Now that he’s done with his master’s program in theater design from University of Maryland, Collin Ranney is “giving D.C. a year.”
As a freelance designer — he designs sets and costumes — it’s “a little scary” but also, he says, “definitely doable.”
One of his first post-school gigs, Signature Theatre’s “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” opened in previews this week, a show he began designing back in March. He’s in meetings now at Studio Theatre for upcoming show “The Invisible Man.”
“I think it’s the element of escape,” he says of his career choice. “Being able to go other places whether it’s literally, figuratively or emotionally. Not that my life is horrible and I’m trying to get away from it, but that element of being able to let myself go somewhere for a few hours in a dark room is great.”
The 25-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native was a performer in high school and college but eventually moved more into design work. He still sometimes performs as his drag alter ego Birdie LaCage or sometimes sings karaoke out with friends, but professionally he’s content working behind the scenes for now.
He and his boyfriend of a year and a half, Michael Armstrong, live together in Logan Circle. Ranney’s hobbies are inextricably tied to his work — scale models, drawing, shopping, making headdresses, drafting and sewing. Though he does enjoy going out with friends, dancing and show tunes nights at JR.’s for fun. (Blade photo by Michael Key)
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Coming out was a process for me over a course of a few years. The hardest person to tell was certainly my younger brother. For a while, I felt as though I would somehow disappoint him and suddenly become less of what he had always looked up to his whole life. Eventually, I realized that my being gay was a part of what he had always looked up to.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
I find “hero” to be such a strong word. I don’t know that I would categorize any one person as my hero, but I am grateful to all the gay men who have come before me and my generation. They have allowed being gay to be a norm today.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Town. I love having the option of hanging out or chilling with friends in the quiet room, to dancing on the floor (and sometimes the boxes), to catching up with my favorite queens.
Describe your dream wedding.
Liza Minnelli and swans on a rooftop at night!
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
No rhinestone left behind! And of course, Elaine Barrish for president (If you don’t get that reference, watch “Political Animals” — it’s brilliant!)
What historical outcome would you change?
Changing history seems like it would cause quite the domino effect on everything that came after, but I still would have taken those damn pills away from Judy Garland before she overdosed!
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
When Cher ended her farewell tour. And of course when Tom Cruise came out —oh wait, did that happen yet?
On what do you insist?
Laughter. Oh, and feathers and rhinestones!
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Whoring it up over at Signature. Make sure to come see the show next week. Scenic design by yours truly.”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
I joke about this often actually, and being a Type I Diabetic, I would say: “Where’s My Glucometer? The Life and Times of Collin Ranney.”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Me personally? Nothing. But I think it should be required for everyone to get a day pass to experience the other side.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
There’s something beyond the physical world?
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
What would you walk across hot coals for?
That depends on how bad this side of the coals is — I like my feet.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
That there’s such a thing as “tops” and “bottoms.” Versatility makes the world go ‘round.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” How can one not adore that movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Currently? Grindr. Show your faces (even if it means putting on some make-up) and get to the bar, boys! You can still show your torsos there, just wear a nice deep V.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Hmm. The Tony Award feels obvious, but it’d be nice. Though I don’t feel I need one to quantify my art, it would be nice.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
To write everything down. It’s going to be hard to remember it all when it comes time to make my Lifetime Original Movie.
Because for me, it’s where I’ve grown beyond childhood. It’s where I’ve found people, other than my family, whom I love. It’s where my career has inevitably begun and where I feel part of a community.