Q&A with Costume Designer Clare Henkel 2

Clare Henkel design renderings for Sunday In The Park With George at the Arvada Center

The brilliant Stephen Sondheim musical Sunday In The Park With George is a natural fit for the Arvada Center. It is a musical about an artist and art Inspired by the painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La GrandeJatte by Georges Seurat, and the Arvada Center celebrates all art forms. After seeing the opening night performance I’m certain there will be plenty of reviews highlighting the wonderful performances, the spectacular music, the sheer beauty of hearing so many Colorado voices conquer the Sondheim score. So, I chose to explore one of the marvelous design components. Here is my Q&A with costume designer Clare Henkel.

Sunday in the Park with George at the Arvada Center
Sunday in the Park with George at the Arvada Center – Cole Burden (George Seurat) with the ensemble Matt Gale Photography 2018

Eden Lane:

Many artists in various disciplines say they appreciate having rules or parameters in place when they begin creating. You had an iconic painting as the guide for the majority of the costumes in Sunday In The Park With George, What impact did that have on your design?

X Georges Seurat French, 1859-1891 A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884, 1884/86

Clare Henkel:

This is the first time I can remember in all these years of designing costumes that a painting was literally the source for the design.  I frequently use a painting as an inspiration for the color palette for a show, but not as an attempt to recreate the exact painting. That fact put certain restraints on my designs, which I found restrictive at times, but also a lot of fun!  For instance, the color palette in the painting (although certain colors had faded greatly from the original because of the kind of pigments Seurat used) is not one that I commonly use.  I found the oranges a challenge, but am very pleased at the individual hues that we ended up with. With the use of an icon comes certain audience expectations.  We worked diligently to meet and hopefully exceed their expectations.

L-R: Cole Burden (George Seurat), and Emily Van Fleet (Dot)
Sunday in the Park with George at the Arvada Center – L-R: Cole Burden (George Seurat), and Emily Van Fleet (Dot). Matt Gale Photography 2018

EL:

The script begins;

“White, a blank page or canvas

The challenge, bring order to the whole

Through Design

Composition

Tension

Balance

Light

And Harmony”

This entire production design; set, lighting, and costume really seemed to embrace that philosophy. How did you find the visual language as a team?

CH:

We all adhered to the painting as a basis for the design.  The elements of design that begin the script are universal, and ones that Brian Mallgrave (Scenic designer), Shannon McKinney (lighting designer) and myself all work with every time we design. Most good design comes from these basic ideas–although at times one wants to break them. The three of us work well together, and trust each other. We show each other colors, fabrics and other choices at each step of the way.  If we have concerns, we discuss them.  This ensures that the design elements will complement each other. For this show, it was an exciting process to literally bring the painting to life.

EL:

There could be some freedom in the modern, 1984 period costumes. Where did you find inspiration for those designs?

CH:

Well, the truth is that I was in my mid-20s in 1984 (yes, it’s true!).  So I have memory and photo evidence of that time.  And of course I have research books and Google Image, as well as other online sources to draw from Costume design comes from an understanding of people–why they choose to wear a certain item of clothing or outfit at a certain time. It was fun to take the characters in the script and to dissect them, bringing them to life.  I have attended lots of gallery openings, and know a lot of artists.  There is a great variety in what people consider to be dressed up–or not–at an event like that.

EL:

The dresses, all the dresses have real character, the confection for the American lady tourist is a delightful example. That could so easily become a mere punch line, but it is more than that.  Tell me about creating so many specific characters’ wardrobe.

CH:

The people in Seurat’s painting are, for the most part, middle class Parisians.  There is some variation in that, of course.  But their socio-economic level was important to convey. Rod and I talked about this quite a bit. [Rod A. Lansberry, Arvada Center Producing Artistic Director of Musical Theatre, also directed this production.]  We did not have the luxury of building all of the women’s dresses (the 1880’s are a particularly challenging, time-consuming era to build), so we concentrated on building the dresses that I couldn’t find either in our stock or to rent elsewhere.  I tried to find dresses (or separate bodices and skirts) that are of the period, help to define character or status, AND are in the correct color palette for the painting.  Although the American couple is not in the painting, they are in the script. I wanted the audience to know immediately that they are not from Paris.  I wanted them to look like overdressed Americans who want to show off to the French, who look a bit like the pastries they are eating.  They were a fun couple to design! And with Dot, I wanted to show the arc of her character in the play and how she matures somewhat, although she is still fairly young and self-educated.

Sunday in the Park with George at the Arvada Center – L-R: Emily Van Fleet (Dot), Cole Burden (George). Matt Gale Photography 2018
Piper Arpan McTaggart and  Paul Dwyer as Mister and Misses in ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ at the Arvada Center
Piper Arpan McTaggart and Paul Dwyer as Mister and Misses in ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ at the Arvada Center

 

EL:

The Arvada Center costume department creates Broadway caliber costumes. What is the process for you as a designer when working with them?

CH:

We start months in advance. Brenda King, the costume shop manager, runs a tight ship.  She has very high standards, and she and I have worked together for years.  We are all on the same team, working toward a common goal.  I do loads of research, often making a Pinterest page to compile it all.  Then I do sketches for each character, and when they are ok’d by Rod, we start to source each item of clothing. This is a combination of looking through the Arvada Center’s stock, other local stocks, fabric stores and many online sources as well.  I usually do painted renderings so the shop, other designers and the actors know more or less how a character will look.  I also make a lot of lists–a costume plot, piece list, wig and facial hair list, crafts list, etc etc.  I carefully talk through any items that are being built with the shop.  There are so many alterations needed for pieces that aren’t built–these can be tedious and time consuming, but necessary.  The fit of men’s clothes is important to me as well as the women’s.  The shop really did beautiful work on this production.  The two dresses of Dot’s that we built were so well made and fit her so well.  Crystal McKenzie, Samantha Saucedo and the gang really came through on this one.  We begin fittings before rehearsals start with any actors who are local.  We fit any out of town actors as soon as possible when they get to town, so we can finish everything up and be ready for dress rehearsals. Wig and facial hair fittings are usually done in the evening (Diana Ben Kiki is also the wig designer for the Denver Center, and I am lucky to get her when I can).  With a short, approximately 3-week rehearsal period until Opening, we have a lot to do in a short amount of time!

Georges Seurat, 1888
Georges Seurat, 1888

I wanted to mention the challenge of creating a real person’s look–like George Seurat.  We revisited the idea of George in Act Two wearing jeans, which Rod and I had dismissed earlier, because Cole Burden, who plays George, brought it up in his fitting.  I have to make so many decisions in advance, before the actors get involved, that when an actor I respect brings up an idea which I like, I am open to using it.  And this was the right thing for him to wear in Act Two.

EL:

What else should we know?

CH:

This production has been a joy to work on.  After all of these years, I am still thrilled to see something I sketched come to life onstage.  And when those actors are assembled in the painting positions at the end of Act One, and the lush Sondheim score swells with those gorgeous voices, my hear sings!

(Disclosure: Clare Henkel and the Arvada Center Costume Shop team provided advance costume measurment of me for the American Repertory Theater before my appearance in their 2016/2017 Season)

 

Sunday in the Park with George

for details and tickets visit ArvadaCenter.org 

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Eden Lane is a freelance journalist based in Denver Colorado

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Q&A with Playwright Rebecca Gorman O’Neill 0

And Toto too Theatre Company is presenting two one act plays THE WAY STATION & THE SOUTH STAR by Colorado Playwright Rebecca Gorman O’Neill.

THE WAY STATION is the story of three strangers from different places and times, each pulled out of their travels and dropped off at a mysterious way station. At this surreal crossroads, no excuse, lie, or self-delusion holds up to scrutiny, and each person must find the strength to face his or her own dark secret, only then may they move on.

SOUTH STAR is set seven years in the future, during the second American Civil War, South Star is the story of a survivor, an inspiration, a reluctant hero who wishes she could just stop running. Stel finds herself in the company of two people – one an apparent victim, and one an apparent predator. What commences is a figurative game of three-card-Monty; the stakes are Stel’s life.

Here is my Q&A with Playwright Rebecca Gorman O’Neill 

Rebecca Gorman ONeill

Eden Lane:

 The Way Station and South Star are one act plays that share a few elements but do not seem directly related. How do you describe them, and did you conceive them as companion pieces?

Rebecca Gorman:

I would describe the Way Station as a mystery, and South Star as a suspense story.   The two of them do share some elements that I always find intriguing: 1 – a space that doesn’t belong to any of the characters – a space that is on the way to another space and 2 – a trap: a reason the characters can’t leave.  In The Way Station, the trap is physical, in South Star, it’s psychological.  Also, I love a 3-person play.  They provide a great opportunity to keep shifting alliances – one person is always against two, and you can keep shifting that dynamic around.

I didn’t specifically conceive them as companion pieces – South Star is much more clearly a companion to my full-length, The Greater Good, which And Toto Too was the first to produce – but I love the way that they’re coming together under Susan’s guidance. The actors, I hope, get to have fun showing some range, and, like any 2 pieces of art when you put them side-by-side, one gives a different context to the other.

EL:

After reading these plays I first thought of Rod Serling, (like you he also taught writing) not as a direct comparison, but simply as a salute. Is there any connection to his style for you?

RG:

Oh absolutely!  The Way Station is very much inspired by The Twilight Zone, which I think is a classic of American Literature.  I think that Rod Serling, (and Ray Bradbury, and Stephen King) are strong influences on my writing.  They are giants.  So if you see the salute, I’m more than flattered.  South Star a little less directly inspired.  That idea came from an immersion in literature about the WWII French Resistance movement.

EL:

What drew you to writing one act plays?

RG:

One-Acts are how I learned to write plays.  I started writing plays in college, and took the (two) playwriting classes my college offered.  My mentor, Peter Parnell, encouraged us to write for the One-Act Festival my school hosted, which is how I got my first productions.  The length and the limit of the one act suited me – I like compact stories.   One acts were all I wrote until grad school, because it’s all I thought I knew how to write.

EL:

On the New Play Exchange you write that you are “bored of cynicism and I appreciate cleverness.”, how did that point of view develop for you?

RG:

Thank you for reading my NNPX page!  I sometimes think I’m whistling in the wind on that one.  OK, so, I teach, and I’m a judge for a couple play contests, and the result is that I read a ton of plays.  (I also watch a lot of TV and movies) a ton, mostly by beginning writers, who tend to lean comfortably back into being cynical about the state of, well, everything.  But then I sometimes get to see cleverness – innovation – something I haven’t seen before. That’s so, so exciting.  Cynicism is a place where one can rest. Cleverness is like a call to action, innovation, and movement.

EL:

How would you describe working with And Toto Too Theatre Company?

RG:

It’s straight-up wonderful working with And Toto Too.  Susan and I figured out that we had been working together in some capacity since the first Play Crawl, 2010.  They produced a reading of, then a full production of The Greater Good , which went on to be published.  Susan takes such good care of her actors, designers, and playwrights.  She’s professional and focused, and what’s really lovely, is I always feel in very good hands.  I trust And Toto Too with my work, and I have always been treated with care and respect.  I’m really very grateful for this opportunity.

EL:

Anything else you would like to share?

RG:

The actors are wonderful! The set design is exciting!  The Lighting designer is talented!  I’m very much looking forward to seeing how And Toto Too brings the plays to the stage, and I am really, very proud to be working with And Toto Too again.

The Way Station & South Star

The Way Station & South Star by Rebecca Gorman O'Neill. April 19-May 5 got tickets https://www.andtototoo.org/buytickets/

Posted by And Toto too Theatre Company on Tuesday, March 27, 2018

April 19-May 5, 2018
Thursday-Saturday-7:30pm
ASL performance April 27

For Ticket Information

The Way Station and South Star-Two one Acts
by Rebecca Gorman O’Neill
Directed by Susan Lyles

Starring Kate Poling, Seth Palmer Harris and Austin Lazek

Set & Sound Design Darren Smith
Light Design Alexis K. Bond
Stage Manager Carol Timblin
Fight Choreography Benaiah Anderson

 

 

 

“Honorable Disorder” – Q&A with Jeff Campbell 0

As artists continue to take charge of their work so they can create authentic representations of their own experiences many find ways to produce their work outside of large arts and culture organizations. Jeff Campbell built an audience in 2013 with a powerful and provocative piece called “Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?” doing just that. He has returned to Denver and to it’s theater community with a new work and a new theater company.

Set in the dynamic landscape of present-day Denver, Honorable Disorder is a story of reconciliation, growth, and recognition for a young black veteran.

Honorable Disorder by Jeff Campbell at Emancipation Theater Company
Honorable Disorder by Jeff Campbell at Emancipation Theater Company

Eden Lane:

For your first piece since returning to Denver you founded a new theater company (Emancipation Theater Company) and serve as Producer/Writer/Actor/Director for the premiere production “Honorable Disorder”; How did the company come together? How was if formed?

Jeff Campbell:

The concept of Emancipation Theater Company is inspired by the Marcus Garvey quote: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.” Also inspired by the 1958 Academy Award Winning film “The Defiant Ones” starring Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis. The film is about two escaped prisoners, who are chained together, one Black, and the other White, who must cooperate in order to survive. The ETC logo depicts two abstract characters, not specifically representing races, but rather the dynamic opposites of the human spectrum, bound together by their humanity, who must work together to overcome the matrix of forces that inhibit their experience as human beings. When I came home from Georgia, after being gone a year, I knew I wanted to form a company that represented freedom, justice and equality, and approach theater in for profit business model, like a film company, and donate to it’s non profit community partner organizations. I raised the money on my own, working my construction job. It’s a single member LLC, and I function just like a general contractor who hires tradesmen to create a finished product.

EL:

In “Honorable Disorder” you show us the world some Vets experience, and take us through the story of a neighborhood changing without appreciation of the existing community. The character Nancy says she doesn’t understand why people move to a neighborhood but don’t participate in the community. “Most of these folks move to this neighborhood, don’t ever become a part of the community once they here. Are they afraid of their neighbors or something?” How did these stories come together for you?

JC:

Veterans are disproportionately represented at the bottom of the socioeconomic landscape and in a rising housing market, they are disproportionately affected. I learned about the difficulties veterans face accessing their benefits while working for the veterans resource center in Georgia. I’ve been watching Five Points change over the last 15 years, but when I left in 2016, and returned in 2017, the change felt even more drastic. I chose to talk about those things simultaneously because they are so connected.

Theo Wilson (DeShawn Foster) in Honorable Disorder photo by: Celia Herrera

EL:

The intersection of arts and political activism has a long tradition. What do you think the role of the artist is in this community today?

JC:

Not only social commentary and “telling it like it is” but utilizing your power as a catalyst to gather the community in a way that folks on the frontlines of social justice can be highlighted and supported through your art monetarily. You cannot simply call yourself an activist because you “tell it like it is” in your art. Raise the awareness in the community of the people doing the work in the movement, and back them with dollars. Collaborate with organizations and individuals who are working towards social change.

EL:

How will you measure the success of this first production for Emancipation Theater Company?

JC:

If the community is inspired to continue the dialogue and take action.

Although there are 6 characters in the play from an archetypical point of view, there are really only 3. The Mother and the Sergeant are the same, they represent the embattled sages of wisdom. The veteran and the social worker are the same, both have the savior complex. The uncle and platoon buddy are both cynical co-dependent anti heroes. I approached the writing in that way in order to draw parallels in their lives and allow their commonality to be organically expressed through their point of view. Often we get so wrapped up in issues, and identities, that we forget that people are the same, no matter who they are. The antagonist isn’t a person, it’s our lack of understanding, compassion, and empathy for one another.

 

Honorable Disorder

Apr 7 – Apr 29Cleo Parker Robinson Dance

For Tickets visit

Emancipation Theater Co.

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes with the company of “Honorable Disorder”

Meet the cast

Posted by Emancipation Theater Co. on Wednesday, April 4, 2018

(My interviews with Jeff Campbell for Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?“)