Dallas actor wrestles with audience connection and an educational calling
Dallas audiences have been seeing a lot of Christopher Llewyn Ramirez lately — and that's not just a reference to his all-out appearance in Dallas Theater Center's recent production of Hair. The actor has been popping up on stages across DFW, in world and regional premieres no less, and is about to star in another at WaterTower Theatre.
Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue, by Pulitzer Prize-winning dramatist Quiara Alegría Hudes, takes a poignant look at the way war permeates young men’s lives by spanning three generations of the same Puerto Rican-American family. Ramirez stars as Elliot, and is joined by David Lugo as Pop, Gloria Vivica Benavides as Ginny, and Rodney Garza as Grandpop, under the direction of David Lozano.
Before the show opens on January 26 (it runs through February 18), Ramirez took the time to fill out our survey of serious, fun, and sometimes ridiculous questions.
Name: Chris Ramirez
Role in Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue: Elliot
Previous work in the DFW area:Hair, Hood: The Robin Hood Musical Adventure, Public Works The Tempest (Dallas Theater Center); The Great Distance Home (WaterTower Theatre); Hands on a Hardbody (Theatre Three); Crystal City 1969, blu, Zoot Suit (Cara Mía Theatre Co.); The King's Face, Winter’s Tale, Pericles (Shakespeare Dallas).
Where you currently reside: I am currently living in Lower Greenville with a lot of awesome and convenient shops around that I definitely take advantage of.
First theater role: I was in the fifth grade and the skit was called Evan’s Christmas. I’m sure it wasn’t great, but for an aspiring actor that had no performing arts resources in school (a serious problem that has gotten worse), I made due with what I had.
First stage show you ever saw: I believe that it was Charlotte’s Webb at Dallas Children's Theater. I’m not sure where it was performed, but I remember being so upset because all of the kids were shouting at the actor onstage, trying to help him find Wilbur. I distinctly remember looking around and saying, “SHUT UP! HE KNOWS WHERE HE IS! IT’S A PART OF THE SHOW! JUST LET HIM DO IT!” To this day, I’m not a fan of audiences shouting out to the stage.
Moment you decided to pursue a career in theater: Sitting in the audience of the Dallas Theater Center as part of their Project Discovery program and thinking, “I’m going to do this when I’m older and hopefully inspire kids the way I’m being inspired right now.”
Most challenging role you’ve played: Oof, that’s a tough one, as they are all pretty dang challenging. I’m going to say that doing The King’s Face with Shakespeare Dallas might’ve been the most challenging. It’s a beautiful, two-man show written by local artist Steven Young that was performed by the brilliant T.A. Taylor and myself.
Not only was the show a memorization beast, I was also simultaneously directing a show during the rehearsal process. I’m not sure how I thought that was a good idea, but I got through it!
Special skills: Can lick elbow — no, really!
Something you’re REALLY bad at: Freestyle dance or any sort of contemporary dancing.
Current pop culture obsession: Professional wrestling has been an obsession of mine since the age of 10. So much so that my senior thesis in college was about the art of professional wrestling and its relation to commedia del arte, ballet, and other forms of dance. The athleticism, theatricality, and — more importantly — connection between the performer and the audience is something that I cannot get enough of.
Last book you read: Uh oh. Not much of a reader. You got me. Uhhhh ... A book by Desi Arnaz, I believe.
Favorite movie(s):Life of Pi, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2
Favorite musician(s): Jerry Lee Lewis, Metallica, John Williams, John Newton Howard, James Horner.
Favorite song: “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.”
Dream role: Currently Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Favorite play(s):The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Dead Man’s Cell Phone, Anna in the Tropics.
Favorite musical(s):In the Heights, Cabaret, The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Favorite actors/actresses: Robin Williams
Favorite food: Steak Milanesa, with some rice and beans, of course.
Must-see TV show(s): Black Mirror. Everyone needs to watch it and then have long discussions after every episode. It’s good for the soul.
Something most people don’t know about you: I overdosed on potassium at the age of four ... too many bananas for a child.
Place in the world you’d most like to visit: Jerusalem
Pre-show warm-up: Light stretching mixed in with enjoying the moment and reminding myself to breath and to let go and be.
Favorite part about your current role: Its forcing me to be in good shape while also challenging me artistically.
Most challenging part about your current project: Making sure that I live free, true, and honest at all times.
Most embarrassing onstage mishap: Stripping all my clothes off at the end of Act I of Hair ... and I look down and see that my sandals are still on. So, there I stood. Naked. With sandals on.
Career you’d have if you weren’t in theater: I taught high school theater for three years and I do believe that education is my second calling. If I never chose theater as a profession, I’m sure I would still find myself in the classroom teaching something else.
Favorite post-show spot: Anywhere that has good company.
Favorite thing about Dallas-Forth Worth: Its thriving art community and its incredible skyline.
Most memorable theater moment: My students performing our one-act play at the regional competition held at Baylor University. They rocked the house and placed first, were awarded best actor, and became the first team in our district’s history to go to the 6A state finals.
I was not present at this performance, but knowing that they performed on the same stage that I did when I was in college meant the world to me. It connected us in such a special way.
There is a picture that a stagehand sent me immediately after the performance of them linked arm in arm, huddled together and basking in the magic that took place that night. Moments like that really make it clear to me that I am doing what I was put on this earth to do.