Theater chair inspires students to act

Monica Velez

True passion is when somebody’s language and persona can radiate energy into a room, conversation or an audience.

Melinda Wilson Ramey, chair of the Theater and Dance Department at Sacramento State, is able to do exactly that while transforming her visions onto a stage through the art of theater.

Wilson Ramey started working at Sac State in 2005 and has since directed various plays on campus, including the up-and-coming play “Twilight: Los Angeles,” premiering March 11 in the playwright theater in Shasta Hall.

“When I applied for this job it was my dream job, it was theater; they were looking specifically for an African-American theater specialist at the time, someone who could teach the classes I teach and direct a main stage production every year about black experiences,” said Wilson Ramey.

Wilson Ramey landed in the world of theater by chance; accidentally getting put in a theater art class when she was in middle school. She continued to involve herself in the craft and eventually received a masters and doctorate in theater from Northwestern University.

Through her African-American Studies Bachelor of Arts degree from Vanderbilt University, Wilson Ramey is able to intertwine black experiences with theater. Through directing plays and being the faculty adviser of Sons/Ancestor Players- a student performance company dedicated to expanding black experiences- Wilson Ramey is able to put on the type of plays she most enjoys.

“Plays that are about African-American experiences with a multi-cultural cast,” Wilson Ramey said. “And also, plays that are not traditional; I do a lot of post modern work.”

Rachel Mogan is the stage manager for “Twilight: Los Angeles,” and during the past six weeks has been working with Wilson Ramey on and off stage six days a week.

“Working under her makes me want to work my best,” said Mogan. “Every day is just a learning experience for this show […] and her patience for everyone and just this whole process is nice.”

Although Wilson Ramey began her career in theater by acting, she self identifies as a director and tries to stay away from acting.

“I do dabble in acting and try to keep acting, so that I can appreciate what my cast members experience and what they go through preparing a show but it takes a lot to commit to that and explore that world,” Wilson Ramey said.

Wilson Ramey continually expresses her gratitude for what she finds most enjoyable about working in the department, her dedicated and talented students, faculty and staff.

“My students have taught me that life happens, that even at the age of 18, 19, 20 things happen that you have to address, that you have to face, that you have to overcome,” Wilson Ramey said. “They taught me how to be resilient and how to carry on and see things through, and that what we do in the world of theater, the things that we create is so much truly their lives, and they can relate to some of these fictional characters.”

Alex Martinez is a student of Wilson Ramey’s at Sac State and is also an actor in “Twilight: Los Angeles.” He said Wilson Ramey always encourages her students and actors to dig deeper, and holds them to their highest standards; whether it be in an assignment or researching their characters in a play.

“She makes her students, like makes them think about working harder, and gets them to work harder and I love that,” Martinez said.

Martinez also said Wilson Ramey stresses the importance of punctuality and professionalism, and likes how specific she is about what she wants from her actors and students.

“Although she is specific and professional, she will turn around and say the funniest thing on the planet,” said Martinez.

Wilson Ramey continues to challenge her students by bringing plays, such as “Twilight: Los Angeles” to campus that are able to complicate their ways of thinking, push them to the next level and hone their craft.

The plays chosen each year are selected having the audience in mind, Sac State students, and Wilson Ramey hopes the audience is able to soak in the magic of theater and what it says about life.

“It [theater] is a very long and rewarding process,” said Wilson Ramey. “I just love the magic that happens, and we created something in a spectacle and the audience responds to it and we can feel their energy and their pushing us to go further and to educate and entertain them.”

Working with Wilson Ramey has inspired and created a supporting atmosphere for the theater department, always listening to students input and taking their ideas into consideration.

Martinez appreciates how consistently supportive Wilson Ramey is of her students and cast, while being honest and preparing them for what they will encounter in the “real world.”

“If she feels like you aren’t giving it your all she’ll let you know, and we need that,” Martinez said. “If no one tells us that, then we just go through this whole program blind sided. […] She keeps us in-check with reality, I really love that about her.”

Mogan admires the leadership Wilson Ramey is able to take on, directing and putting together a play while having the whole department to oversee.

“If you ever get to work with her you will definitely learn a lot, you’re going to grow as a person as a professional in this, I guess career, and it’s just a learning experience that I don’t think I will ever really get in the real world,” Mogan said.

Wilson Ramey said the part she has enjoyed the most in working on “Twilight: Los Angeles” is her cast, because of their dedicated research and ownership of the play. With ten years of transforming experiences and culture onto the stage, Wilson Ramey continues to impress the campus with her devotion and passion for the craft.