Get to Know: Elizabeth Johnson & Ramsey Baden, King Lear's Director & Producer

Welcome back to another week's profiles at Oxford College!! With Fall Formal and the end of the semester around the corner, I wanted to give you all a bit of a reprieve from our regularly scheduled program and talk about the play! This year, OESA has graced us with a presentation of Shakespeare's King Lear (as we introduced to you all yesterday), so I thought it would be great to introduce you all to Elizabeth Johnson and Ramsey Baden, the director & producer of the show, respectively! 

HC: Can you introduce yourself a bit?

EJ: My name is Elizabeth Johnson, and I am a sophomore at Oxford College. I am a PAL (Peer Activities Leader), an OWL (Oxford Welcome Leader), a student researcher, an actor, and the director of the Oxford Ensemble of Shakespearean Artists.

RB: My name is Ramsey, and I’m a sophomore. I came to Oxford from Taiwan, where I attended an international boarding school for several years. I care a lot about the things that I’m engaged in here, such as Oxapella, OESA, and the Oxford College Library (to name a few). I try my hardest to be there for people, and I like to listen.

HC: How did you find yourself coming to Oxford College?

EJ: I chose Oxford College over the Atlanta campus because of its intimate community and leadership opportunities. The supportive community here has definitely been my favorite part so far!

RB: The first question I asked when looking for colleges: how far away can I get from my parents? Second question: what part of the world do I know the least about? Oxford presented me with the perfect answer to both! I got pretty lucky - it’s really become home for me, and I’m constantly reminded of how amazing this place is.

HC: You’re very active in the theatre department on campus! Can you tell us some more about the department and club?

EJThe theatre department at Oxford puts on two mainstage shows each year, one each semester. There are also a number of student-directed groups, so students can get involved in Shakespeare, musicals, original plays, and more! It is very easy for students to get involved, even people who do not have any theatre experience.

RB: Theater Oxford is a multi-faceted gem. I’m a member of OESA, the Oxford Ensemble of Shakespearean Artists, which is a group that puts on a Fall production written by the Bard. On top of that, the theatre itself puts on a big show for both the Fall and Spring semesters, and for several years, the theatre has also put on a production of the Vagina Monologues in the spring. Every spring semester, the Drama Guild hosts a One-Act Festival, in which students submit plays and direct their own creations!

Even with all that, the department’s still growing. Oxford Broadway was founded last year, and they put on a successful musical in the spring. Theater Oxford is a fantastic department that never fails to impress.

HC: Which of the shows that you’ve been a part of has been the most memorable?

EJ: That changes depending on what show I'm doing at the moment. Right now, definitely King Lear!

RB: King Lear, obviously! Everyone should come see it this weekend! Showtimes are Thursday (11/17) and Saturday (11/19) at 7:30, as well as Sunday (11/20) at 3:00 PM.

HC: As the director, what inspired you to choose King Lear as this year’s Oxford Ensemble of Shakespearean Artists’ show?

EJ: I chose King Lear and decided to set it in modern dress at Emory because of the period of transition that our university is in. The retirements of President Wagner and Dean Bowen have impacted our Oxford community, and I wanted OESA's production to reflect that. King Lear is also truly an ensemble show - it is only because of the incredible talent of this year's Oxford students that this ambitious production has been a success, and this play allowed me as director to highlight many talented actors. From humor to tragedy, from epic battles between nations and scenes of horror and gore to quiet, intimate moments of vulnerability between characters, this play truly has everything. It is simultaneously a play about family, honesty, and how far loyalty will take us and a show about jealousy, betrayal, and the dangers of trusting the wrong person. The tremendous suffering that the characters experience leads them to greater depths of empathy, and I think that this call to empathy from Shakespeare himself has increasing relevance in our modern world.

HC: Oxford College’s version of King Lear is opening very soon, but how long have you all been preparing for the show?

EJ: OESA held auditions in September, and we started having intensive rehearsals within the last month and a half. I have been preparing for this production since I selected the show this summer.

RB: Our first rehearsals began the week of October 17th, so we’ve been preparing the show for about a month and a half (I’m including the time that we spent hosting auditions and casting the show).

HC: What’s the biggest challenge with putting on such a major production with college students?

EJ: The biggest challenge is definitely scheduling. Oxford students are known for being extremely involved, so the time commitment of participating in a play - especially one as technically and emotionally ambitious as King Lear - can be difficult.

RB: It is insane how hard it is to get more than two people to show up somewhere on time. To be fair, though, life at Oxford can be insane – we commit to a lot more than we can handle at times. I’ve seen how well we can work together to overcome our scheduling differences.

HC: Who is your favorite character from King Lear?

EJ: I can't answer that! Directing has given me a greater appreciation for the significance of every character in this ensemble show, and the incredibly talented actors in the cast bring out the best and most interesting parts of each person whom they play.

HC: What’s your hope for the Oxford Theatre department after you leave?

EJ: I hope for greater connection between the theatrical communities on the Oxford and Atlanta campuses. Last semester, OESA was invited to perform on the Atlanta campus for their Shakespeare Anniversary Celebration; this year, a number of continuees and Atlanta students are planning to come see King Lear. I also want to do a scene showcase next semester to give more people an opportunity to engage with the Bard, but using theatre as a tool for connecting our two campuses is probably my primary hope for this group.

RB: My biggest wish for Theater Oxford is that people continue to support it, whether that means acting in the shows or just going to watch them. I’ve had the privilege of working with extremely talented, passionate people in my two years with theatre here, and I’ve been blown away by the skill that I’ve seen in King Lear’s cast alone. Everyone who gets involved in theatre at Oxford makes it happen, and I truly hope that people continue to contribute in the future!

King Lear will be running on Thursday, November 17th and Saturday, November 19th at 7:30, with a matinee on Sunday, November 20th at 3:00pm. The tickets are free, but donations are welcomed! 

Photo Credits: June Kwon, Addison Welch,Tanushree Khanna, and Amie Ko