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6 Theatre Workers You Should Know

From a theatremaker/filmmaker in Chicago to a New York City casting director, here are some theatre workers to have on your radar.

Bea Cordelia 

Profession: Theatremaker/filmmaker
Hometown & current home: Chicago
Known for: Cordelia’s autobiographical Chasing Blue was at Steppenwolf in 2017 after premiering at the Brick in Brooklyn in the inaugural Trans Theatre Festival. Her multimedia installation performance The Cosmic Body was part of a lab residency at the University of Chicago. She’s currently a Limunarts Creative Writing Fellow, and Chicago’s filmmaker-in-residence with her friend and collaborator Daniel Kyri.
What’s next: In June, her web series “The T,” created with Kyri, was released on OTV | Open Television. She’s currently working on her first book, D: a great american romance.
What makes her special: Joseph Varisco, a co-curator of Chicago’s Salonathon, cites Cordelia’s compassion, particularly in a Salonathon act in which “she sat surrounded by 100-plus people in a room washing the feet of friends and strangers. It’s her unwavering desire to utilize the magnificent body to touch, to connect, to allow her audience to be as seen as she wants to be. This will doubtlessly remain her greatest asset for as long as she continues with her unrelenting pursuit to see herself.’
Inspiring truths: “I am a transgender woman in America, which is its own unending fount of inspiration,” Cordelia says. “It’s kind of funny that so many haters think they can quiet me, when really all they do is fuel me to be louder.” She practices what she calls “weaponized vulnerability,” by which she turns her marginalized status into an asset. “Rather than give into the tempting political shouting matches of our time, I go inward, go open, I grind out my innermost self in as public channels as I can. I’m often physically, and always emotionally, naked whenever I go onstage.”

Courtney Ozaki

Courtney Ozaki.

Profession: Producer & administrator
Hometown: Arvada, Colo.
Current home: Denver
Known for: After receiving her MFA in performing arts management at Brooklyn College, Ozaki worked with New York City’s HERE and Beth Morrison Productions on the inaugural PROTOTYPE Festival in 2013 and as a project manager and producer for the Joyce Theater’s touring programs. She is currently the operations and business director for Colorado’s Lone Tree Arts Center, and a founding member of Japanese taiko drum ensemble Mirai Daiko.
What’s next: Ozaki is curating LTAC’s Passport to Culture, Seedlings (ages 0-4), and Arts in the Afternoon program series with an emphasis on increased accessibility, sensory-friendly and intergenerational theatre, dance, and music programming. And she’s part of the 2018 Association of Performing Arts Professionals Leadership Fellows Cohort IV.
What makes her special: Lone Tree executive director Lisa Rigsby Peterson says that Ozaki’s “multidisciplinary arts experience has been especially helpful as we plan our presenting season each year, and her prior experience working as an artist’s representative has given her a keen sensitivity to the needs of individual artists. This perspective dovetails perfectly with our commitment to creating a welcoming environment in which our artists can create their best work.”
Melding ideas: Ozaki says she envisions “an arts culture that encourages the melding of ideas, integrates generations, and opens minds. My motivation to build and cultivate an arts culture of inclusivity is driven by the impetus that access to the arts leads to greater understanding and a more productive and empathetic society.”

Eric Woodall

Eric Woodall.

Profession: Casting director/director
Hometown: Benson, N.C
Current home: New York City
Known for: A casting director for Tara Rubin Casting for 16 years, he currently works on Aladdin and The Phantom of the Opera. As a director, he helmed Big River at Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth, Texas (set “in a large old library with over 2,000 real books on the shelves/walls”), and The Light in the Piazza at Theatre Raleigh, staged immersively in the North Carolina Museum of Art.
What’s next: Helming a “scaled-down” Big Fish at Theatre Raleigh, July 11-22, and helping to cast upcoming Broadway productions of Dreamgirls and The Heart of Rock and Roll.
What makes him special: Anne Quart, senior vice president of production at Disney Theatrical Group, who’s worked with Woodall on multiple productions, enthuses about his casting, “He never fails to surprise with someone who you have never heard of before or who he discovered in a dinner theatre or cabaret.” Tara Rubin adds that “he’s so thorough and dogged in his pursuit of talent that his office nickname is Javert.”
Here he goes again: An instructive moment in his career was casting Mamma Mia!, which inspired him to “think outside the box” and “cast replacements who didn’t necessarily physically resemble (or approach) their characters in the same way as their predecessors, which was a fun, rare challenge.” He approaches his current projects in the same way, with an eye toward “pushing the needle forward” on diversity in casting, while admitting, “We aren’t where we should be. We aren’t where we will be, but at least we aren’t where we were.”

Melissa Heller

Melissa Heller.

Profession: Costume designer
Hometown: Bend, Ore.
Current home: Portland, Ore.
Known for: Outdoor summer Shakespeare shows with Bag&Baggage, where she’s served as resident costume designer for the past five years. “I get to be very fancy when I design these,” she says, “because the costumes are usually the only design element (besides very minimal set) that everyone sees.” One of Bag&Baggage artistic director Scott Palmer’s favorite Heller shows was The Merry Wives of Windsor, or The Amorous Adventures of the Comical Knight Sir John Falstaff, staged as a black-and-white 1950s sitcom, a production on which Heller also served as makeup designer.
What’s next: Bag&Baggage’s world premiere adaptation of As You Like It (July 12-29).
What makes her special: Palmer first got to know Heller 12 years ago, when she was a student at Oregon State University and he was on the school’s theatre arts faculty. “Her attention to detail, and her appreciation for the way costumes work with actors to create fully realized characters, makes her an invaluable member of our creative team,” says Palmer. “It would not be an overstatement to say that Melissa’s work with costumes has played an enormous role in our success and our reputation for innovation and creativity.”
Over the top: She says her biography will someday be titled “More Is More” because she especially enjoys creating designs she considers “too much.” What does that mean to her? “‘Too much’ is an extension and a flip on the phrase ‘less is more.’ I like to have someone tell me to pull back rather than to give more. I appreciate spectacle and like to flex that muscle as much as possible.”

Rudy Ramirez

Rudy Ramirez.

Profession: Director
Hometown: Born in Austin, raised in San Antonio and Washington, D.C.
Current home: Austin
Known for: An associate artistic director of VORTEX Repertory Company, he directs for companies such as Shrewd Productions and Sky Candy Aerials, including world premieres by Gabriel Jason Dean, Reina Hardy, and Lisa B. Thompson. Devised pieces include the Barbarella-inspired aerial show Agent Andromeda: The Orion Crusade, which has plans to tour.
What’s next: An adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest with queer performers and designers in New York City; the VORTEX run of the National New Play Network rolling world premiere of Dean’s Heartland; Last, a devised piece exploring extinction through sketch comedy; and Carnaval X, a festival of new Latinx plays and performances.
What makes him special: Playwright Hardy calls Ramirez “an incredibly generous and perceptive director” who is “also utterly no-bullshit: gritty, straightforward, and practical. He keeps the ship on course, but he makes every moment of the journey joyful. It’s a cruise ship on a quest for deeper theatrical truth.” Sometimes she wonders if their “aethestics are too aligned and we shouldn’t be allowed to encourage each other. We’re out there adding more jokes and moments of transcendence and throwing glitter everywhere, for cohesion.”
Truly moving: Ramirez started out collaborating with anarchist collectives and environmental activists constructing “giant bike puppets, so I really fell in love with theatre that showcases human power and builds things with bodies, whether it’s butoh dancers representing the spread of cancer or aerialists transforming into alien ships in a space battle.”

Shawn Hamilton

Shawn Hamilton.

Profession: Actor
Hometown: Houston
Current homes: Minneapolis and Houston
Known for: Classical stage acting in more than 25 productions ranging from the Guthrie Theater to Trinity Rep, Yale Rep, California Shakespeare Theater, Penumbra, and others, with some tangents, he notes, from playing sax for Vinnette Carroll in Dallas in a musical that starred Samuel E. Wright to riding a donkey in a Geico commercial.
What’s next: The Mousetrap (Aug. 10-Sept. 2) at the Alley Theatre in Houston, then The Great Society at the History Theatre in St. Paul, Minn., and A Christmas Carol at the Alley.
What makes him special: Jack Reuler, artistic director of Minneapolis’s Mixed Blood, who has worked with Hamilton for 25 years, calls him “the consummate chameleon of Twin Cities theatre people…He offers directors choices they were unaware were even possible. Mechanically, he thinks in terms of actions and objectives and beats. Emotionally he has an honesty that is unparalleled, that permits the gamut of emotions to spring forth in far deeper than superficial ways.”
Say yes: Hamilton studied music, dance, and theatre at the University of North Texas, saying, “It’s not the size or renown of a school but the stage time that matters.” What keeps him going is the “love the excitement and challenge of performing for a live audience nightly. I learn something new on every play I work on. I feel lucky to have a chance to work in a profession that will challenge me for a lifetime, and I’m often surprised where I end up when I have the courage to say yes.”

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