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Three Questions with Marie Ramirez Downing: The world’s only Mexican-American Designated Linklater Teacher

National Hispanic American Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 through October 15 in the U.S., paying tribute to generations of Hispanic Americans and the positive impacts they’ve made on its history, culture, and society as a whole.

First celebrated as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, the observation was expanded to a 30-day celebration 20 years later. Its September 15 start date is significant, marking the anniversary of independence for Latin American countries Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. In addition, Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence days on September 16 and September 18, and Columbus Day, also known as Día de la Raza and Indigenous Peoples’ Day, also falls within this 30-day period on October 12.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, we are proud to highlight the work of Shakespeare & Company’s Center for Actor Training Faculty Member, Marie Ramirez Downing.

Ramirez Downing is the world’s only Mexican-American Designated Linklater Teacher – named for the progression of exercises developed by the Company’s co-founder, Kristin Linklater, and a core tenet of Shakespeare & Company’s Actor Training programs. She will be leading the Company’s San Jose Weekend Intensive September 30 – October 2, as well as the online workshop Linklater Voice and the Power of Imagery, October 3, 10, 17, and 24, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., ET.

What was your first experience with Shakespeare & Company’s Center for Actor Training?

My first experience was very memorable because it was at a 2004 Weekend Intensive in Chicago with {Center for Actor Training Founder} Dennis Krausnick. I was in graduate school and had a bad relationship with Shakespeare. I just wasn’t connecting to the work – I didn’t think it had anything to do with me being a Mexican American Woman from Fresno, Calif. But I was wrong! The care, love, and detail Dennis gave to the many diverse identities in the room was astonishing and life-changing. I never felt more strongly that Shakespeare was for me, and it was Shakespeare & Company’s training style that made it accessible to me.

What role has Linklater Voice played in your life to date, both professionally and personally?

I first encountered Kristin’s work in graduate school with my teachers Trudie Kessler and Claudia Anderson. Both are Designated Linklater Teachers (DLT). And after a couple of weekend intensives with Dennis, I knew I wanted to pursue a designation so I went to Maine for a weeklong Linklater workshop to work with DLT Louis Colaianni, and submerge myself in the progression of voice exercises.

It was life-changing not only for my acting but my physical and vocal health as a whole. I am a long-distance runner and the physical awareness and breath exercises have been helpful for my endurance when running half marathons. Running with an awareness of the spine, releasing the jaw, and even stretching my tongue have been integrated into my runner routine. The Linklater work is global- designated teachers all over the world, but I have been privileged to become the first and only Mexican American voice teacher. Being a Designated Linklater teacher has been the joy of my career and have had many opportunities to work with outstanding theater artists because of that.

Can you tell us more about the ‘power of imagery’ as it relates to your workshop, particularly in the areas of heritage, culture, and personal stories?

Making imagery come alive off the page is one of my favorite things about Linklater Voice! Kristin’s whole book title is Freeing the Natural Voice: Imagery and Art in the Practice of Voice and Language. If you are working on a piece of text, let’s say Octavio Solis’ play, Mother Road. The chorus says: “static on the radio, trouble in the skies.” The images are very distinct and vivid, they simply can’t be shouted out. The performer must experience the images alone, i.e, “static” in their whole body, and outside of the context before they can share it with an audience.

And, as they experience the image, they are moving through different resonators to explore the sounds and feels. Once they can feel and breathe them in, then they can communicate them and the listener can also experience the images on their end from their own memory and personal experience. That is what powerful live theater is in my eyes.

Marie Ramirez Downing (she/her) is an Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Performance and Director of The Acting Program at Sonoma State University in the North Bay of California. She has an M.F.A. in Acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University, and a B.A. in Theatre Arts, Acting from California State University, Fresno. She is a Designated Linklater Voice Teacher (Shakespeare & Company 2012). Ramirez Downing is also a Bronze Founding Member of the Linklater Centre in Orkney, Scotland where she has continued her training as a voice teacher and actor with Kristin Linklater, Louis Colaianni, Paula Langton, and Ken Cheeseman.

This interview is part of Shakespeare & Company’s #LiveinCompany social media campaign, an extension of its mission to live creatively, work collaboratively, and honor community. #LiveinCompany content highlights the words and work of visionaries in various disciplines and aims to answer the three questions at the heart of each of Shakespeare’s plays: What does it mean to be alive? How should we act? and What must I do?

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Shakespeare & Company is a professional live theatre company in the heart of the Berkshires, presenting a vibrant summer performance season featuring the works of Shakespeare in repertory with classic and contemporary plays. The Company offers one of the most extensive actor training programs by a regional theatre in the country, and is also home to an award-winning and nationally recognized theatre-in-education program.

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