On June 12, Sunday, the Cebu-born and New York-based designer Clint Ramos joined the roster of Filipino Tony awardees when he won the 2016 Best Costume Design for his work in Eclipsed, which reveals the story of five distinct captive wives of a rebel officer band brought together amid the Liberian Civil War, written by Danai Gurira and directed by Liesl Tommy.
Pitting against other nominees in the Best Costume Design of a Play category, namely—Jane Greenwood of Long Day’s Journey into Night, Michael Krass of Noises Off, and Tom Scutt of King Charles III—Clint never thought he would clinch the prestigious award in theater. He saw a slim chance and was already contented with being nominated.
“It was already such a huge honor to be nominated among great designers in a great Broadway season—especially during a year where the spotlight was on diversity,” he shares.
To the rest of the nominees, Clint never thinks of them as rivals. To him, they are all his colleagues—some of them are established designers whom he looks up to and some of them are his new friends.
He adds, “Tom Scutt of King Charles III actually sent me the sweetest message.”
His Journey as a Designer
In Cebu, he was a former student of St. Benedict's Learning Centre for his primary studies and he pursued his secondary studies in Philippine Science High School in Diliman, Quezon City.
“I entered in Philippine Science High School during the waning years of the Marcos regime. I joined the drama club called ‘Kamalayan’ and through the people there, I was introduced to PETA,” he looks back in his early beginnings.
“They did these allegorical pieces against the regime that incited action. It was riveting. I was this young chubby kid from Cebu, clueless, and I idolized these really cool theater activists (one of them was Chris Millado who is now the artistic director of the CCP). I saw firsthand how theater and art could be a tool for change and how it could actually be a ‘living thing’ and not just be something we passively view. I fell in love with that.”
He also considers Tony Mabesa, a great Filipino director as his major mentor. Gabriel Berry, the costume designer is also a mentor and so is Susan Hilferty, who was her teacher at NYU and someone he looks up to.
Great Memories and Long-time Friendships from DUP
In Dulaang UP, his memorable shows were 12th Night (his first costume design) and The Tempest (as his thesis). Noli and Fili by Floy Quintos was likewise a terrific experience (he did not design them, but he was with them in the show).
It was in the production of M. Butterfly where he met the now popular character actress Eugene Domingo, “She and I have remained really great friends. She's come and visited me numerous times. She and Andoy Ranay (film and TV director) were here for my wedding.
“She has never judged me for my poor choices in life and has always just been there. There were a couple of years where we drifted apart for no reason just because life gives all of us different journeys but quickly reunited and almost picked up where we left off.
Also in UP, he came up with Paul Morales and Auraeus Solito (a.k.a. Kanakan Balintagos) as both have actually influenced him, “They are both successes in their own fields and am so proud to call them as my ‘kapatids’.”
As a Cebuano: A Great Influence of His ‘Being’.
According to him, when he was growing up in Cebu, it was not as populated as compared as of today.
It was wonderful. He loved being home but the city overwhelms him. He remembers, “My parents have always been supportive of my interests although my mom originally wanted me to follow in her footsteps and be an attorney."
“I think being Cebuano made me a complete human being which, in turn, influences me as a designer. Growing up in Cebu, I truly appreciate and value nature. I learned the value of hard work, perseverance, faith, and responsibility. It is also in Cebu where I learned the value of humility and respect and a deference to what has come before me and a hopefulness for the future. I've carried these formative values with me throughout my life and wherever I go.”
But if he didn’t end up as a designer, he admits, “I'd probably be a horticulturist. I love nature and plants. We keep a small garden upstate and I just love being in that garden.
“I grow a lot of perennial woodland plants like fern varieties, hellebores, trilliums, poppies, etc. Our property is ensconced in a state park with lots of trees.”
His Inspirations, His Dream Works
As a designer, he is the type who experiments, all the time, he reveals, “That's the only way I can keep myself excited and interested.”
Also, he has the large capacity to appreciate great work.
“I work very hard to not have a style—but to be as malleable as possible so I expose myself to all of them and I love designers and I especially love designers who are ‘independent voices’ themselves, they don't necessarily need to be revolutionaries but they need to be singular."
“I love the Belgian school of fashion like Ann Demeulemeester or Raf Simmons for their essentialism. I also love the Dutch-Chinese designer Fong Leng for her intricate sense of humor and wit. I get a lot of inspiration from artists like Petah Coyne and Darren Waterston, and photographers like Jurgen Teller and Wolfgang Tillmans. For theater designers, Eiko Ishioka is up there for me as well as Robert Israel.”
However, as the celebrated set and costume designer that he is now—he still wants a stab at the really big and lush musicals like The King and I by Richard Rodgers and dramatist Oscar Hammerstein or ‘Grand Hotel’ by Luther Davis.
If he’d be given the chance to collaborate with a particular set and costume designer, he wants it to be with Eiko Ishioka, “I would have loved to have picked her brain and see how she processed thought and ideas.”
Born to be a Theater Artist
Despite the many struggles of being an artist since it is not as lucrative as other fields he says, “I love it and one must really love it to stick with it. Of course, there are times that it's more challenging but you just hunker down and keep the faith.
“I am a theater artist primarily and designing sets and costumes was more interesting to me.”
He holds a Master of Fine Arts from New York University, which he attended on the Gary Kalkin Memorial Scholarship. He is the recipient of an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence in Design, has three Lucille Lortel Awards, two American Theater Wing Henry Hewes Awards and had seven nominations, TDF Irene Sharaff Young Master Award, Helen Hayes Award, Craig Noel Award, and two Drama Desk nominations, among other awards. He is also the recipient of the Ani ng Dangal presidential medal for dramatic arts from the president of the Philippines.
Apart from Eclipsed, which gave him a Tony, the one theater project that is closest to his heart is Here Lies Love because it opened a lot of doors for him. In the same year, he won an OBIE Award for Sustained Excellence in Design as recognition for his body of work.
In every theater work he had, he sources out his materials everywhere. In Asia, Europe, but everything goes through NY, “New York is unbelievably rich in anything. We always joke that if you can't find it in NY—it does not exist.”
Ramos who is known to be a collaborative individual with other artists whom he has worked with as well as to those whom he would be working with in the future, always has this guiding principle, “The golden rule really. Compassion is a big one.”
Also, he describes himself as passionate and committed to all the things he wants to pursue or achieve. As a designer—he just wants to tell a story. But he’d like to tell himself to take it easy and not worry too much. He also wants to improve on being more organized.
Because of the sense of humility that is engraved in him since he started back in the Queen City of the South—he is not affected by his achievements. Over the years he built his reputation of being diligent, and it landed him work after work. But, even up to this day, he still sees himself as a work-in-progress.
Clint's recent triumph at the Tony Awards puts him in the roster of Filipinos who have bagged the prestigious recognition of excellence in live Broadway theater through the years.
First, it was Lea Salonga in 1991 who was only 20 at the time, won Best Performance as a Leading Actress in a Musical for Miss Saigon as the heartbroken bar girl named Kim; then the Filipino-Scottish American composer Robert Lopez was declared a winner of the 2004 Best Original Score award for Avenue Q. Then Iloilo-born Jhett Tolentino, an investing producer with business partner Joan Raffe, has received Tonys for Best Revival of a Play for A Raisin in the Sun and Best Musical for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder (both 2014) as well as Best Play for Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (2013).
The Philippines is fortunate to have a well of talented individuals who make names not just for themselves, but for the sake of their motherland. But Clint, who has lived in New York for over 20 years since the mid-1990s, has this to say to aspiring and beginning artists, “Keep the faith. Be open to anything. Take good care of yourself. Worry about being a better human being first.”
To date, he’s married to his attorney husband, Jason Moff for close to seven years. When he is not doing theater projects—he and his husband are with their families or their house in the Berkshires.
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Photographs courtesy of Clint Ramos