BWW Interviews: Maria Elena Ramirez of WAR HORSE
Hitting the stage at Tennessee Performing Arts Center this week is the epic World War 1 play War Horse. In preparation for this award winning show, we've been lucky enough to have Maria Elena Ramirez, who plays Rose Narracott in War Horse, answer some questions for us.
BWW: First of all, thank you for taking time out to answer a few questions for our readers here in Nashville. We're thrilled to have War Horse stop in Nashville. War Horse is set during the First World War and focuses on Joey, a horse that is sent to war. You play Rose Narracott. Can you tell us about your character and what she means to the show?
Maria Elena Ramirez: Thank you so much. It's always a pleasure to hear from BWW!
As you mentioned, I play Rose Narracott. She is the mother to Albert, who is the boy at the center of our story who forms a special relationship with Joey, the horse. Through a series of events, the Narracott family comes into owning Joey as a young foal. Rose puts Albert in charge of raising and taking care of the horse. Rose's husband, Ted, has a way of often getting the family into trouble. And Rose is really the glue that holds the family together. She is the problem solver. She may seem a bit stern, but it's all in service of her family and the love she has for them.
BWW: How do you connect to Rose? How do you feel you relate to her?
Maria Elena Ramirez: I think Rose has a real earthy quality to her and I think I naturally gravitate towards that. Rose is also quite resilient, and I think if you are in show business, that's VERY important.
BWW: What is your favorite part of being involved with War Horse?
Maria Elena Ramirez: Well, it's been very special to join a show that has been so internationally lauded and is currently playing all over the world. It's amazing to be part of that international family. It's also wonderful to be able to work with these beautiful puppets, which are so unique to this show. And it doesn't hurt that I'm being paid to travel all over the country (and Japan!) doing what I love.
BWW: I have to admit that when I was crafting my interview questions, I was intrigued with your resume; including the work you've done with The Public, in particular Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson. What is it like crafting a character from the beginning, as you did with Rachel Jackson? How does this differ from stepping into a role that is already set, like Rose?
Maria Elena Ramirez: I had the opportunity to craft Rachel Jackson over about 4 years. It was really a gift to see that character and show transform in concerts, workshops and various productions. You have an opportunity to try things out and see what works. It's a real thrill to be able to say I was a part of that from the ground floor. In various cities on tour, I've had a handful of young women stay after seeing War Horse to let me know they played Rachel Jackson in their local production. So, I'm really proud to have been a part of that journey.
It's a bit different coming into a role that many women have played and are still playing in the West End, etc. I think there are ideas about the role that you have to integrate into your own vision of the character in order to set the right tone for the production and for the story to work. I was lucky in that I was still given the opportunity to create my own version of Rose. But you also have to be more open to suggestions in order to be in line with the vision of the show, especially one that has been so successful all over the world.
BWW: You have a wide range of experiences in film, television and theatre. Do you find that moving from one type to another to be difficult?
Maria Elena Ramirez: I don't think moving from one type to another is necessarily difficult. But they do require very different skills. Film and television requires you to really pull back. Every little thing gets picked up. The work is more subtle. Obviously, theatre is a bigger animal. We've played quite a few houses in the 2500 seat range. You want people to feel a part of the story and that usually requires more physicality and more vocal energy.
BWW: You've worked with some notable theatres throughout your career, including the well-known Guthrie, The Public Theatre, Vineyard Theatre and Berkeley Rep, and this tour of War Horse. Having worked in so many different areas of the country, do you find that audiences vary depending on where you're performing?
Maria Elena Ramirez: I do have to say that different cities have different audiences. I've really had the opportunity to experience that with War Horse since we have played so many cities on this tour. On this particular show, we've had specific audiences that react to a few different things. We've had some audiences that understand horses very well. They get every nuance, every flip of the tail, because they are part of a culture where horses, agriculture, are a part of that area. And we've also been in places like Ottawa where they seem to know quite a bit about the First World War. They have a large war museum there. So, you can sense a different sort of reverence and understanding in regards to the story. And they also happen to get all the French jokes in the show.
BWW: Was performing something you always wanted to do, or was there a specific time that you knew you wanted to pursue acting as a career?
Maria Elena Ramirez: I think I always sort of loved getting dressed up and performing but I didn't really translate that into thoughts of a career until I was graduating from high school. I immersed myself in drama during my high school years. And then I entered an actor training program in college. But even then I was trying to talk myself out of it. But by the time I finished college, I knew I wanted to learn more and auditioned for graduate schools. I ended up going to the Graduate Acting Program at NYU and have based my career out of NYC ever since.
BWW: If you could go back and re-live a moment in your career, what would it be?
Maria Elena Ramirez: There are times when I wish I could go back to the BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON days. I miss the people and the music and the ridiculous antics onstage and off.
But I'd really love to go back in time and be that young lady from Salt Lake City who was gutsy enough to pack all her stuff to move to New York City for graduate school.
BWW: I love to ask all my interviewees this question: If you could perform (act and/or sing) with anyone, living or not, who would it be? What would you perform?
Maria Elena Ramirez: This is such a hard question! There are so many people I would love to work with. Sondheim? What a legend. Judith Light? I've seen her in a few plays recently and she just seems like a delight to work with. But honestly, I have many friends that I haven't performed with in a long time that I would love to work with again. Jeremy Shamos. Santino Fontana. So many others. They always seem to be on Broadway and I'm still on tour, so one of these days...
BWW: As War Horse comes to Nashville, what would you like to tell an audience to expect from the show?
Maria Elena Ramirez: War Horse is such a unique theatrical experience. I truly think it's not something they will have seen before. Not only do we have these amazing life-sized horse puppets that are such a special part of our show, but the stagecraft is phenomenal. In addition to that, there is beautiful music and singing. And at the center of it all is a heart-warming tale of friendship. I guarantee they'll fall in love with Joey as much as we have.