Scenic/costume designer Clint Ramos is one of 50 artists selected as 2020 USA Fellows by United States Artists (USA). Selected across ten different disciplines, each of the 50 awardees receives an unrestricted $50,000 cash award, which honors their creative accomplishments and supports their ongoing artistic and professional development. Fellowships are given in architecture & design, craft, dance, film, media, music, theater & performance, traditional arts, visual art, and writing. Ramos is the sole theatre designer so honored in 2020.
A Tony Award-winner, Ramos won for Best Costume Design of a Play (the first person of color to win in his category) for his work on Eclipsed. One of his most recent projects was the scenic design for Slave Play, which he considers “one of the best plays I have encountered as an artist. I had never read anything like this. It deals with the conversations we’re now having about race, sex, and desire, in a very real way. There were almost full houses every night, mostly women and people of color,” says Ramos, who applauds the producers for creating a new paradigm on Broadway and bringing such audiences to see the play. “Electric is a perfect word for the experience. You were riveted throughout the entire performance.”
Much as the 2020 USA Fellows include many people of color, the recent Broadway season also saw a lot of diversity in the voices of playwrights, from White Noise at the Public Theatre to Slave Play, a transfer from New York Theatre Workshop. “It is very direct and refreshing,” says Ramos. “These plays are like alarms. They reflect where we are as a country, with heated, in-your-face conversations.”
Slave Play is set on a southern plantation in modern times. Ramos’ conceptual set comprises a wall of mirrors designed to bring the audience directly into the action, like a metaphor, where there is no escaping. The mirrors also reflect a fresco of a plantation manor house that hovers over the audience, creating a democratic feeling of the actors and audience on stage together. “Whoever you are, if you live in this country you are part of the conversation,” notes Ramos, who is currently in Atlanta, for the shooting of Respect, the MGM biopic starring Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin.
“This is my first major studio film,” says Ramos, who has designed the costumes that span Franklin’s life and career from the late 1940s to the early '70s. “It is exciting to work on something of this scale.” Ramos researched the costumes by looking at books about the singer and the many photographs of her once she became famous. He also referred to what people wore in Detroit in the 1950s, and photos of Franklin as a girl in the church where her father was the preacher, adding a gospel note. “I reinterpreted what she wore, putting my spin on it, getting to the essence of the costumes,” explains Ramos. “She wore many different styles over the years and was forever transforming.”
In terms of the USA Fellowship, Ramos “loves the diversity. I know many of the other winners, and am pleased that the committee really concentrated on people of color this year, as they are known for their diversity. We always have to go above and beyond the work to make sure our voices are heard. I am deeply honored, and we are able to use the funds however we think is best for our art. I am trying to find my place as a designer in film and theatre and diversify my career. It is very humbling to be included.”
“We are so honored to celebrate the artists who are making vital contributions to the country's creative ecosystem,” said United States Artists president & CEO Deana Haggag. “It is a critically important time to support the livelihoods of artists, and we are ecstatic to be able to honor 50 of them this year. The 2020 class is the largest cohort of Fellows we have awarded since we relocated to Chicago, and each and every one of them stands out as a visionary influence in their respective field.”