Cebu native earns chance to win a 2nd Tony Award
LOS ANGELES—He is the first Filipino, Asian—in fact, the first person of color—to win the best costume design of a play prize in the Tony Awards, theater’s biggest honor, in 2016.
Cebu-born Clint Ramos credits his mom, lawyer Erlinda Boiser Ramos, whom he describes as a “total dramatista,” for inspiring his love for theater at such an early age.
And now, the University of the Philippines and Philippine Science High School alumnus is up for the same award, this time for a musical, “Once on This Island,” which features Lea Salonga in the cast.
The New York-based Fil-Am fielded congratulations from family and friends when the 2018 Tony Awards nominations were announced last Tuesday morning. Clint’s nod was one of eight citations that the musical revival, directed by Michael Arden, earned.
Based on Rosa Guy’s 1985 novel “My Love, My Love; or, The Peasant Girl,” “Once on This Island” is a musical fable set on an island in the Caribbean that’s devastated by a hurricane.
Lynn Ahrens (book and lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) weave the tale of a peasant girl, Ti Moune (Hailey Kilgore), who falls in love with a rich boy, Daniel (Isaac Powell). When their disparate worlds separate the lovers, powerful island gods—Erzulie (Lea), Agwe (Quentin Earl Darrington), Papa Ge (Tamyra Gray) and Asaka (Alex Newell)—intervene.
With such a setting that evokes post-storm Haiti, Clint was challenged by Michael to design costumes using trash and found objects. Using ethernet cables and tangling them, Clint came up with an imposing headdress for Lea’s Erzulie.
New York Times’ Jesse Green, who hailed “Once” as “ravishing” in his review, wrote, “Asaka’s tablecloth skirt and a trash tiara for Erzulie are among the many small delights of Clint Ramos’ often hilarious costume design.” The praise for Clint’s costumes is echoed in other reviews.
Lea said, via e-mail, about Clint: “He is from the motherland, just like me, so already we share many experiences unique to being Filipino, as well as artists of color. I also automatically speak in Filipino once I see his face, which in its own way keeps us tethered to home, despite being so far away from it literally and experientially.
“Clint works with each artist to help them define their characters in the show. He takes into consideration body type and personal quirks, and is open to change and revision.
“As for what I like about my Erzulie costumes, that headdress all by itself is a treasure, and my long sleeves, too! I get to whip them around and swat people, and grab attention before a speaking line.”
With his impressive design credits, Clint has created costumes for a long list of actors, including Jake Gyllenhaal (“Sunday in the Park with George”), Lupita Nyong’o (“Eclipsed,” for which he won his first Tony) and Bradley Cooper (“The Elephant Man”). His work in designing sets and costumes has encompassed over a hundred productions, from theater and opera to dance.
The BA in theater arts graduate of the University of the Philippines, where he was active in Dulaang UP, earned his MFA in design for stage and film at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. He has been an associate or visiting professor at several universities in the East Coast.
Clint and his husband, Jason Moff, have a lovely daughter.
Excerpts from our e-mail interview:
What was different about hearing that you were nominated again for a Tony Award? Because “Once on This Island” has been doing great, this time I was more conscious of it.
What do you remember most about learning you earned a Tony nomination that first time in 2016? My phone was just blowing up. I remember being very emotional with my friend Liesl Tommy, who directed “Eclipsed.” She was also nominated that year.
What does it mean to you personally and as an immigrant to win a Tony for the first time in 2016, and be the first person of color to win in the best costume design of a play category? It’s an honor, of course. But mostly, it means we have a lot of work to do about inclusion.
What were your sources of inspiration for your costumes in “Once on This Island,” which you described as “trashion,” creating “divinity from the discarded?” The people of Haiti. The inventiveness of necessity.
How much fun did you have designing costumes for this particular cast, including a kababayan, Lea Salonga? So much fun. They’re my family.
Which actors have been the most fun to work with, over the years? Lea has been a blast. Lupita (Nyong’o) was awesome. Jake (Gyllenhaal) was fun.
How did growing up in Cebu spark your creativity and imagination? It was such a magical place. The way the sea interacted with the land and the people—it fed my creativity.
Was there anyone in your family who inspired your love for costumes, scenic design and theater? My mother. She’s a total “dramatista” and an aesthete.
When and what was the first play or musical that you watched in the Philippines? “Oliver!” I was 8 or 9.
Were you involved in theater at the Philippine Science High School? At Pisay, Chris Millado was our drama teacher. He was an early influence.
How did Tony Mabesa and Dulaang UP make you, in your own words, “truly fall in love with the theater”? Tony taught me that theater could be a way of life—not just as a career but as a path to life.
And then going to America to try your luck in theater, how did that feel like? I felt like I found a place where I could express myself freely.
Who opened the doors for you? My friend Liesl Tommy took me along.
Can you elaborate on what you wrote in your social media post: “…How the theater has seen me through these darkest of times…and also made me feel welcome and made me feel like it’s OK to be broken?” Theater gave me a community that accepted me and my flaws.
How do Jason Moff and your daughter inspire you in your work? They are my life. They’re the light at the end of that dark tunnel.
What are your dreams and goals? Just continuing to create. Spend more time with my family.
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