Clare Ramel is living proof that persistence, hard work, and a belief in yourself pay off.
Born in Fort Wayne, Ramel grew up a shy child who kept to herself and “was afraid to go up and talk to people.” Nevertheless, she loved singing and dancing. She wound up participating in church choirs and musicals starting at the age of six.
“That was my first real introduction to performing,” she says. “I really just got involved because it was what all my friends were doing, and then I just never stopped.”
When she reached middle school she participated in school choir and musicals, and her love of performing continued to evolve. “That’s where my real love of performing started,” she says.
She was also inspired by her friends.
“When I was in middle school, I started going to see people I knew in local theater productions,” she says. “That was when I realized I wanted to be up there with them, telling the stories I wished I could tell and playing characters I wished I was playing.”
Her parents were also a huge influence on her love of musical theater. Although currently not performers themselves, they had been involved in music and theater in high school, and they instilled in her a love of those arts.
“I saw a lot of theater when I was little, especially touring productions,” she says. “We watched a lot of musicals and listened to a lot of music, but they never pushed me into it. They’ve always taught me that I could do whatever it was I wanted to do or be whatever it was I wanted to be. They knew that eventually I would find what I loved, and I did. It was performing.”
In turn, Ramel says she feels that her love of musical theater has inspired them. “My mom [Elise] is [the marketing director at] the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre,” she says, “and my dad isn’t afraid to jam out to a cast recording in the car with me.”
Ramel says that, as much as she wanted to be onstage, she was a bit of a late bloomer.
“There were a couple years where I auditioned for things in middle school and didn’t get anything,” she says. “I didn’t make show choir the first time I auditioned. I tried out for a couple of plays around town, but I didn’t make those either.”
But she never stopped trying.
“If there was something I wanted,” she says, “I did not hesitate to audition for it.”
Soon she earned a spot in the show choir.
“That’s where I learned how to perform,” she says. “I learned it was something I loved to do and that I was pretty decent at it.”
It wasn’t until her freshman year in high school that she took the first steps toward acting.
She was cast in the ensemble of the Homestead High School production of How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying.
“I don’t remember much about it except I had fun,” she says. “I had no lines, but I got to play a bartender.”
Then she was cast in her first leading role—Paulette in the Fort Wayne Summer Music Theatre production of Legally Blonde.
“To this day, it’s still one of my favorite shows I’ve ever done,” she says. “Paulette was such a fun character that I related to so strongly.”
It was also her first experience with comedy, something she is particularly drawn to now.
“On opening night, I walked on stage and realized that making people laugh was the best feeling in the world,” she says.
Throughout her high school career at Homestead, she was in show choir for four years and did all the spring musicals, culminating with the lead role of Princess Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress her senior year.
But the previous year, she had her first taste of university theater at the University of St. Francis. The experience was so positive, she decided to attend USF to pursue theater – but not as a theater major. Next May, she will earn her degree in Communication with concentrations in Public Relations and Theatre.
Why not a theater degree? “Theater is something I do for fun and to relieve stress,” she explains. “I’ve always thought that if it was my career, it would turn into something stressful and not as fun for me, and I never want that to happen. USF gave me the opportunity to study theater and to be involved while also getting a degree in a thing that I love.”
As a USF student, she has appeared in nearly all their theatrical productions, and she has worked backstage – helping with costumes, stage managing, and assisting with directing and choreography – for the shows she was not in.
Post-graduation, she would like to pursue a behind-the-scenes position in the arts. “But I still intend to make theater a part of the rest of my life,” she says, “just not my career. I love performing and I never want to stop doing it.”
The busy young performer is appearing in her 25th production, playing Columbia in the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre production of The Rocky Horror Show.
What’s it like to play such an iconic role?
“We’ve all put our own spin on the characters,” she says of her cast.
Ramel says that the show’s director, Beverly Redman, has taken a deep dive approach to character development in this production.
“She expects a lot out of us, which is a great thing,” Ramel says “She’s constantly encouraging us to think and make new connections on stage.”
Early on in the rehearsal process, Redman had the cast perform improvisational scenes in character.
“We had to come up with scenes that took place before the show starts,” Ramel says. “It was a blast. It also helped us form relationships with each other and flesh out our characters.”
Such improv exercises also helped her approach her character with honesty. “My job as an actor is to tell the story the best way I possibly can, and to do that, the performance has to be truthful,” she says. “I play mostly comedic characters, and it’s easy for them to become caricatures if I’m not careful. In order to make my characters honest and realistic, I have to put a lot of myself into them.”
She looks for characteristics that she shares with any of her characters – even the ones least like her.
“Once I figure out what those are, I build the rest of the character on that,” she says. “When onstage, I want to be relatable. I want at least one person in the audience to see my performance and relate to the story I’m telling and the character they’re watching.”
Ramel has had to explore the relationships her Rocky Horror character has with the two men in her life.
“She loves them both, but the two relationships are very different,” she says. “Her relationship with Frank-N-Furter is abusive and almost purely sexual. Her relationship with Eddie is healthier and full of joy, but it ultimately ends in devastation. I have to express Columbia’s love for Frank while he does terrible things to her and everyone around her. At the same time, I have to keep her love of Eddie alive throughout the whole show, even though he’s only on stage for one song. It’s a bit of a balancing act.”
Ramel has enjoyed the unique challenges Rocky Horror has presented her with – including being a broader, campier, dirtier show than she usually performs in. The biggest challenge, however, is probably the audience heckling.
“In most shows, if the audience yells profanities at the actors, they would be escorted from the building,” she says. “In Rocky Horror, it’s welcomed. The last couple of weeks of rehearsal, we’ve had people come in to heckle us so we get used to it. It takes a certain amount of focus to not break character while the audience is screaming ridiculous things at you.”
During the rehearsal process of any show, Ramel loves striking the balance between fun and work.
“Rehearsal, just like life, is so much better when you’re laughing.”
But even when she’s not able to laugh, she gives every performance her all, even if it means she has to play through an injury. During a performance of last season’s The Marvelous Wonderettes at the Civic, she fell down the stairs onstage on opening night.
“I nearly broke my tailbone,” she says. “It was a four-person show, so it’s not like I could just go offstage and cry about it. It was a show where I had to be on stage the entire time, plus do a lot of physical comedy. I had to do the rest of the run with a busted butt.”
The production was just part of what she considers her proudest year in theater.
“I was in six shows [in 2015], and they were six of the best experiences and characters of my lifetime. I was able to play three of my dream roles and a couple dream roles I didn’t even know I had. Each show pushed me in different ways and helped me grow as a performer and as a person. I will probably never get another year in theater that will be quite as rewarding.”
Ramel has a strong worth ethic outside of theater as well. She works two part-time jobs while attending school. She works on the Arts IN Focus show at PBS, and she is an assistant at the Fort Wayne Youtheatre.
“My life is crazy busy,” she says, “and I wouldn’t want it any other way.”