New Camelot Theatre Artistic Director Shawn Ramagos is the director and designer of “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert — The Musical,” which opens on July 11. Ramagos brings considerable classical theater training and technical expertise to his new position. After studying acting and directing at Northwestern University, Ramagos went on to become a lighting and special effects technician for Disney. He was selected out of 53 candidates as a result of a nationwide search. We met in the board room of the Camelot Theatre.
SR: I think that the people that came before me put the theater in an extremely good place. We’re very lucky that we have the donors and the patrons that really want to see us take it to the next level. For a new artistic director, the fact that our building will be paid off by the middle of July is a great place to start.
As an artistic director of a theater, you have to have your hands in a little bit of everything, so you make sure that the standards that you create for the theater are kept. I think that we’re here to meet the challenge and bring the Camelot Theatre into the next phase of development.
I love community theater because it’s so collaborative. You get to work with people every day that you respect, and you share knowledge. Everybody is learning from one another. I love the environment, the team approach, and the people.
EH: Do you have specific goals for the theater?
SR: A goal for any artistic director should be to increase ticket sales. The way to do that is to not go in a single direction. If you have to grow an audience, you have to consider all ages. Currently we need to focus on our younger demographics. We’re trying to do some new things and mix them with some of the classics, so that we don’t just cater to one individual group. There are great new plays out there.
EH: Have you seen an evolution in musical theater?
SR: There is. A lot of contemporary pieces have less of an orchestral sound to them and an edgier rock band style, so they’re going with smaller instrumentation. A good example of that would be “Hamilton.” It’s an old story set to contemporary music. People are getting extremely creative, and I think that it’s in an effort to get younger crowds into the theater.
EH: How do politics and theater affect each other?
SR: Politics affects theater in terms of money. They sometimes cut funding for the arts, which is a big deal, especially when you’re going after grants, which is the life-blood of community theaters. Community theaters can’t survive on ticket sales. Politics directly affects how we operate, and what type of moneys we’re able to get.
I don’t think that it’s theaters’ responsibility to try to change laws, but it might be our responsibility to help change public opinion. For instance, in “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” tolerance is the number-one thing that I think people should take away with them.
I think the reason this show is so well received is because it pokes fun at the same time that it actually tells the story. It’s about different relationships and people you meet along the way in life. That’s what people relate to. And, of course, the music is great. It’s a Las Vegas-style musical. It has songs that people know and love, and they’ll probably be dancing in their seats.