Behind the Scenes: An Interview with “Marisol” Costume Designer, Flynn Valentine

Interviewed by: Noah Ezell


Yesterday, I sat down with the costume designer for Marisol, Flynn Valentine, to talk about what it was like to work on the show, what drew her to it, and her process. Read what she had to say below!


Ezell:   What drew you to Marisol as a costume designer? What about the play made you want to design it?


Valentine:   To me, Marisol is a call to action, and, even though it was written almost 30 years ago, I think a lot of what it addresses is still really important and something that we need to hear and watch as a society. As soon as I heard we were doing this play and I read it, I wanted to be a part of it because it has such strong themes, specifically homelessness and the destruction of the environment. A word that keeps coming up for me has been compassion and how we as a society will get nowhere if there’s no compassion. I think Marisol highlights all of that.


Ezell:   In your design overall, what were the main themes or elements that you explored?


Valentine:   So, I wanted to show how the environment has affected the world around the characters. Basically, the way that society shapes the way that we are, the way we dress, and the way we present ourselves. For Marisol, she’s really trying to fit into this society that she’s not really apart of or not accepted in because of who she is. I wanted her clothing to feel trapped and really tight. Her best friend June is less affected by her environment and more willing to do her own thing. She’s in a lot of bright colors and has a lot of bright and big patterns. Something that became really important to me was my research about the time period that we decided to set the play in, and I had a lot of help with that from the dramaturg, Noah Ezell. Something I found that really intrigued me was the guardian angels. In the late 80s and early 90s, a group formed called the guardian angels in New York City. They basically were on the subway and wanted to protect people and make sure there wasn’t violence. The character of the Angel was a representation of them. We decided to make her the head Angel, and the ensemble would be the actual guardian angels that were on the subways in New York in the 80s and 90s. We took aspects of what they wore – like they were famous for their red berets, so we added black berets, and they all have angel wings on the back of their jackets. The head angel has a red beret, and I think that they kind of capture the whole idea of compassion because they are the people that are protecting and trying to enforce safety. They are compassionate because they are going out of their way to help people – specifically the homeless. We see Marisol take on that role, and the way she’s dressed slowly turns into the way they are dressed.


Ezell:   What was the place of the elements of design like line and shape and texture in your own design? How were you inspired by certain visual elements and how did those make their way into your design?


Valentine:   Janine, our Department Chair, asked me at the beginning of the process to do line drawings and very abstract sketches of each character. That really helped me incorporate the elements of design and figure out what I thought of about the texture and shape for each character. Then I took those sketches and the time period that we decided to set the play in and did research on how I can meld them together. So, for Marisol, I had a lot of straight lines and a lot of boxes and confinement, and that’s how I decided to go with a tighter fitting dress and have her more buttoned up because I felt that that related back to those original sketches I had. For the Angel, I had really sharp lines and zigzags because, to me, there’s almost a danger to her. Marisol describes her as fulgent and so in her costume there’s a lot of harsh textures. Her wings are made out of trash, she’s studded, she’s got really high platforms, and I wanted her to appear bigger than life – kind of like how zigzags make you feel. Janine’s exercises really helped how I kind of saw them overall. With color, we kind of have these groups of people that we’ve used to set the vocabulary of the world. There’s the guardian angels, and they’re in red and black because of the research that I did with the red beret. Also, the Angel is described as an urban warrior. And then the Nazi skinheads are in a lot of greens because, when I was doing research for them, I found that they wear a lot of army clothing or military clothing. The skinheads are doing this on their own, but there’s a militaristic element to them. The homeless are in more cool tones in Act 1 and in more warm tones in Act 2 because our lighting designer, Anna Robertson, communicated that that’s the world she wanted to set to differentiate the changes. I wanted the homeless to kind of fit in or blend in with the world around them.


Ezell:   What would you say was the most difficult part of working on this show or your process?


Valentine:   As a costume designer, I am really bad at trying to be perfect the first time I do something. Sharon, the director, is a bigger picture, try things and experiment kind of person. That’s really what the whole costume process is, but I think I just had a problem initially trying to get things right the first time. I had a hard time understanding that it takes time and things aren’t going to be perfect the first time you do it. Now that we’re further in the process, our production of Marisol has been very ensemble heavy. There’s been a lot of costume changes, and now I’m just trying to keep up with all the costume changes and paperwork. I’m trying to make sure everyone has enough time to change and everything is ok technically, while also serving the play and my vision for the costumes. I’ve had to get rid of some layers for the homeless people and rig some stuff so they can change quickly and stuff like that.


Ezell:   So what’s left, what’s the next step in terms of the show?


Valentine:   So we are pretty much done with fittings, and now we are focused on the little details. For example, today I spent most of my time distressing the homeless and trying to figure out how I was going to differentiate the distressing between Act 1 and Act 2. Between the acts, the script says that there is a huge change, and the characters are in a world that they don’t recognize in Act 2. I think that would affect them as well in the way that they dress, so I want them to be a lot more apocalyptic and a lot dirtier than they were when we saw them in a world that they recognized. I’ve also been in the process of all the paper work and the tracking for quick changes to get ready for when wardrobe crew comes in. The hard part about being a costume designer sometimes is having to give your show over once the show opens. Your job is done once the show opens. So now I am trying to communicate as much as I can through paperwork and pictures what they need to do so that the show can look good.


Come see College of Charleston Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of Marisol by José Rivera opening February 21 at 7:30 PM in the Emmett Robinson Theatre. Purchase tickets here:\

One Week Away!

The rehearsal process is coming to a close, and Marisol opens in one week! This week, we are entering the Tech phase of the process. Here are some updates on scenery, costumes, and rehearsals! Remember that these are all works in progress, and it will all look completely different by opening next Thursday!

Scenic designer, Ceili Hesselgrave, has been hard at work making sure our set will be finished by the time the play opens! Here’s a quick snapshot of where we’re at right now.

Costume designer, Flynn Valentine, is conducting her last few costume fittings to make sure everything looks perfect on our cast. Here she is with the Angel, played by K’yundra Martin, at her last fitting.

Sydney and Tanner play June and Lenny in Marisol. Here they are working one of their scenes on the actual stage for the first time!

Behind the Scenes: An Interview with “Marisol” Scenic Designer, Ceili Hesselgrave

Interviewed by: Noah Ezell


Yesterday, I sat down with the scenic designer for Marisol, Ceili Hesselgrave to talk about what it was like to work on the show, what drew her to it, and her process. Read what she had to say below!


Ezell:   What drew you to Marisol as a scenic artist? What about the play made you want to design it?


Hesselgrave:   I think that what I really like about this play, and what keeps me interested in it, is that it’s written from the perspective of a voice that we don’t always get to hear in today’s world because José Rivera is a latinx man. I think it’s [also] told from a perspective of someone that we do not usually get to see with Marisol being a woman, a latinx woman. And I think the story itself is intriguing because there’s so much duality, and I think, as a scenic designer, that’s something that we always have to look for in a script. Also, “What’s the script saying about the environment?” And in Marisol, Marisol’s environment is a huge duality because it’s the duality between what’s happening on Earth, which we’re used to, and what’s happening in the heavens. I also like the idea of being able to twist the scenery to surprise the audience and take them away from what they’re used to. I was also really intrigued by the fact that the scenery in this show in particular is such a huge part of the story and kind of takes the shape of a character of its own in a way and really becomes not just what you’re looking at, but kind of how the story is being told. This piece is really influenced by the scenery compared to other pieces I’ve worked on or seen.


Ezell:   In your design overall, what were the main themes or elements that you explored?


Hesselgrave:   So, with my design, I was really drawn to the sociospatial idea, which is this idea that the set itself is a character, and has to serve the play and drive the play as a character would. So the design had to be realistic, while at the same time, it had to leave room for abstraction because there is so much abstraction in this piece. I think this is probably the most realistic set that I’ve designed while at CofC. I guess theme-wise, I was really drawn to the idea of this being an outward expression of the world that Marisol lives in and what she’s familiar with, what she’s used to seeing. I brought in a lot of elements that you would see in the Bronx and in New York City, particularly with the subway architecture. I think there’s such a strong tie because, when you think of New York, there’s a lot of transit and commute and getting around. Marisol does move around a lot in this play, whether it be on a subway car or not, and I think that incorporating those elements and having a strong tie to those and making it clear to the director has influenced the rehearsal process. I’ve seen in the transitional vignettes, especially, a lot more use of the subway than I though there was going to be, and I’m really interested to see how it all plays out in the end.


Ezell:   So you were just talking about how this is the most realistic set that you’ve designed while you were here. Can you talk about why you made the choice to design a set realistically for a show that is very abstract in its concept? How does that fit the vision of the playwright?


Hesselgrave:   Well, I think I’ve come into this style where I tend to start with the most abstract thing. At least for this play, I definitely started on the abstract extreme and had something that was very far from realism. Through more meetings, I thought, “Ok, this is cool and all, but it doesn’t really speak to the play as far as there being such strong ties to Marisol being a Puerto Rican-American woman from the Bronx,” and I was kind of pulled back towards realism. So while the abstraction was interesting, it didn’t really serve the play as far as the location being so tied to why Marisol is going through the things she’s going through. I also wanted the scenery to express things that would be familiar to her. So earlier on, for example, I had just a brick wall that kind of had this nice curve going on from one side of the stage to the other. The earlier designs that were more abstract served the stage directions, but they didn’t serve what we were trying to do with the play, what our rules of engagement were, what we wanted the audience to take away from it. So I moved out of the abstract and more into realism to make sure the audience understood the time and place of the set. I think this ties into the costume designs being more focused around the 80s, and it ties into the dramaturgy of the project if we’re thinking about Mayor Koch and all the crimes against the homeless and the warriors. So I think, even though the piece is very abstract, it’s important to base it in realism because it makes the abstraction that much more impactful when it happens. Seeing realistic elements onstage for the audience like a giant brick wall, a garage door – things they understand – sidewalks, they understand that, bedrooms, stairs, everything that makes sense to them, puts them in the same boat as Marisol where everything makes sense until it doesn’t. And then we incorporate all the plastics and covering the set in this material that is still familiar, but it is being used in a way that we’re not used to seeing it being used. So I think it’s important for it to stay realistic because we want to engage the audience in a way, we want them to understand that this is her reality and this is how it’s being twisted.


Ezell:   What would you say was the most difficult part of working on this show or your process?


Hesselgrave:   I think the process of the show has been most difficult, I would say, in the application. I never had a very difficult time coming up with the ideas for it – not any more difficult than I usually have with doing the research and implementing that into sketching and taking the sketches and actually turning them into the idea. But I think I had a little more trouble this time – and it’s something I’m getting better at but I’m still working on it – figuring out how to communicate with a new director. You know, when you’re working with a new director that’s something you have to figure out. Do they communicate better with sketches or do they need more research? Are they a model director? I’ve never encountered a director that really understands drafting, but it all kind of goes hand in hand. I think this time around, I needed to be more on top of getting things out faster. Getting paint elevations done faster, getting sketching done faster, and certainly getting the model done faster because I think that would have been much more helpful during the process. So I wouldn’t say that any part of designing the show has been difficult because I think they’re all good ideas, its just that there are a lot of ideas to synthesize and kind of sort through and make sure we get everything we need in the show onstage. I’ve done a lot of talking and there’s been a lot of word of mouth but not necessarily a lot of things on paper or decided on, which is really just like a personal skill I need to work on and less of something that went wrong with the production.


Ezell:   So what’s left, what’s the next step in terms of the show?


Hesselgrave:   So, we have kind of been in this weird place in the shop right now because we’re trying to get light hang done, but we’re getting ready to start building the subway stairs that also serve as Marisol’s apartment. We kind of have gathered a lot of the pieces of the puzzle together as far as the build goes, so we’re just really looking towards starting to take all these things that we’ve been building and start putting them together onstage. And then I am still working on a lot of stuff that has to do with paint. I’ve moved over to digital paint elevations over the summer just because they’re easier to do because you can kind of do them anywhere. You can do them at home, in the airport, when you’re on the road, and you don’t have to have all the paints and stuff with you. And while I do miss doing the hand paint elevations, I think it has saved me a lot of time, and you get to be a little more creative with them because you can more easily manipulate colors quicker and you can provide the director with options without have to necessarily hand make each option. You can just have them in the same file. Part of the reason why the paint elevations haven’t really happened yet is because I’m working on an independent study with Charlie Calvert, Associate Professor of Scenic Design, to implement a device that you can use to calibrate how color shows up on your display with the printer you’re using. So when you print high quality images, they print color correct with what you’re seeing on the screen. A lot of times when we print things off of our computer, what we see on the screen is not what ends up getting printed out, and that’s because your computer has settings and your printer has settings and they don’t always line up. So this device that we were able to get with a grant through our undergraduate research program, we’re using it in order to calibrate our computers to a couple of different printers that we have so that we are able to use those profiles to print the paint elevations color correct. And once we get through that, which is something that he and I are going to work on when we get back from KCACTF, I’ll be able to print out paint elevations easy, like no problem.


Come see College of Charleston Department of Theatre and Dance’s production of Marisol by José Rivera opening February 21 at 7:30 PM in the Emmett Robinson Theatre. Purchase tickets here:

What’s Up in Rehearsal?

Rehearsals are in full swing for Marisol! Director Sharon Graci is working hard with our actors to make this one of the best productions College of Charleston has ever seen. Because Marisol is presented from the perspective of a Puerto Rican-American woman, the production team enlisted the help of Dr. Asela Laguna, a retired professor, to help everyone involved understand the cultural context of the play. Dr. Laguna is a Puerto Rican-American woman herself and has been very helpful throughout the rehearsal process. In the picture above, you can see Dr. Laguna help actor Tegan Kates work on the pronunciation of certain Spanish words in the script!

Table Work, Table Work, Table Work!

Here’s our cast hard at work! In this picture, they are taking part in an important step of the rehearsal process known as table work. During the table work phase of rehearsal, the cast reads through the script and discusses their characters and their backgrounds as well as the play’s meaning and history.