Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe and Joseph Pinzon

Dramaturg/Literary Manager and Casting Director
Two men pose for the camera.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe and Joseph Pinzon. Photo by Josephine Reed

Music Credits: “NY” composed and performed by Kosta T, from the cd Soul Sand. Used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.

Jo Reed: From the National Endowment for the Arts, this is Art Works, I’m Josephine Reed.

I think we all have a sense of the many hearts, minds, and hands it takes to mount any piece of theater. Well, today, we are going to go behind the scenes with two members of the creative team at Washington DC’s Arena Stage; Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe who is literary manager and dramaturg and Joseph Pinzon who is the theater’s casting director. They are going to share their insights and experiences about their roles at the theater and their work on Arena Stage’s current revival of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning pl ay, “Angels in America, part one: Millennium Approaches.” It’s also a broader conversation about theater and the challenges this landmark play of the 20th century poses to its audiences in the 21st century.

So sit back, relax, and join us as we explore the art and craft of theater-making in the context of a masterpiece of American theater.

Let’s begin with Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe—I asked him to explain his job as dramaturg and literary manager at Arena—posing the question: what exactly does a dramaturg do?

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe: I love receiving this question because I never know where it's going to go. I teach an entire course that is all about dramaturgy, where we kind of get into the weeds. So, let's see what comes out today. Dramaturgy concerns the art and craft of storytelling in the form of theater. Now, so what that means? One of my favorite definitions of dramaturgy comes from Michael Chemers, from his book “Ghost Light”, where he describes dramaturgy as “Concerning the aesthetic architecture of the play.” So, what that, for me, means is that we're thinking about the structure, how plays are made, and its component parts to support storytelling. What most folks might be familiar with concerns production dramaturgy, and that's when we are working on individual productions and providing support around research that might support the actors, and the directors, and sometimes other designers, understanding of the word of the play. So, that's the historical context and things of that nature. The audience interacts with dramaturgy often in the form of program notes, or audience-- sort of, sorry, lobby material. Also in dramaturgy, and where my area of specialty is, with play development. So, I work in new play development, and that's working with writers in the process of developing plays, coming in at various stages, so from the point at which not a word has been written. So, I've been in meetings where an artistic director says “We want to commission a play,” we gather a playwright, and we just start talking, what might the idea be that we are all interested in exploring, to when you've written a draft of a play, it comes to me and then I start to respond. We just have a conversation about what the play is doing, what you intend the play to do, and how we might move together toward those aims. So, that's a short version. I could keep going, but that's the gist of it.

Jo Reed: Okay, Joseph Pinzon you are the casting director and we have a sense of what that means. You have something to do with bringing people on to that stage, <laughs> but tell me what it is you do and how you do it?

Joseph Pinzon: In terms of being a casting director, it really is, at first, talking with the director, and getting a sense of where they want to go with it. What do they think of the characters? What do they have in mind for them? What do they want on their stages? Because we find that a lot of people are trying to reinterpret works as well, so it may be done in an unconventional way. So, it's really we start with the ideas of the director, and from there I look at different pools of artists, local, sometimes out of town as well, depending on what they want. They might want certain actors, so we reach out to them directly. From there, what I do is I curate a pool of artists per role for them to select from, to test out in the room, maybe. We recently restarted doing in-person auditions, which is <laughs> an adventure, but during the pandemic we did a lot of virtual stuff, so it's nice to be able to do both. We find that actors really missed being in the room. So, having the director in the room to work with them is an advantage. So, when we test out the actors, the director then makes some decisions about what they like, what they don't like. If they didn't see something they wanted, we go further to look for more people. But as a casting director, I mainly curate. I don't make the final call, which is a misconception <laughs> a lot of people have. I get the people in the room, I try to dive into the mind of the characters as well, to see, oh, who might be a good fit. Knowing people skills and all that, that helps a lot because you get to relate to them in that way. Once the director decides, we send their information over, and we get them contracted, <laughs> and we go from there.

Jo Reed: So, the director has the final call. Does that include large productions, where there are-- people have two or three lines, is it always the director? Or do they sometimes say “What do you, Joseph--” are they more guided by you?

Joseph Pinzon: Mostly it's the director’s call. With certain roles, if they're really kind of minor, they might be like “Oh, who do you think would be the best?” They like getting my input too, which is pretty cool, because I get to know the artist in the area as well, so that's nice. I can give them some insight as to who might be a good fit. But mainly they make the final call. Sometimes I'm deferred to.

Jo Reed: Okay, here's the question: who delivers the good news? Who delivers the bad news?

Joseph Pinzon: It's funny, because there is no bad news, there's just no news, a lot of the time.

Jo Reed: Oh, is it?

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah, which, I admit, it's a little rude. But <laughs> there's too many people we have to reach out to, and it's such a short amount of time, that to do all that correspondence, it doesn't get the news out quick enough. I don't get to deliver the good news, <laughter> but that's actually fine with me. Sometimes it's the director themselves, and usually it's general management, because they're the ones that deal with the official contracting and all the details.

Jo Reed: Got it. Okay, the play just opened at Arena that you were both working on is “Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches” by Tony Kushner. I'd like you each in turn to describe that play? Not what the play is about, but just describe it. And I'll start with you this time, Joseph

Joseph Pinzon: When it was written, it was of the time. The AIDS crisis was happening. I'm a queer person, so that was my community. I was really young when it came out, but I still knew what was going on. Now we're in 2023, it's a historical piece, but it's still a reminder, and it hurts sometimes to see that that's the truth of what was going on. Yes, it was dramatized, but the heart of it, it's historical, and it's a part of what I knew grewing [sic] up-- growing up, excuse me. I also work on the show as the movement coach, so I get to see certain scenes worked out. I'll admit, sometimes it's a little triggering to know that that's what we had to go through as a population. I think to be reminded of it, especially now, is important, especially with certain things that are going on in this country, it's super relevant, and it's going to resonate.

Jo Reed: Otis, how would you describe “Angels in America”?

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe: I think I'll go in a different direction based on what Joe just said, and for me, I think about the play as extremely beautiful and virtuosic. I think about the language in this play and the storytelling, it features so many tremendous monologues. When I teach, and I currently teach, and I have taught, and students often deliver monologues from “Angels in America” in classes, right? So, it's a piece that has so much tremendous storytelling and captivating characters. It's achingly beautiful, and heartbreaking, and funny, and that's the thing that I love about it. It's hard to sign up for an experience that will break your heart over, and over, and over for three and a half hours, unless there are opportunities to release, and that release in this play comes in a form of laughter, it stirs you to laughter in places. So, it allows us to endure the pain and also the beauty. So, it's such an exquisite play, but poetic and beautiful is what I think about it.

Jo Reed: It's like opera without the music, that’s kind of the way I think about it.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe: That's an excellent description, because when the piece was commissioned, it-- or Kushner originally intended for it to be a musical. He wanted to write a two-hour play with music--

Jo Reed: Wow.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe: -and yet it’s still operatic without the music, because the language, how it operates in verse. The other thing that I think about the play, as well, is it's become so iconic, as Joe has referenced, it's historical. I think about the actors that have taken on the various roles, and the big, deep history that the play has.

Jo Reed: There are special considerations when you're doing your work as literary manager and dramaturg, and as casting director, when it comes to “Angels in America”. I do want to begin with casting, because many of the actors play multiple roles, and some of the people they play were alive and, at least at the time, well known, or even infamous. So, what considerations do you bring when you're casting for that play?

Joseph Pinzon: Well, I had initial conversations with János, who was director, and I wanted to dive into his head and see what he thought about the play. What's really interesting is that he's Hungarian and he's directing an American work. So, that outside perspective is just fascinating, because us on the inside, we know what we want it to feel like, what we want it to look like. When an outside person comes in and they have a completely different perspective, it's like “Oh, was not expecting it to look that way.” So, having initial conversations with him, they were interesting to see what he wanted out of certain characters. I think for certain roles, he had certain people lined up, and with casting, this is another misconception with casting, it doesn't always work out, mainly because of scheduling.

Jo Reed: Oh yeah.

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah. We're really mainly schedulers <laughs> trying to get people booked. But sometimes schedules just don't work out, and then it's “Okay, who can we get, and who seems like a great fit?” There was an actor who was highly recommended by Tony Kushner himself. It was Nick Westrate, who's playing Prior. János went out and met with him and worked with him a little bit, just to see if it's the right fit, and he was. He's in the show. Sometimes it's really difficult when you don't know what you want, and what you're finding out there, it's not hitting the mark. All of a sudden one person comes along and everyone just feels it's that one, and you can't explain that, but you just know in your gut, you’re like “It's that person.”

Jo Reed: Don’t you love theater? I mean, honestly--

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah.

Jo Reed: -that's what I love about theater.

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah, and when it all comes together, we had to do that eight times, because there's eight roles, and with each one, it was that, where we're like “It's this person.” When I had them all in the room for the first time, like “Oh my, it's like “The Avengers”.” It's like <laughter> all these great actors, yeah, like “Whoa, this is going to be an adventure, you guys.” So, it really was talking with János, but also trusting your gut. When you read the material over and over to try to get a sense of what it is, you kind of become attached to these people, and you feel for them. So, you want that feeling that you have to be translated onto the stage, and you really hope that someone out there will just get it, and I feel like we got those people.

Jo Reed: That's a nice feeling.

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah, it is. It's gratifying <laughs>.

Jo Reed: What about for you, Otis? I mean, as we said, it was a play that was so much of the moment, and now the millennial-- the millennium not only approached, we're a quarter century <laughs> into it.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe: Yes, absolutely. Well, one of the things that dramaturgy concerns is the process of translating the play, which is to say taking it from the page into production. So, some of those considerations concern the production choices. What are the design and production choices that we are making in our rendering of the story, that might differ from others? Or that answer the question: why are we exploring this story now? I think that in our production, one of the things that János the director is drawing out, really is the internal emotional realism of the story -- often when we step into “Angels”, it's a kind of realistic set, it's a world that we immediately recognize. When you come into this production, you'll notice something about the sets. And that's that the floor’s covered in sand. So, immediately we know that the ground on which we are standing is operating in the territory of metaphor. With our production, we're reckoning with some sort of maybe expressionistic or stylistic choices -- One of the ways that it may help to think about it is I always think about the concept of surrealism or surreality, and one of the definitions that's offered for surrealism is that it is a type of absolute reality where the internal and the external reality is brought out. So, I think that there’s a kind of emotional truth that this production is interested in, while still rooting the story in real people experiencing real things, devastation, heartbreak, contentious relationships. So, all of those things sort of meet in our production, and so those are some of the things that we are interested in in terms of dramaturgy, and also communicating some of that to the audience in terms of expectation.

Jo Reed: Obviously, in preparing for this, I was thinking about “Angels of America” and preparing for this, I was thinking, I wonder if you could make a case that this was really an early theatrical presentation of the multiverse in the ways it was operating in different realities throughout a lot of that play.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe: Yes.I think that you're not wrong in terms of the internal-external landscapes as inviting us to sort of think about the multiplicity of our lived experience.

Jo Reed: So, here's something I was thinking about, and I'll put it to you both. So, again, “Millennium Approaches”, it’s maybe a foreshadowing or a challenge to the 21st century. As I said, we're now almost a quarter century into the 21st century, so this play is an historical play. For me, the AIDS crisis is a part of my lived history. I’m from New York, New York had 70% of the cases in this country, over 100,000 New Yorkers over the years have died from AIDS. When we were living in it, we didn't know the outcome. We didn't know there'd be a triple cocktail or AZT. We had no idea how this was ending, and that play was being created in that moment. It makes me think of my mother not knowing the end of World War Two <laughs> while she's living in it. So, now it's almost 40 years later, and obviously a lot of the people who see the play won't have been alive during that crisis. I just wonder what you think about for a younger generation who's walking in, to whom the AIDS crisis was like World War Two for me, “Okay, war over.”

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah, I think that recent events can be a very clear parallel. When the pandemic happened, we didn't have an answer, we were all in the dark and we were waiting, “Is something going to come around that's going to help us come out of this?” So, in a way, the world is experiencing what a small community did back then. The queer community felt ignored, they felt like it was purposeful. So, that on such a larger scale-- it brings us back, it's just a different context. We did not have a solution, we didn't have an answer, and we just saw people dying, and it hurt, and it was sad, and we were asking the government <laughs> “What is going on? Why is this happening? Can we get some answer--” and it caused a lot of heartache, it caused a lot of anger, a lot of loss. So I don't think it's that distant, to be honest.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: And I think I'd also like to add that while we can say that in this country at least the crisis of AIDS has been addressed, it's not that it's been solved for all communities, and I think about that disproportionately certain communities are still left without the necessary resources to always sort of meet the current challenges of AIDS. If we look at-- and I really wish that my husband were here because his work concerns public health and HIV/AIDS, and housing, and things of that nature, and he's described-- and forgive me if I get this wrong, but in the south in particular, for example, I think I can say like Mississippi has high rates of black and brown individuals who are experiencing HIV/AIDS, and, or who don't have access to some of the treatments or preventative solutions that are readily available to other communities, and so what I think about with this play is that the present and pressing issues are still being experienced by communities who maybe don't have the same level of access, who don't have the same political power. There's a moment in the play where Roy Cohn describes his idea of a homosexual, and he basically says that a homosexual is not defined by who you sleep with, but about your access to power, and because he has a proximity to power, he refuses that label, and so when we think about power, there's certainly people who don't have access to power or treatment, or medication, or insurance, or things of that nature. Right? So I think that it is still present for many communities,

Jo Reed: But how much do you expect people walking into this play to know the world that the play is going to operate in? Because I think when the play was written, it could be assumed we knew that world. I mean, this was our world. But even figures like Roy Cohn and Ethel Rosenberg, Roy Cohn in New York, you knew who he was. So I'm just curious because it's another generation.

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah. I mean, what's also a little ironic is we're in an age where you can look up anything at your fingertips, and you could know, so if somebody's watching the show or post show, like who really is Roy Cohn, they could look it up, and they will know everything. With that being said, it's like the younger generation will go in there not knowing a lot of it at all. I'm at that age now. Like I'm in my early 40s, where I look at people, and somebody is like, oh, these kids, they don't know anything. But it wasn't that far away from me. But they just know different things now.

Jo Reed: Oh, I know that and I really want to walk into that play with 25-year-old eyes, and experience what it would be like to see it in 2023 without having all the history I have with it.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: Yeah, and I actually want to celebrate that because that's why I was thinking that there's a tremendous value of privilege maybe in immersing oneself into a world, and then allowing that world to unfold before you, and so maybe it's not such a bad thing that people walk into this play without those experiences, and I know that's not what you were saying. But I'm just spinning outward from our conversation that what a wonderful opportunity.

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah, I mean a lot of people coming to the show might have grown up recently, and in a world where HIV is a chronic disease that is controllable with all these treatments. PrEP that's out there, I mean, when that came around, as someone who was young when this story took place, I thought that was what's going to happen to me. I'm like oh, that's my future, and it was really sad, and it made me fear for my future, and then scientific advancement came around, medicines, and all that stuff, and we had PrEP, and it was a gamechanger, and now we have people who that's all they know, oh, if you catch HIV, you just hey, have treatment, it's fine. That's not the reality that it was, and like Otis said, what a privilege to not have to know that heartache going in.

Jo Reed: Yeah. Okay, practically speaking, Arena is doing the play in the Fichhandler Theatre which is in the round. And I cannot imagine that. Can we talk about the fun and challenges of doing that?

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: Absolutely, The thing that I adore about the theater in the round or Fichandler space, is that it lays everything bare, and so then in terms of design choices, there's not necessarily lots of opportunities to hide, so then you have to kind of embrace a space that is so-- that makes just everything visible, right? That's all I have for now. I'm going to take a step back and let Joe. I may have another thought later.

Joseph Pinzon: Well, it was interesting being a part of the team working on the movement because in my mind, I had to keep in the round as a concept throughout everything that I had to work on, and like Otis said, you can't hide anything. So there were specific scenes that I had to tackle that were very challenging because it dealt with actions, and sequences and I was like how are we going to do this without being vulgar, with having the actors feel safe, and comfortable, being able to tell the story, and not too vulnerable? It was a definite challenge and that's when creativity comes in. As creatives, it's our job to figure it out. That's the fun of it. How can we pull it off in a way that one, it hasn't been done before maybe, but also makes you think differently, and also, what are you seeing? What don't you see? Every seat in the Fichandler gets a different story because it's a different perspective, and I had to remind the actors you got to turn around all the time because you got to make sure certain details are read. But for some things, some people are going to get it. Some might not. What are you choosing to give them? So it did prove its challenges, but it was exciting in a way because they themselves had to rethink a lot of what they were doing. It's just not frontal. It is you cannot hide and I actually think they liked that challenge. So I will leave that.

Jo Reed: I'm looking forward to seeing how this is going to unfold because I'm trying to work it out in my mind, and I'm not, unfortunately, in the business, so it's hard for me. Speaking of, how did you come to theater, Joseph?

Joseph Pinzon: I have a very interesting background. I was a circus performer for 20 years in contemporary circus. I went to school in Montreal, trained, and then started working with different companies around the world, ended up creating a show myself, had my own production company. We were doing well, making strides, and then the pandemic hit, and so I had to pivot because all that work that I put into that hit a wall.

Jo Reed: You were a silk artist.

Joseph Pinzon: I was a silk artist, but I was mainly concentrating on getting the show that I created up and running. Like we just finished a European tour, and then a few months after…

Jo Reed: Filament.

Joseph Pinzon: Filament, yes. We toured Germany, Luxembourg, Italy, and then we were making great contacts, and then it all stopped, and we didn't know how long it was going to take. But in my gut, I was like I need to figure this out, I need to make a turn. I got into casting because I cast my own shows. I cast shows for other companies too. I had the opportunity to cast some immersive theater out in Los Angeles, and that's what got me into doing it as a career for like fulltime, and I was doing contracting work with that, and I came to a point where I wanted something more stable. I started applying, and I applied to Arena, and I got the job. It sounds wacky that it was as simple as that. Of course, there were steps taken. Along the way, I got my master's degree in arts leadership at USC, which primed me to know what the US nonprofit arts world was like, and how it worked, and functioned, and how I can be a part of it. So all of the things that I did in my past kind of came together. The production experience that I had when making my show, it gave me some insight and how things come together, and so I wasn't blind to budgets. I wasn't blind to constraints. I could help with lighting if I needed to, and so all of that knowledge kind of synthesized into this application that I put to Arena stage, and I saw the requirements. I thought I ticked all the boxes. Otis was on my interviews and so it worked out really nicely.

Jo Reed: What about you, Otis? How did you come to theater?

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: Thank you for the question. I don't know why that stumped me for just a second. Because mine is a simpler story in as much as my first real encounter with theater came in my upbringing seeing plays, but I didn't make the commitment to step into theater as a potential career until undergrad. I found myself at a theater party, and made friends with all the theater people, and then started taking classes with the theater people, and declared it as my major. It sounds deeply uncomplicated, and I think that it was, but I think that in theater I was searching for something, and it immediately felt like a place where I wanted to be because where my like training or thinking towards theater really started, I think is in the church. We were raised Baptist, brought up in a Baptist church, and I've served as an usher, and a junior Deacon, and sort of participated in Easter and Christmas pageants, and there was something about being in front of the congregation that spoke to me. Now I didn't want to be a performer. But I was interested in what happens when something is being presented for other people to watch. I think that I've always known that I was interested in that, and so when I found theater and found that it was also a place where I can just love history and literature because ultimately, that's what dramaturgy became for me, a place where my interests in history and literature can kind of come together, and so that’s just basically how I got into theater. How I made it here to DC at Arena after I graduated, I entered into a program where I taught fifth grade in Dallas, and while there, I convinced my principal to let me teach some theater electives, and after one of them, my principal sat in, and said, “Oh my God. Why aren't you doing theater?” and I’m like, “That's a great question,” and so I ended up applying for a fellowship at Arena stage. This was about 2002, ’03. I got the fellowship in ’03.

Jo Reed: The Alan Lee Hughes [ph?].

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: Alan Lee Hughes fellowship, yes, and that essentially launched me. I collect mentors everywhere I go. Everyone and everywhere is my teacher and I think that I had some really tremendous mentors that continue to think about me for opportunities, and I got to walk through this door, and another door, and another door. So that's the sort of simplified version of how I got here.

Jo Reed: Okay, let me ask you this. You're both men of color in the theater, and I wonder if you would speak to how that has impacted your opportunities and your choices. Yes, Otis.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: Thank you for the question. The thing that I've always had to be cognizant of is weighing opportunities, and discerning why I am invited into a space, and is that a space that serves me. And what I mean by that is it's real easy for your phone to ring maybe when someone is doing a Black play. I'm a Black man. I want to do those plays. I want to tell those stories. But I also want to be called because I am a brilliant artist and thinker, and I think that I'm always interested in ensuring that I'm taking on opportunities where you want all of me and not just the outward facing, visible part of me, so that you can signal something by having a Black man on your team, right? I've done that before, and I've learned that that's not a space where I want to be in because you actually don't want a dramaturg. You don't want an interlocutor. You don't want someone who is engaged in the process. You really just want to check a box and have a face. So that's the thing that I think about. Fortunately, that has not been the majority of my career. I've had a fabulous career, and the thing that has served me well is that I can't think of a place where I've worked where I haven't been invited back to work, and I always think about like maybe the first time you work at a place, there’s some circumstances. Someone was unavailable, what have you, but to be invited back for me is always the mark that showed oh, you came in, and you did it, and you were invited to come and do it again. .

Jo Reed: And what about for you, Joseph?

Joseph Pinzon: I actually did a bit of theater before doing circus. I did musical theater, and I was fortunate that I worked. And to be honest, I might have been a token hire because a lot of the time I was the only one in the room, and whether it was that or not intentionally, that's what it felt like sometimes. Going into circus was different because when you go in there, you're hired for what you can do specifically, your act, and I created an act that got attention, and I got hired for it. Did I hit a wall in terms of other things like race and politics? Yeah, of course. You always do, and that also translated into when I was making my show and my company. I might not have been afforded the access to resources, and so I had to do it all myself, and so I had to learn everything myself, which made me very resilient. But no one wants to be resilient. You're resilient because you have to be, right? And so, yeah, it's great that I'm resilient now, but I would have preferred the easier route, obviously. But and so it made me see the world in a different way, and it made me want change. It made me want to work for what's right, what I believe is what's right, and when I got into casting, you hear people talk about wanting to do the work, and I'm like I now have the chance to do the work. I have the opportunity to make that change. I literally help people get on stages. I invite people into the room. That is my job. I think it's such a privilege to be in my position to help change things for what I think is the better. And I feel so lucky to be able to do that, to help people, to get different stories told, get different stories interpreted in different ways we didn't imagine, and it makes things a lot richer, a lot more complex, and I am very fortunate to be where I am.

Jo Reed: I want to talk about theater community here in Washington DC because I've seen it blossom in the 25 years that I've been here. I mean, it is night and day, and I just am just so curious about how you guys both see it, and does it feel like a community to you?

Joseph Pinzon: I mean, I'll be 100% honest. I'm new to this. I got here last year and I was primarily working in circus. So the theater community, the entire theater community was new to me. I was advised to apply to jobs in Washington DC because I worked with a great general manager named Karen Berry. She's the general manager at Lincoln Center. She told me to look at DC. There's a thriving community there. She said, “There's a lot of nonprofit theaters. They constantly put on work. If you work there, you probably won't stop because it's so robust,” and I had no idea. I just applied, and I got the job, and when I got here, I was like, oh, she wasn't kidding. There are a bunch of theaters here. You can make a living as an actor here, and they all know each other, and I can tell you all the casting directors. We talk to each other because we want to help each other out. We're community here. Of course, each organization has their different mission, and vision, and values, obviously. But we're not in competition, I don't feel. That's what makes this community so special. It actually is one.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: I mean, at the risk of echoing a lot of what Joe has just said, I think it's absolutely a community, and having been here since ‘03 essentially, I also had a period where I lived in Baltimore, and I lived in New York, and then I came back, but I've been here, and so this is absolutely a community. I have relationships and friendships with folks in various theaters all over. And so in my capacity as a literary manager, one of the things that I'm doing is scouting plays, looking at artists. We're constantly watching productions to see who and what might be of interest, and because theaters also have such different and specific missions, if I see a play that's not right for Arena, but it's absolutely exciting, and I think that there's a writer, I won't hesitate to pick up the phone or send an email to friends over at Mosaic, or Roundhouse, or Studio, or wherever. Right? So that's the thing that I love about this community, that we don't have to be in competition with one another. Yeah, these are absolutely my friends. Like the people that I choose to spend time with when I'm not working are some of the brilliant artists in this community. So absolutely.

Joseph Pinzon: It's nice to feel like there's an actual community here because when it's competition, you're constantly looking over your shoulder like who's coming up behind me. That's not here. We can actually just breathe and do our jobs. It's great.

Jo Reed: And work together is even nicer.

Joseph Pinzon: Yeah.

Jo Reed: Let’s return to “Angels in America”. What do you want that audience to walk away thinking, feeling? Or do you just want them to walk away thinking, and feeling, and consider it a job well done, and I completely concur.

Joseph Pinzon: It's a really, really specific piece of work that we're working on with Angels. The design, the conception, the acting, it's so special, and I want the audience to know that this has been processed. This has been thought of. A lot of heart went into this, a lot of emotion, a lot of thought, and to me, that's what theatre is. It should make you-- it should spark something, whether-- I can't dictate to someone what to think or feel. But like you said, that's the ultimate goal. Leave thinking or feeling something. I think the moment they walk into the space they will already be hit with something, just by the first image that they see, and that's just where it goes. You start there, and then once it ends, and you see everything that has happened, I love it when people just walk out of there, and they don't know what to say good or bad because they're just-- they've been through an adventure. They were on a roller coaster and that's the beauty of what we do. We make people think. We make people see things in a different way. Hopefully, they take that with them, and they end up seeing the world in a different way. That's what I hope, whatever it is.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: What I'll add to that is a mark of a successful work for me is always when you leave a piece open to continuing to engage with it, think about it, reflect on it, let it into your heart, and mind, and dreams in the future. I think that when you walk out of a play, it's exciting to have a bunch of thoughts that are all coalescing. You have things that you want to say. But I think that for me, I want for plays to continue to resonate, so that in a week, an image occurs to you, and it's because you went to the theater, a piece of text you will still carry. That's one of the things that I want for audiences to have, to take something with you, and to let it be with you everywhere you go. And then the other thing I also always think about, like my collegiate, put my professor hat on is I think that theater is also about citizenship. For me, all theater is about citizenship. It is about how to be in the world. Who do we want to be in the world, in relationship to one another, in relationship to our nation, right? So these big questions about how we ought to behave or who we ought to be, and so I really hope that if the play can shake you closer to a state of being that is, I don't know, more towards grace, or compassion, or love, and maybe you already have enough of that, and you think that your heart can't crack open further with more love, and you leave this play, and something broke, and you realize you love deeper than you thought you could? Success! Right? So how does this play like invite you more fully into like your relationship with self or the type of citizen that you want to be in the world? That's what I always want people to walk away from, from any work of theater that they attend.

Jo Reed: Gentlemen, it was such a pleasure talking to you both. Thank you. Thank you, Otis. Thank you, Joseph.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: Thank you.

Jo Reed: I really appreciate that.

Joseph Pinzon: Thank you for having us.

Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe: Thank you.

Jo Reed: My pleasure. You just heard from two members of the creative team at Arena Stage: literary manager and dramaturg Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe and casting director Joseph Pinzon. Arena Stage’s current production of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, part one: Millennium Approaches runs through April 23, you can find out more information at Arena Stage.org

You’ve been listening to Art Works produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. We’d love to know your thoughts—email us at artworkspod@arts.gov. And follow us wherever you get your podcasts and leave us a rating on Apple, it helps other people who love the arts to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Thanks for listening.

Today’s podcast goes behind the scenes with two members of Arena Stage’s creative team: dramaturg and literary manager Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zöe and casting director Joseph Pinzon. Both share their insights and experiences working on the current revival of Tony Kushner’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches. We’ll learn about the work of a dramaturg and a casting director and how they approached Angels, a work with such a rich and complex history. We also discuss theater in general, theater in Washington DC in particular, and the challenges this landmark play of the 20th century poses for audiences in the 21st century.

Let us know what you think about Art Works—email us at artworkspod@arts.gov. And follow us on Apple Podcasts.