In the one-hour documentary Home School Musical: Class of 2020, Brennan High School graduate Elizabeth Ramirez is featured as one of seven theater students given the opportunity to share their voice with the world.
Earlier this year, when Tony Award-winning actress Laura Benanti (Gypsy) put a call out to young singers across the United States who saw COVID-19 shorten their senior year, thousands of videos came in from teenagers singing their hearts out.
After graduating virtually this year, Ramirez was on her way to Oklahoma City University (OCU) for her first semester of college. Plans changed, however, when the pandemic swept through the country and forced her parents to close the store that they own in the Market Square in downtown San Antonio. Money was tight and Ramirez would have to forgo her dreams of going to school.
Luckily, OCU let Ramirez know that her spot would still be available to her in the fall of 2021. She now looks forward to attending college where she plans on studying vocal performance and musical theater. In Home School Musical, Ramirez shows what she can do with her voice when she sings the song “Somewhere” — in Spanish and English — from the musical West Side Story.
During an interview with the Current earlier this week, Ramirez talked about what it was like for her when she found out she would have to delay plans to go to OCU and what this year has taught her about herself as a person and performer.
Home School Musical: Class of 2020 premieres on HBO Max Thursday, December 16.
What was your initial reaction when you found out you weren’t going to be able to attend college in 2020? The documentary portrays you as a very hopeful person, but you had to be a little devastated about the circumstances, no?
Oh, yeah, I think in my interview I cried. But the documentary doesn’t show that because we really wanted to keep the hope alive. I think everyone is very hopeful now with the vaccine and the new [administration] coming in. But I was devastated with the news. I lied in bed for days. At the time, it felt like the world was ending. I was excited about getting my life started with a higher education. When I learned I wasn’t going to be able to do it, I was beyond sad.
Were you in theater all four years at Brennan?
Yes, I was in it all four years and loved it. I actually had stage fright my freshman year, but I told myself to just get over it.
Did the pandemic stop you from doing your musical your senior year?
We had already done our musical my senior year in November , but our One-Act play where I had a lead role was cut short. We did one performance. The play was called Up (The Man in the Flying Chair). We like doing plays that know one really does because it gives the judges something different and new to look at.
What was the musical you did and what was your role?
The musical was called She Loves Me. I played Amalia Balash, which is the part Laura [Benanti] played [in the 2016 Broadway revival]. She’s the lead heroine in the love story. It’s like [the movie] You’ve Got Mail.
Were you always someone in theater that auditioned for the lead role?
I would always work my hardest to get the lead or a lead role. We liked to do a lot of ensembles at Brennan. I played the Baker’s Wife in Into the Woods my junior year. I got lead roles every year in the One-Act and in the musical. I worked my tail off for them!
What song did you sing for Laura when you submitted a video this past summer?
I sang a song called “Art is Calling for Me” from a musical called The Enchantress. I love modern Broadway, but I also love classical Broadway. That’s what fits my voice. I want to go to school for opera, not just musical theater. I thought, “Ah, you know, [Home School Musical] wouldn’t be complete without some classical singing!”
In the documentary, you said that you hoped to use 2020 as a year to grow as a singer and a person. So, what have you learned about yourself over the last few months?
I learned that it’s OK to take time off. In the four years that I was at Brennan, I was full speed ahead. I was at school some nights until 8 p.m. doing rehearsals for the shows. My life was dedicated to theater and to choir and to my studies. I was nonstop. So, this year I learned to take a break sometimes. Quarantine has been a tough time for everyone. I see some people doing these huge and amazing things and think, “Oh, I should be doing that, too,” but then I learned that it’s OK to take time for yourself.
Why did you decide to sing “Somewhere” for the documentary and to sing some of it in Spanish?
Playing Maria in West Side Story is a dream of mine. I think it is for any Latina soprano. The song is so hopeful and beautiful. It talks about peace and quiet and open air. I think that’s what we need more than anything right now. I chose to sing in Spanish because I wanted to give some credit to my culture. Also, [the song] is beautiful in Spanish.
Besides your family, what are you going to miss most about San Antonio when you go off to OCU next fall?
I’m going to miss the food so bad! My teacher is an OCU alum and is one of the reasons I’m going. She’s already told me, “Yeah, there’s not very good Mexican restaurants [in Oklahoma City]. They don’t do it like they do it in San Antonio.” So, I’m going to have to cook for everybody and show them how it’s done!
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