“Fun Home” is a musical theatre adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir which explores Bechdel’s sexuality and her relationship with her closeted gay father. Bri Ramberg ‘24 is bringing the play, set in rural Pennsylvania, to the Muhlenberg stage. Ramberg has been behind the scenes of many Muhlenberg productions, including serving as a director for “Things People Say” by Charles Mee, a lighting and costume designer for “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Wake” by Ally Duvak and as a scenic, sound and lighting designer for “Vampire Lesbians of Sodom” by Charles Busch.
Ramberg’s interest in directing started in her first year of high school. Having previous experience directing and projection-designing Qui Ngyuen’s “She Kills Monsters: Young Adventurers Edition,” Ramberg accounts, “I came to Muhlenberg ready to explore artistically, with the primary goal/focus being on directing. I’ve spent a lot of time exploring all parts of theatre that would help me be a better director and collaborator and… well here we are!”
In order to direct “Fun Home,” Ramberg had to go through the process of applying and interviewing for a position in the selection of Studios shows. When asked why they chose “Fun Home” to propose, Ramberg recounts, “This wasn’t my first interaction with ‘Fun Home,’ but as I read the graphic memoir and dove into the musical itself, I found myself with so many thoughts.” The play was also an assigned reading for one of Ramberg’s classes, and the discussion Ramberg had and the paper she wrote caused her thoughts to “keep growing,” pushing her towards directing it.
Having experience directing, Ramberg has developed a style that they are applying to “Fun Home.” Ramberg describes the beginning phase of her process as “logistical and practical.” Ramberg outlines, “I started with my own research and analytic work before going into casting. Once we had a cast, we started first by learning music, then we blocked/choreographed different sections of the show.” This structure of the show is unique to Ramberg, as “Fun Home” has no actual scenes. In order to streamline the directing process, Ramberg created their own. With that skeleton in place, Ramberg then began the reflection phase. In reflecting, Ramberg notes, “I start with the big picture and take a step back to process it all, and visualize the ‘thing’ as a whole before really honing in on the smaller ‘pictures’ that make up the whole show.”
Ramberg also employs a “polishing week,” where she can “re-address the vision,” and analyze how her choices are interacting within the piece and to what effect. Ramberg extends their gratitude to Associate Professor of Directing, Performance Studies, Theatre History & Theory Matt Moore, Ph.D., the faculty advisor for Studios. “[Moore] has been a great help as I start unpacking which areas I can get even more specific with,” said Ramberg. However, it is not just Moore who has influenced Ramberg’s directing. During the process, Ramberg has leaned heavily into a collaborative style. Ramberg expressed their joy in this, stating, “I love when my team or my actors come in and offer their insight and perspectives; I love that everyone has something different to offer. The first week of my freshman year here I remember hearing ‘take space, make space,’ and I remember how much that resonated with me in the way that I wanted [to] carry myself as a leader. That statement sticks with me today as I enter the rehearsal room; I find it’s just as important to hold space and make choices as it is to make space and listen to what everyone can bring to the table.”
Ramberg’s primary focus in directing “Fun Home” is showcasing the story. In discussing her inspiration for directing, Ramberg notes, “I’m a storyteller at heart; every time I’m looking for a show, I’m looking for stories that resonate, and this one resonated in so many different ways. Being a senior, I’ve been really into journey and discovery and reflection. I’m in a never-ending search for stories that I wish I could have heard at different points of my life. I’m also a designer, which really helps fuel my directorial inspiration; I love to see how all of these moving parts really come together, and so in some ways my design experience also inspires my directing.”
Ramberg has expressed how excited they are for audiences to not only see the show, but also to experience all of the distinct directorial choices they have made. Ramberg says, “I’ve made and continue to make some really interesting choices revolving around the world of the show; it takes place at three different points in time, and three actors play the same character throughout time, so I’m super excited for the audience to come in and react to these choices. There’s a lot that kind of just has to play out for the audience- so I’m particularly proud of and excited for audiences to see the ending sequence; we spent all of the beginning of the show building this world and watching it start to unravel has been such a crazy process to piece together, and I can’t wait to see how people react.”
In discussing how this has differed from other Studio shows they have been a part of, Ramberg stated, “I’ve worked on Studios as a designer on a few separate projects, and while the production process feels very familiar, it is a different artistic experience. I feel like I’ve really gotten to create and execute my own complete vision, rather than focusing on specific aspects of somebody else’s vision. Of course, I’ve felt passionate about other things that I’ve worked on, but this one really takes the cake.”
Despite the overall positive experience, directing “Fun Home” has not been without its challenges. Ramberg outlined these, explaining, “The show has a lot of moving parts, so a challenge I’ve faced is getting those parts functioning clearly together. The alleyway [runway style] setup took some time for me to work my head around in relation to those moving parts, but in the end, it allowed for a really unique and visual timeline. I feel confident that my prep work and design experience have set me up really well for addressing those challenges and even offered me new insights.
This show carries great significance for Ramberg, as she highlighted in mentioning, “I don’t even think I could put into words how fulfilling this has been for me. To be able to actually focus on my craft and check all of my artistic boxes with what feels kind of like a dream show is extremely fulfilling. I have had a great experience being a part of this season. I’m super grateful to the MTA (Muhlenberg Theatre Association) for taking on this project and for trusting me, and I’m super grateful for my entire cast and team for joining me on this process. Every single time we work or rework any part of the show, I learn something new and to me, that feels so magical- to come together in a room full of theatre artists and to continuously explore and discover together is honestly just quite amazing.”