• Credit: Ludovicdes Cognets
  • Credit: Ludovicdes Cognets
  • Credit: Ludovicdes Cognets

Spotlight on Jorge Lopes Ramos

Since graduating from the European Theatre Arts (ETA) programme at Rose Bruford College back in 2004, I have worked in a myriad of theatre making roles and continued to attempt to push my own boundaries as well as testing the limits of what theatrical performance can entail for an audience.

I am now Executive Director of ZU-UK (formerly known as Zecora Ura and Para Active) – an international theatre and digital art company based in London and Rio de Janeiro, which I run with Artistic Director Persis-Jadé Maravala - it's nice to know our work has now been extensively been written about and won a fair few awards over the years, but it's key to focus on one project at the time and we're committed not to repeating 'formulas'. It makes life much harder for us, but it's been a commitment that (so far) has paid off.

Across all our projects as a company, I am invariably involved in numerous parts of the creative process; from developing the projects, to fundraising, to research and sometimes performing. ZU-UK’s methodology is never the same for any two projects, we are firm believers in giving any project a completely fresh start – thus allowing methodology to grow out of development, rather than getting stuck in one particular form or a pre-existing notion of what theatre “should” be.

As such, our projects span numerous fields and we often involve games, interactive technology and one common factor for a lot of our work is to place the audience at the centre of the experience.

The practice of involving audiences and finding innovative ways for participatory experiences is also at the heart of our research, and Jadé and myself recently contributed the introductory chapter (titled Dramaturgy of Participation) to Palgrave publication Framing Immersive Theatre and Performance, and it's also at the centre of my PhD.

One of the defining experiences for me personally whilst studying on the ETA programme at Rose Bruford College was that we were encouraged to approach project development from a range of roles and perspectives. Sometimes we’d be directing, sometimes performing, sometimes designing and sometimes part of a devising process. I think the idea of not locking oneself to a single role within the theatre arts, nor a single approach, is something that I’ve brought with me and continued to be influenced by in my professional life. I think this approach has also aided me in testing the limits of what theatrical performance can be, and resulted in fantastic collaborations. For example, during the summer of the Olympics in 2012 we became the first theatre resident invited to present work at the Hayward Gallery.

ZU-UK’s current work includes ambitious project The Decalogy of Loneliness, a ten-part theatre experience inspired by the last ten hours of sanity of a man, our contemporary understanding of mental health, and the relationship between strangers in a megacity. The idea for this project initially sprung from what is probably our best known production, Hotel Medea (a six-hour, intensive experience running over the course of one night), and the 2017 part of the decalogy involves a “binaural dinner date” which present audiences with a genuine and intimate experience of a dinner date – sometimes with complete strangers. Another strand of our work is bringing together researchers, activists and artists in two-year project Body Brain Bingo.

As a company ZU-UK is committed to the development of emerging artists, and for the past 11 years we have been running our residency programme DRIFT across the world. With  ZU-UK, I am also the programme director for a new MA Programme at University of East London. An interdisciplinary programme focused on the contemporary, the MA Contemporary Performance Practices is entering its second year in 2017; its students get to work alongside ZU-UK and our collaborators across the year while gaining their qualification.

Parts of what I convey to the students on the course will doubtless be remains from my own time training at Rose Bruford College long ago.