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Interview: Emily Ramirez of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center Belk Theater

Interview: Emily Ramirez of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center Belk Theater

Cameron Mackintosh's spectacular new production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is at Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, January 17-28, 2018. Critics are raving that this breathtaking production is "bigger and better than ever before" and features a brilliant new scenic design by Paul Brown, Tony Award®-winning original costume design by Maria Björnson, lighting design by Tony Award® winner Paule Constable, new choreography by Scott Ambler and new staging by director Laurence Connor. Tickets available at Belk Theater box office at 704 372-1000.

Emily Ramirez, my former acting student, is starring in the role of Meg Giry. Ramirez is a very talented performer, who is always exhilarating to watch. I caught up with Ramirez as she was getting ready to go onstage. She was sitting comfortably sipping tea, wearing a beige hoodie and plaid leggings with her hair swept up in a red knit cap.

LAW: Where are you now?

ER: I'm currently playing PHANTOM OF THE OPERA in Columbus, Ohio.

LAW: Tell me about your childhood.

ER: Well, much of my childhood was spent dreaming of being a professional ballerina and taking ballet classes. I put a decent amount of effort in my schooling because that's just what you do, but I never cared about it much,... all I wanted to do was dance.

LAW: Where did you grow up?

ER: I grew up in a modest neighborhood in Katy, Texas, about 30 miles west of Houston.

LAW: When did you start dancing?

ER: After pestering my mom about it for two solid years, I finally started taking ballet classes at the ripe age of four!

LAW: Where did you train in ballet?

ER: Most of my formative years were spent with John Adamson at Adamson Ballet School in Katy. I transferred to the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston my sophomore year of high school. I graduated early to train exclusively at the Houston Ballet Academy.

LAW: When did you start performing in theatre?

ER: I was a professional ballerina from age 20, so the stage has been my home since then. But my first musical was ROCK OF AGES at Actor's Theatre of Charlotte when I was 31. That was my first experience doing anything onstage other than dance.

LAW: Where did you train?

ER: After my professional ballet career came to an end due to a terrible knee injury and a couple of reconstructive surgeries, I started taking acting classes in Charlotte with you,... and voice lessons with Susan Roberts Knowlson and Michael Wilkins. My voice training before the age of 30, consisted of me mimicking my favorite singers from the radio.

LAW: How did you land the role of Meg Giry in PHANTOM OF THE OPERA?

ER: A friend of mine in the cast let me know there were going to be some ladies leaving the tour and he encouraged me to send my materials to one of the show's casting directors. I sent an email with my resumé, headshot, and a musical theatre/dance reel to the casting agency. Several months later, I got called to NYC to audition for the role of Meg Giry. I was floored!

LAW: Tell me about Meg Giry.

ER: Meg Giry is Christine Daaé's best friend, daughter of the ballet mistress Madame Giry, and one of the dancers in the Corps de Ballet at the Opera Populaire. She is mischievous, a little nosy, has a strong personality and a good heart.

LAW: How do you prepare for your role?

ER: Preparation for my role every night includes warming up my body to execute the ballet/pointe choreography, as well as doing a long vocal warm up to get comfortable for the range of notes I sing. When I first started rehearsing for the role, I researched ballet dancers in that time period, how their status was viewed in the world they were in, how Meg would have felt about the other characters around her at the Opera Populaire and I came up with what my version of who Meg is.

LAW: How do you keep your role fresh night after night?

ER: One thing that's very important to me is simply reminding myself that no matter how many performances I've done on tour, THIS particular show will be the first time some of the audience members have seen PHANTOM and perhaps even the first time they've ever seen a show at all. I take that idea very seriously. It helps me to approach every night with energy and a fresh perspective. I imagine that no matter where I'm standing on stage or what part I'm playing in any given scene, somebody in the audience is watching me and it's my job to help create the overall tableau and mood on the stage. To be invested in the telling of the story and responsive to my scene partners is paramount.

LAW: What's been your best experience being on the road?

ER: Visting Banff National Park in Alberta with my husband and two dogs was amazing. I've also really enjoyed just being able to be a part of a show that means so much to people. It's incredibly rewarding to give a performance that true "Phans" get such happiness from. Also, one thing about being in so many different theaters around the world is knowing the amazing artists whose footsteps graced the same stages as we do now. In Ottowa, Ontario, the entire backstage area was filled with autographed photos from performers who had performed in that theater. When I saw a signed photo of Ella Fitzgerald, my absolute favorite singer of all time, I got chills.

LAW: What has been your worst experience being on the road?

ER: [Sighs] Simply being very tired. I'm asked a lot what it's like to "live the dream," but the reality is that despite the amazing theaters we play, the beautiful cities we explore, the delicious food we find in local restaurants and the great show we get to be a part of, tour life can be pretty grueling... Time changes are hard, different climates and beds,... all add to that general fatigue.

LAW: Which city stands out in this tour performing and why?

ER: I think my favorite city on tour has been Montreal, Quebec. It was a city filled with history, outstanding old architecture, and great food. And the people were very nice.

LAW: Where is home?

ER: My parents are still in Katy, which will always be home, but my husband and I now live in Berwyn just outside of Chicago.

LAW: What's your favorite thing to do when you are back home?

ER: Sleep in, watch Wendy Williams, snuggle with my two doggies, and spend time with my husband cooking and working on our house.

LAW: Two Doggies?

ER: [Smiles] Yes, Charlie, a long-haired Chihuahua and Sophie, a Pomeranian.

LAW: If you had one piece of advice for an upcoming theatre performer what would it be?

ER: Do the work. That's it, plain and simple. People are always asking for "tips" to becoming a performer. There's no shortcut. Once you decide you love it, do all the work you can to hone your craft. Come to each gig with positivity, integrity, pride in your work, and support your peers. Treat every gig like it's the most important thing you've ever done. It can be true that "it's all about who you know," but what people don't realize is that some of the people you're working with right now in school or community theater or whatever, might be the ones who remember you on their way up and invite you to join the party. Don't wait until you're in front of somebody you think is "important" to do your best. Simply do your best for the love of it and good things will follow.

LAW: What's your favorite restaurant?

ER: Any place with a good charcuterie board, jazz music, and a well-made Old Fashioned.

LAW: When will your tour end? What are your plans after PHANTOM OF THE OPERA?

ER: The tour is currently booked several years ahead, but my second year contract runs out in October, after which, I plan to put down roots in the Chicago arts community. I have a lot of interests that I love exploring and I don't plan on just choosing one. I want to be in Chicago musicals, plays, film, voiceover, choreography, private dance coaching, and dance performance. And perhaps most excitingly, I want to continue training in comedy/improv/sketch writing at The Second City. My absolute dream is to be on SNL.

LAW: What will audiences take away seeing this show?

ER: First of all, the sheer magnitude of this show is incredible. It really is a spectacular musical and the production value is quite impressive. The cast I work with is so talented and dedicated to what they do, so my biggest hope for the audience is that we absorb them into our world and allow them to get swept away in the story we tell. It's a respite from the stress of being a human being in this divisive time for our country. I also hope the audience takes with them the lessons in empathy shown in the story. We could certainly use more empathy right now.

From This Author - Linda Ann Watt