What She Looks Like: Valerie Marcus Ramshur, Head of Costume Design/Rutgers University

When Parent Artist Advocacy League curated our launch this past June via forums titled “Motherhood in Theatre: Breaking the Silence,” our stellar New Jersey rep Laurice Grae-Hauck put together an all-star panel. No exception to this description, Valerie Marcus Ramshur participated on the panel with awe-inspiring wisdom, experience, history, and illuminating transparency. She unapologetically cut right into the heart of obstacles she faced and the current conditions for women and mothers in the design field. Her participation and contribution was and is so vital, we asked her to participate on the panel at the New York City forum, our recent piece on solutions to body-shaming for mothers in the theater, and to be a featured here as an artist in this series. She is now one of our PAAL reps in New York City, and her voice continually serves to exposing hypocrisy and calling in truth as we continue to fight discrimination for women in the theater industry.

While pregnant with my son, I was working on a Broadway show and ran into another costume designer while visiting costume shops. This designer had been my professor, my mentor and my friend. When she began rubbing my belly, she leaned in to me mysteriously and whispered softly in my ear “there goes your career.” – Valerie Marcus Ramshur

Valerie continues to fiercely advocate for women in theater, especially in terms of mentorship for those who are young mothers or considering it. She uses her leadership position to defy the social constructs that – in our supposedly liberal institution – abandon and punish those who choose to be mothers. It’s no secret the obstacles she vocally opposes contribute to the gender imbalance, especially in technical aspects of the theater. Her advice, especially toward the end of this piece to the new generation of theater artist mothers, is invaluable and must be shared across multiple platforms. I’m so proud to collaborate with her and call her friend. Her story is one of power, resilience, and perseverance. Read below for this fierce PAAL rep and theater mama’s interview.


headshot
Valerie Marcus Ramshur
Professional Costume Designer and Head of Costume Design, Mason Gross School of the Arts/ Rutgers University

Name: Valerie Marcus Ramshur

Profession: Professional Costume Designer and Head of Costume Design, Mason Gross School of the Arts/ Rutgers University

Status: 1 child, son age – 12

What surprised/surprises you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

So many things continue to surprise me daily…and I am nearly 13 years into this adventure!

I have been in the theater for 42 of my 50 years, and I would have to say what still surprises is the gender inequality. It manifests itself in wages, casting, production jobs, so many areas, but surprising to me – it also persists in parenting. This business is still quite conservative when it comes to our socially constructed gender roles. The perceptions of women and mothers as individuals who are somehow lesser artists, or less committed when we become mothers.

I am keenly aware of the imbalance when a father has his children at work it is seen as “charming,” “cute”. I often hear “what a great dad” “wow, he is so committed to his family.” However, when a woman has her children around, who – believe me, she tried to find every other area of childcare before bringing her child in – eyes roll, and irritation is palpable, and the assumption that her attention will be distracted and therefore she is not “professional”. What still surprises me is how hard we [as women] feel we have to “prove” that we are present, committed and relevant as theater artists. Something I never see men having to do.
What excited/excites you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

I was raised in the theater. I was that kid in the back of a dark theater, with my Barbie dolls and coloring books, while my mother directed or choreographed any number of productions at the college where she ran the theater department. It was a fantastic way to grow up, at times lonely for kids my own age, but the payoff was monumental.   I was exposed to a multigenerational, diverse and magical world. I had to learn to hold my own with adults, converse on any number of topics, and it served me well. I developed a strong work ethic and the ability to solve problems. I was also just great fun. When I have my son around either a theater or costume shop it excites me to share with him what I do, to share with him all the people and various jobs people are doing to create a production.

late night fabric shopping
Late-night fabric shopping.

What challenged/challenges you about having a child and working your performing arts life:

I wish I could say it has been a glorious charmed experience from day one. But I can’t. When I was pregnant with my son, I did not have one female role model who was making it work in design.   Men had wives to care for their kids, and most women I knew had either chosen to not have children or if they had children they left the business. I was immediately considered “unemployable”. Employers made assumptions and choices were made for me without ever actually communicating directly with me. I was passed over for jobs constantly, considered a liability, and many judgments were made regarding my availability and my rate of pay. I simply began to disappear. One moment working constantly both as associate costume designer to some of the biggest names in design, on seminal productions, as well as a solo career which was finally taking off, the next moment being considered irrelevant.

Giving birth, which was so longed for, worked toward, and difficult to achieve, was overshadowed by a constant gnawing that I was no longer a desirable presence in my career, that I had nothing to offer. Slowly, after years of denying I had a family in order to get a job and putting them last, pushing aside my own design work and my families needs, I was able to return to associate work for other designers. The challenges remained having to work harder, faster, and longer hours, than my childless and unmarried colleagues, in order to show the world a child would not get in the way, would not change my commitment to the work. To maintain the label of “professionalism” that had been drilled into me from a young age. The climb back was long, painful, and soul wrenching at times.

Another challenge for my family was when I was home, I was exhausted, crabby, depressed, often still working into the late night hours on production work, only to wake early to be “a mom” and do all those duties before leaving for the day. I was determined to do it all, and not need ask for help, that would have seemed “weak”. I could not have been more wrong, and more miserable. As a head designer you have more freedom to bring a child in or cut out early for a school situation or a doctors appointment. Support staff does not have that luxury and it is incredibly difficult to maintain a balance.

 

fun in hair and makeup dept.
Fun in hair and makeup department.

What you look forward to about having a child and working your performing arts life:

As my son is getting older, he is finally able to see the work I do. To share with him a world I have been apart o my whole life, exposing him to not only the work, but also the creative process and work ethic. Theater folks are the hardest working folks around, the passion, the drive, the sheer amount of skill and talent working together at one time and in one place working toward a shared goal. Broadening his worldview.

What you think people should know about having a child and working your performing arts life:

If you need to take time away from the industry, do it!!! It will be here when you get back; sure you will be in a different place, maybe that is a good thing. Maybe the person you are when you return to the performing arts will have more to say, more to contribute, be richer for the time away. If you continue to work – ask for help! Don’t try to do everything, you simply can’t. Create a community around you that makes you feel supported, not judged.

Mom and Z
Mom and Z.

Your favorite mommy-artist story.

While pregnant with my son, I was working on a Broadway show, and ran into another costume designer while visiting costume shops. This designer had been my professor, my mentor and my friend. When she began rubbing my belly, she leaned in to me mysteriously and whispered softly in my ear “there goes your career.”

Incantation? Curse? Spell? Whatever you call it, she was right, at least for a little while. It was over, and those four words have stayed with me to this day. I fight against it daily, to prove her wrong, to prove to others and myself as mothers we are still relevant as artists, theater makers and human beings. 12 years later I still hear her voice. Looking back, my career wasn’t over – it just changed. It continues to shape shift and become what is needed at the time.


Warrior. So thrilled her voice is used to create pathways back in and mentorship to women in the theater! This transparency and vigilance is what progress looks like: exposing the darkness and barging in with the light.

Here are my favorite quotes from Valerie — honestly, it was extremely hard to choose – every moment she mentioned is so powerful for the work we’re doing now. Here’s whar I selected – what are yours?

“Looking back, my career wasn’t over – it just changed. It continues to shape shift and become what is needed at the time.”

– Valerie Marcus Ramshur

“This business is still quite conservative when it comes to our socially constructed gender roles. The perceptions of women and mothers as individuals who are somehow lesser artists, or less committed when we become mothers.”

– Valerie Marcus Ramshur

“I was raised in the theater. I was that kid in the back of a dark theater, with my Barbie dolls and coloring books, while my mother directed or choreographed any number of productions at the college where she ran the theater department.”

– Valerie Marcus Ramshur

“I was immediately considered ‘unemployable.'”

– Valerie Marcus Ramshur

“Employers made assumptions and choices were made for me without ever actually communicating directly with me. I was passed over for jobs constantly, considered a liability, and many judgments were made regarding my availability and my rate of pay. I simply began to disappear.”

– Valerie Marcus Ramshur

“I was determined to do it all, and not need ask for help, that would have seemed ‘weak.’ I could not have been more wrong, and more miserable.”

– Valerie Marcus Ramshur


More profiles coming soon!

If you are or you know a performing artist professional and mom who wants to share thoughts, answer these questions and shoot them to me at this contact form!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s