Musician Shawn Northrip talks with Kerri Rambow
She sells herself as merely the second fiddle to playwright and co-director Michael Merino on the new show from the team that brought you Squirrel, or The Origin of the Species, and The Quick Brown Fox Jumped Over the Lazy Dog, but I tell you she is Batman.
By day, Kerri Rambow is the drama teacher at Washington International School, and by night she dons a costume, lurks in the shadows, and affects positive change in the world.
And by that, I mean she creates theater. If you have never taught high school or worked professionally in the arts, then you do not realize that each, individually, is a feat of super-human strength, but to do the two combined, consistently, and for as long as she has, only supports my theory: Kerri Rambow is Batman.
Like all good superheroes, Kerri’s training began at a young age. When Kerri was still in elementary school, her mother forced her into a community theatre production of Alice in Wonderland. Her mother’s reason, according to Kerri, was to get her out of the house. This is a decision her mother regrets to this day.
Kerri’s alter-ego formed while doing educational outreach programs around Washington, D.C. before landing a substitute teaching job at W.I.S. when the regular teacher, also a theater professional, booked a show at Ford’s. I’m guessing he found epic success in his show because Kerri stayed. And it was a great fit for her:
“Theatre professionals… have so many skills, we immerse ourselves with so many different things. We have to: for character research, for writing plays… that we’ve just got these brains that are full of information. And because one of the things we do is communicate, I think it makes a natural connection to want to teach. We’ve got so much information and we’re good at sharing. So that’s what we tend to do.”
Sidekicks, you say? Kerri Rambow’s Batman has Robins, Batgirls, and Nightwings a-plenty. She is fearless in recruiting the talented amidst her students to join her in her professional ventures. Hemispheric Dysfunctionalism and the Cortical Titanic includes a current student (Patrick Joy) and two alumni (Eric Swartz, Daniel Perez). As we discuss it, she chuckles her awesomely infectious laugh (in another article, she may have been the Joker) and shares “I have realized on the drive home that I have made completely inappropriate comments for a student to be in the room. But then I have to realize when he’s here, he’s not my student… he’s one of my actors. He’s as professional as everyone else.” It is the students, after all, that keep her in the game, relationships she builds that clearly last beyond high school graduation.
However, the life of a teacher is not always glamorous. Everyone once in a while Bruce Wayne has to play the part of a businessman or he would have no money left to protect our streets at night. What could be hard about facing a room full of angsty teens, you may wonder. It’s clearly not the students. It’s “the politics.” And after a very long pause as she considers the political way to say what she needs to say:
“I find it very distressing when there is an orchestration… to codify things that teachers do… that just can’t be quantified. It’s like grading art on a percentage scale. You can’t do it. Trying to codify the things that teachers do in order to check a box or have a piece of paper that somehow says, ‘I actually took care of this. I actually did something.’ And it doesn’t seem to value the relationships that we have with the kids, and the fact that we are educators and we love our job… it feels as though there is a push toward quantifying the unquantifiable.”
Like any brooding artistic-souled creature of the night, her family motivates her. As she lurks in the dark corners of crumbling buildings, she thinks, “There are definitely times when the time I am at the theater is not worth the time I’m missing with my kid.”
Luckily, she has a great support system in place, and with her husband in the cast (Ian LeValley), she gives a huge shout out to his mother, who makes sure their offspring has a hot dinner and two stories before bed. And did I mention that Calder, their six year old, is going to be in the Keegan production of All My Sons? They are starting to build a dynasty.
Though Kerry directed the last two projects written by Michael Marino, this one’s timing coinciding with the start of the new school year forced Kerri to take the co-pilot seat. “This is Michael Marino’s baby,” she insists.
Hemispheric Dysfunctionalism and the Cortical Titanic explores “brain damage and brain malfunction, anything from a stroke to things that are genetic… explored through the prism of the sinking of the Titanic… with opera!” A piece inspired when a friend of the writer suffered a severe brain injury resulting from a bicycle accident and her process of healing. “The show tracks the phases of how the brain heals and how it does not heal.”
Her advice to the audience: Don’t let the title scare you.
“You don’t need to know what it means to enjoy it… It’s a comedy of manners meets Schweitzer’s research notes. [Michael] is one of the smartest human beings I know. He knows so much stuff. Every time I work on a show with him, it’s like taking a grad course, because I have to take the play apart and end up with dramaturgical research like four inches think…. It is very smart and very clever and fun and it moves and is visually appealing and this one is aurally appealing. It’s not touching at all, considering where it came from, a head injury, it is quite the opposite. It’s laughing through the tears, you poke fun of it because otherwise, if you had to take it too seriously, it would just bum you out.”
And with that, she fades off into the darkness to direct another show, create another memorable character, and save another puppy from a burning building. Because Kerri Rambow is Batman.
Hemispheric Dysfunctionalism and the Cortical Titanic by Michael Merino runs October 5 – 28, 2012, at The Shop – Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC. Details and tickets
Remember Titus X at Capital Fringe, or Molotov’s Julius Caesar? All the work of guest writer Shawn Northrip, who holds an MFA in Musical Theatre Writing from NYU, and teaches Theater Arts at George Mason High School.