In this 3-part feature, PerformInk continues its INSIDE series and takes a look into American Blues Theater’s production of THE COLUMNIST through blog posts written by the people behind the scenes. To read past INSIDE articles, click here.
Part Two: Interview with Costume Designer Christopher J. Neville
By Assistant Producer Elyse Dolan
From the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning author of Proof, THE COLUMNIST is a drama about power, sex, and betrayal. At the height of the Cold War, Joe Alsop is the nation’s most influential journalist – beloved, feared, and courted by the Washington world. But as the 60s dawn and America undergoes dizzying change, the intense political dramas Joe is embroiled in become deeply personal as well. For this article, Elyse Dolan interviewed two of the actors about the show. THE COLUMNIST runs February 17th through April 1st at Stage 773.
What excites you most about designing costumes for THE COLUMNIST?
One of the most interesting elements about designing for THE COLUMNIST is delving into the characters’ motivation for dress. When looking as people who were real, upper class, and carried some elite status in terms of Washington D.C. social and political circles, their use of clothing was masterful. Consider how they would have used clothing at the Kennedy Inaugural Ball or how they have dressed in Vietnam. These characters who possessed the means to alter their exteriors through clothing certainly thought about each look down to the detail.
Can you describe your design process to us?
This process began with pulling together photos of our real-life characters from the internet, books, newspapers, etc. After photos were collaged together, Keira Fromm and I discussed which elements of their realistic dress told the most about them. I’ve incorporated these visual character traits into the design and then complemented the research with 1950s/60s photography, clothing patterns, store catalogs, and advertisements.
THE COLUMNIST spans over 14 years — how are you showing that change in time in your designs?
The passage of time is captured by all the younger folks surrounding our titular columnist, Joe Alsop. We see the maturation of his step-daughter Abigail visually: similar to how any adolescent starts to find their visual identity. We see younger reporter David Halberstam reflect changing cultural and fashion norms. All the while, Joe and the older characters hold to their upper-class dress norms.
What elements of the 1960s do you have in your own closet?
I own several vintage ties from the 50s and 60s. Thanks to the impact of television’s “Mad Men,” contemporary retailers have recreated and reimagined the slim, mod 1960s cut for a contemporary wearer. Several suit separates I own fall in line with that.
What do you enjoy about working with American Blues Theater?
American Blues always considers how to offer the audience more than a play. The post-show discussions with experts from near and far … the outreach to draw on new audience members and create conversation … the ability to let that conversation live on into future projects. It all demonstrates that Blues knows its identity but continues to grow its audience, ensemble, and visiting artists.
What projects are you working on next?
Next I will be designing properties for Northlight’s BY THE WATER and RELATIVITY. In addition, I stay busy teaching public and private yoga classes all across the city.