Meet Julie Duvall, Guest Costume Designer of “Our Town”

Featured: Costume Designer Julie Duvall.

Q: Were there any activities you did as a child that led to your passion for the arts?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t doing something artistic or creative. I’ve always liked doing arts and crafts in school or at home. I spent hours drawing my own version of anime. I loved to dance, sing and listen to music. I played clarinet and saxophone in middle school and high school. An introduction to theatre class in college turned me on to theatre, which tied all my interests together.

Q: Where did you receive training?

I earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of South Florida in Theatre Design and Technology. I studied set, costume, and lighting design. I earned my Masters in Fine Arts degree at the University of Missouri, Kansas City in Costume Design and Technology.

Q: What other companies have you most recently designed for?

Most recently, I worked with Pure Theatre on an interactive production of Oscelola’s Muse. I took a break from theatre design to raise my two daughters, Ava (13) and Anna (11). Before, I was the head of the Costume Design Program at the College of Charleston for five years.

Featured: Costume Rendering of Emily by Julie Duvall.

Featured (from left to right): Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Mary Kate Foley as Emily Webb and Charleston Stage Acting Ensemble Member David Loar as Editor Webb in “Our Town”.

Q: Please discuss your process as the Costume Designer for Our Town.

First, I read the script to get a general feel of what the play is about and how it made me feel. Then, I analyzed the script for all costume information. I noted the year it took place (1901, 1904, 1913), the setting (Grover Corners, New Hampshire), the time of year (spring and summer), the time of day, the weather, the occasion, and the style the show was written (minimalistic, theatrical–set on a stage). I then studied what is said about each character by other characters, what a character says about (him/her)self, and what is noted in the stage directions. I looked at the occupation, age, gender, lifestyle, and class of each character. I also tracked characters entrances and exits to plan out costume changes (stage managers provided some of this information). Once this was done, I met with the director, Marybeth Clark, and the design team and, together, came up with a concept or approach on how the overall production would look. We decided to keep the production in the era it was set, and keep the Stage Manager character in the same era as the play. We talked about how the costumes were to be the focal point of the show because of the sparse scenic elements. We chose to minimize the number of costumes for each character in order to keep with the abstract nature of the set design and echo the hazy nature of memory. I tried to keep characters in simple, unpretentious clothing of the middle class, but visually stimulating for the audience. Marybeth wanted a color pallet based on a drop Julian Wiles designed for the show. The colors are bright, saturated, and lively, which reflects the joys and simple beauty of daily life. This led me to choose costumes that were a bit more colorful than was usual back in the Edwardian period (tan, navy, & black). In contrast, Act III is in somber black for the funeral. I researched 1901-1913 fashion, life, and professions in books and on-line—Pinterest was my favorite source. Finally, I pulled as many costumes I could from Charleston Stage’s costume stock. I redesigned most of the women’s gowns to give them the line and details common in early 1900’s. We ordered corsets to help maintain the proper silhouette and physical movement of the era. I designed a few original pieces: Emily’s first act look, Rebecca’s “gingham dress,” and Mrs. Webb’s ensemble.

Featured: Costume Rendering of Rebecca by Julie Duvall.

Featured (from left to right): Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Katie Blumetti as Rebecca Gibbs and Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Anthony Lazzaro as George Gibbs in “Our Town”.

Q: What are you most excited about that audiences will experience with your designs for Our Town?

I hope some of the trimming details will be fun to see, but I hope nothing stands out as a distraction. I aim to always serve the play and it’s own idea of “truth.”

Q: Tell us a little more about yourself.

I absolutely love spending quality time with my wonderful and talented husband, Frank Duvall and our two daughters, Ava and Anna. When I’m not designing costumes, I teach. I taught sewing, rendering, pattern drafting, and fashion history at the Art Institute of Charleston for five years, before it closed. Now, I substitute for mainly middle school and high school classes on James Island. I like to paint, knit, shop, read and sew quilts in my free time. I also try to find time to take long walks at James Island County Park.

Performances of Our Town run February 5 – 23 at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. For tickets, click here.

My Mom and I and “Our Town”

Featured: Founder and Producing Artistic Director Julian Wiles.

A Remembrance by Julian Wiles, Charleston Stage’s Founder and Producing Director

“You brought me all the way to New York to see a play without scenery?” That was what my Mom said back in 1988. I had brought her to New York as a Christmas present to see several Broadway shows, the first of which was the fiftieth anniversary of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer prize-winning Our Town. “Just wait,” I said to her as she gazed on the bare almost empty stage. “You’ll see, there’s more here than meets the eye, and it’s a love story so keep your eye on George and Emily.” And in a few moments as the play began, and as Emily Webb and George Gibbes fell in love, my Mom, as well as the rest of the audience, was mesmerized by the extraordinary power of this simple play—one of the greatest American plays ever written. It is my favorite play.

Sadly, too many people only know Our Town from a dreary high school literature class and have never seen an actual performance of this classic on stage. And of course, Our Town was written not to be read but to be performed.

In 1938, Our Town was considered revolutionary, radical, and avant garde, because playwright Thornton Wilder brazenly discarded scenery (or most of it), did away with props, and dared to present a play without any of the glitzy “window dressing” or dancing girls that audiences had come to expect. After all, this was the era of the Ziegfeld Follies and Busby Berkley musicals, so to strip away all of the spectacle for a Broadway show was startling to audiences. And even today, in an era where multi-million dollar Broadway musical spectaculars like Wicked and The Lion King are the norm, the simplicity of Our Town retains its special power to move audiences. In fact, Our Town remains one of the most produced plays on earth.

There was a method to Wilder’s no scenery, no props madness. He set this simple story of George and Emily on a nearly bare stage because he wanted us not to look at the scenery but to focus our eyes on something else. And that something else is everyday life— for it’s within everyday life that we actually live. Wilder wanted us to see that too often we take so much of our day-to-day lives for granted— breakfast each day, racing off to work or school, the landmarks in our lives— falling in love, marriage, children, friendships all taken for granted. By focusing on the seemingly mundane day-to-day tasks, he wanted us to see the simple wonder of being alive on this earth. But Wilder doesn’t sugarcoat this in a “just stop and smell the roses” sentimentality, he shows us there are also disappointments in life too, that many hopes and dreams remain unfilled. Such is life.

And that is the magic of Our Town. Like all great plays, Our Town invites us to look at life from different angles and, in doing so, gain new perspectives of what we too often take for granted.

Charleston Stage’s new production with its fine cast under Associate Artistic Director Marybeth Clark’s direction will bring Our Town off the page, out of your memory of that long ago stodgy English class, and on the stage where it belongs.

In the end, my Mom was not disappointed when she first saw Our Town in New York back in 1988 and at 92 years old now, is looking forward to seeing George and Emily fall in love once more. She already has her tickets. I know she won’t be disappointed.

Performances of Our Town run Feb. 5 – 23 at the Historic Dock Street Theatre. For tickets, click here.

Meet Shea O’Neil, Costume Designer for “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”

Featured: Costume Designer Shea O’Neil

Q: Were there any activities you did as a child that led to your passion for the arts?

I was raised by a single mother growing up which led to a lot of self-guided alone time. My imagination was my best friend and when my Mom realized how “in the clouds” my thinking was she put me into a lot of acting classes. I started out as a performer, up until my senior year of high school. I was lucky enough to attend a magnet arts Middle-High School in my hometown that, oddly enough, offered a costuming class as an elective. I took that my senior year… and the rest all just sort of fell into place. Having had a lot of training from the ages of 10 to 17 of how to act and embody a character was the best kind of costume design training I could’ve asked for.

Q: Where did you receive training?

As stated I went to a wonderful school called “Manatee School for the Arts” in my hometown of Bradenton, FL. From there I went on to a 2 year program (a sort of art school boot camp I like to refer to it as) called Florida School of the Arts. There I got an A.S. degree in Technical Theater with a focus in Costume Design. When I was attending FloArts I entered into the undergraduate design competition at S.E.T.C. (Southeastern Theater Conference) and won first place for a costume design I did at FloArts for Clue The Musical which, yes, is a musical based off of the board game. From that conference I was recruited by Toni Leslie-James who, at the time, was the Professor of Costume Design at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA. I studied under her and learned everything I could from her (she has been a working Broadway designer since 1992.)

Q: What other companies have you most recently designed for?

I have only designed at one other theater. I was the Costume Designer and 1-man-costume-shop for the Barter Players. The Players is an offset of the Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. (which is the oldest professional rep theater in the country). The Players was the Children’s theater part of the company. I was the Designer in Residence there for almost 3 years and designed over 24 productions with them, including 4 regional tours and 1 national tour that was based off of a Disney book series. I have assisted a good friend/designer that I met at VCU at many places in between leaving VCU and working at The Barter. I assisted her at Virginia Rep (Richmond, VA) and The Warehouse Theater (Greenville, SC).

Featured: A rendering by Shea O’Neil of Aslan in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”.
Featured: Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Katelyn Crall as Aslan.

Q: Please discuss your design process.

So first, like all designs, it begins with a meeting/chat with the director. My job is to facilitate the director’s vision while bringing my knowledge of the history of clothing and other various things to the table. For this show the key phrases I took from that first meeting were “Game of Thrones meets How to Train Your Dragon/Nordic Viking.” After that I got to work researching images that spoke to me and started to put together a Powerpoint for each character/look in the show. Once I showed that to the director then I started doing my sketches (for every sketch that you see that is good, there are about 20 ones that get ferociously scratched out) once those get drawn, then they get approved by the director. I then move to the “finding fabric” and actually figuring out the logistics of how to build/buy or pull from stock the things that I have drawn. I have meetings with the person in the shop who makes the patterns for the clothing (which is sometimes me as well) and talk over how I believe these things are constructed, and the process begins for real.

Featured: A rendering by Shea O’Neil of the White Witch.
Featured Right: Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Eden Stroble as the White Witch.

Q: What are you most excited about that audiences will experience with your designs?

I’m excited for the audience to see the amount of love, care, and artistry that the whole Costume Department and I have put into this show. One thing I learned in my time as the Barter Players Costume Designer was that most “family” or “children’s theater” tends to be patronizing to children. Gives them cartoonish pops of color and simplified costumes. But children, more than adults, have such beautiful and vivid imaginations. So giving them a real world that is extremely well flushed out is what I am most excited for these families and groups of school kids to see with this show. Children of all ages (and that includes adults) deserve the most inspiring thing I can offer and I’m excited to give it to them.

Q: Tell us a little more about yourself.

I really love knitting and have recently picked up baking and cooking as a lovely hobby. I spend a lot of time in the costume shop so when I’m not here I tend to do things that are very relaxing. i.e. going to see movies, a fine night of eating out (because I LOVE eating out at restaurants). I also have my own costume business on the side where I make costumes and various things for people on a commission basis. I also really love hiking and things that are outdoors which is a nice way to clear out my brain in between and kind of reset my headspace before heading into the next production.

Featured: Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Members in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”.
Featured Center: Charleston Stage Professional Resident Actor Katelyn Crall as Aslan and Charleston Stage Performance Troupe Member Sophie Rees as the White Witch in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe”.

Performances of “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” run Jan. 25th and Feb. 1st at 11am and Jan. 25th, Jan. 26th and Feb. 1st at 2pm. For tickets, click here.