in particular. Not to give too much away, but I’m dealing with a woman who lacks a maternal instinct, and there’s something inherently impossible about performing that emotional arc. I’ve had to do a lot of work embracing choices that I would never make in my own life. And I think all of us in the cast have faced similar challenges in this process. But the characters aren’t evil or even malicious. They’re kind of casually or even accidentally awful to each other. And I have tried to justify my character’s actions a bit with the fact that these people are of a different socioeconomic status, that their motivations are more desperate than mine, but they’re actually not that far away at all. It doesn’t help me to put them at a safe distance, which I think is the exciting thing about this play. It presents some pretty seedy characters, but challenges how and where we’d find them, and there’s something eerily normal and easy about how things unfold. It’s a play about meth and young people and truly raw ugliness, but it’s not Breaking Bad, it’s what your neighbors are doing on a Tuesday night.
WBW: What roles would you love to play?
LR: The ones I haven’t yet.
WBW: What’s next for you?
LR: Nothing I can totally divulge here just yet. I’m workshopping a great play this summer up at SPACE on Ryder Farm, for a production slated for 2013. I’m also waiting on the release of a FANTASTIC web series called Compulsive Love, written by Adam Szymkowicz, directed by Kevan Tucker and starring my dear friend Alex Anfanger. Aside from that, I hope to spend the rest of the summer greedily absorbing some sunshine. We’ve been rehearsing American River in the theater basement, so I’m feeling a little like a cave monster that needs a change of environment.
WBW: What are the challenges facing women in American theater?
LR: It’s challenging in every industry for women, simply by virtue of the fact that we’re still progressing out of a patriarchal society created by and for white men – that goes without saying and presents the obvious disadvantage and lack of opportunities. However, without full knowledge of working as a woman in other industries, I do have to say that American theater (and show business in general) is especially challenging for women, namely because it’s an industry driven by appearance. When you sign up to be an actor, you pretty much agree to have your weight, hair, color, appearance etc consistently evaluated. Sometimes by necessity so you can fit a role, and sometimes because on an unfortunate level the whole industry is a beauty contest. But I think we are a part of a very interesting time – intelligence, humor, and creativity are being championed in the media more and more. Women are redefining what it means to be “beautiful” and furthermore what it means to be “feminine”, and reconsidering the notion that to be “successful” women have to adopt traditionally male behavior. All over the place tiny improvements are being made and understanding is deepening. Nothing is going to change overnight, but there are a lot of truly fascinating and innovative women out there just tearing shit up. The challenge is the simple fact that it’s a process, that we’re chipping away at a system and that we have to remind ourselves to make choices – big and small – that help propel us forward.
WBW: What gives you hope for women in American theater?
LR: Women give me hope for women American theater. The hard work and talent of my fellow females is what gets me through. The Struggle of the Woman in show business is universal, but none of us worth our salt would make the mistake of putting down our fellow ladies in an effort to get ahead. I’m consistently inspired by the incredible work we are doing in theater right now, and by the profound and enduring generosity of my comrades. It’s a beautiful thing knowing your part of a community of such integrity.