Today we’d like to introduce you to Leah Ramillano.
Leah, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I fell in love with theatre in college at the University of Redlands because of its inherent need for collaboration. Around the time I start school, my dad passed away and theatre became an outlet to both process the pain of loss and be surrounded by people who lifted each other up to reach a common goal. Here, I learned what being part of a strong ensemble meant and how the sum is far greater than its parts. When I was introduced to Scenic Design specifically, it sincerely felt like everything in my life clicked. At this time, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I loved working with people, solving problems, and I loved creating—my introduction to scenic design was the first time I saw my own personal desires and the idea of a vocation come to a meeting point.
After graduation, I had the privilege of being part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s FAIR Program as an assistant in the scenic art shop for a summer which completely changed my life and gave me the confidence to continue to pursue this field. The next summer, I was an assistant in the scenic art shop at PCPA Theaterfest before I started my time in graduate school at the University of California, Irvine where I spent three intense years learning and practicing design. Now, I am a draftsperson for Mattel’s Tradeshow Services Department while trying to maintain a Scenic Design career at the same time.
Has it been a smooth road?
The biggest struggle has always been imposter syndrome. The luring feeling that I am not welcome or that I do not truly belong in the space among my other collaborators. Despite being proud of a lot of my work, it sometimes takes a lot of energy and mental Olympics to push through and get the job done. What I’ve learned is that when I feel lost and intimidated by my work, I just bow my head and be a disciple to my own vocation because I eventually remember why I loved doing it in the first place.
Also, just being a woman of color in a male and white-dominated field (and world) is a struggle in and of itself, trying to find space where I belong or feel like my voice is being heard or even feel comfortable speaking out. It’s a careful balance of always watching what you say or how you say it or monitoring if you’re asking for too much. Another big struggle is balance. I’m so lucky to have a corporate job with a flexible schedule that pays me and gives me benefits, but it is hard to balance that with also trying to keep up with being a designer outside of it. Sometimes it’s frightening to say “no” to a design project because of the fear of missing an opportunity, but then simultaneously understanding the dangers of overloading yourself when you say “yes” to too many things and eventually experiencing burn out. I’ve also been working on mental health and self-care and I’ve learned that saying “yes” to my mental health can mean to saying “no” to many other things.
We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am most proud of the work that comes from a tight and fierce collaboration, where everyone on the team respects the sanctity of a story so much that we do our very best to tell it. I believe in honoring the core of the story and finding ways that design can support it and lift it up and not get in its way.
Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
I grew up the Valley and didn’t move to Hollywood until after grad school and I think I’ve fallen in love with knowing how much there is to discover still, that every pocket of LA has something to offer. This can range from just the diversity of people here as well as the incredible food scene.
Like any other person in LA–even if I’ve grown up here–the traffic is always one of the hardest things to deal with.
- Website: leahramillano.com
- Instagram: leahramillano
Paul R. Kennedy