In preparation for Rep Stage's upcoming reading of NOMS DE GUERRE as part of their commemoration of the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, I connected with our company about their careers in the theatre and the relevant themes of the play. Click here to learn more about the reading and please enjoy this wonderful and insightful interview with our brilliant director Otis Ramsey-Zoe.
JACQUELINE LAWTON: To begin, why did you decide to get into theater? Was there someone or a particular show that inspired you?
OTIS RAMSEY-ZÖE: As an undergrad at the University of Notre Dame, I declared a major in theatre without really knowing where I fit into the field. Along the way, I collected remarkable mentors. Wendy Arons (who now teaches at Carnegie Mellon) introduced me to dramaturgy, Brecht, and guided my studies in dramatic literature and theory. Jessica Chalmers introduced me to performance studies, visual storytelling, and uses of technology in performance. As a result of their tutorage, I am the artist-scholar that I am today.
JL: What was the first play that you ever directed? What did you learn from that experience that remains with you today?
ORZ: During my first year as Literary Manager and First Look Coordinator at Centerstage, I directed a reading of Simon Levy’s What I Heard About Iraq (a cry for 5 voices). I had the most gifted cast, and I was intimidated by their brilliance. I was very young, and when I offered guidance or thoughts, I did it as if I were asking permission. I needed to work out a moment that lacked dramatic build in performance, but I was afraid of telling them what to do. After trying to let the actors come up with a solution, I finally offered my instructions in an “if it’s alright with you” phrasing. I remember Tuyet Pham declaring, “You just tell us what to do.” From that I learned that, it didn’t matter that I was the youngest person in the room, I was equipped to do the job. It also taught me that I’m responsible for making the call and affirmed my ability to do that,
JL: NOMS DE GUERRE is a socio-political drama that addresses the U.S. military policy and the damaging impact of PTSD on veterans and their family. Why do you feel this play is relevant to today’s audiences?
ORZ: As a social problem, the impact of war on all citizens, whether military of civilian, is a matter of chief importance and is a problem that is nearly as old as human history. Untreated PTSD and mental health conditions are a grave threat to society. Trauma and traumatic breakdowns seem to be evermore common, while we tend to avoid conversations around mental health, trauma, depression and the like. In addition, on a symbolic level, the crisis reflects the tension between revelation and concealment—that which can be seen versus what is hidden and illegible to the naked eye. We are a society concerned with surfaces of things. Mira, Douglas, Jude, Cooper, Leda, and Hasina are all deeply concerned with outside appearances and must wrestle with what lies beneath and how the interior threatens to crack their worlds apart. The play brings these hidden issues to the forefront, and I hope that meaningful engagement follows, among individuals and within communities.
JL: NOMS DE GUERRE also addresses women’s rights and recent restrictions places on health care for women. It’s been 50 years since the Women’s Liberation Movement swept the nation, where do you feel we are in terms of gender relations in the U.S.?
ORZ: Gender politics in this nation reflects the tension between chronology and ideology—we live in a twenty-first century world but are married to archaic, perhaps nineteenth century or so, ideas about the place of women in our world. We even find that old binaries for gender as biologically determined are insufficient. Moreover, we can think about gender relations and politics in terms of performance. Among its many definitions, performance can mean both to do an action and to pretend to do. As a nation, we are poised between meaningful change and its appearance. All of that serves as preface to my response to this question. I think that we need to overhaul our ideas on gender, and we need to bring practices and policies in line with our contemporary world. For fear of grandstanding or getting off topic, I’m going to cut myself off there.
JL: What do you hope audience walk away thinking about after experiencing this play?
ORZ: I want people to go away still in struggle with questions and choices from the play and its characters. I don’t go to the theatre to have all of my questions answered or to have someone else solve all of the world’s problems. Similarly, I hope that people leave engaged. I also hope that they leave feeling challenged because the people we meet in the play are not images of African Americans that we get to see a lot in the media. I hope that audiences will appreciate and reflect upon the diversity and complexity of the characters.
JL: What's next for you as a director? Where can we keep up with your work?
ORZ: After this reading, I hang my director’s cap for a while and put on my dramaturg’s hat. In the Spring, I serve as dramaturg on Jacqueline E. Lawton’s new adaptation of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Adventure Theatre), Uncle Vanya (Round House) and The Shipment (Forum Theatre). I am also deviser/dramaturg on a Tyger, which is a part of the Mead Theatre Lab Program and produced by banished? productions.
About Rep Stage
Rep Stage, a professional regional theatre in residence at Howard Community College, is celebrating its 22nd season. The company is a member of the League of Washington Theatre, the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance and Theatre Communications Group. Rep Stage is recognized by Theatre Washington as professional DC Metro area theatre company and is eligible to be nominated for the Helen Hayes Awards. Performances are made possible by Howard Arts Council, Howard County Government, and the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the Stage of Maryland and National Endowment of the Arts, as well as through generous individual contributions. Rep Stage is proud to be a partner of Howard County Tourism and promotion. Rep Stage’s Artistic Leadership is helmed by Co-Producing Artistic Directors Suzanne Beal and Joseph Ritsch.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!