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: https://secure.sellingticket.com/design22/clients/list/index_byUserListAll.aspx?OrganizationID=143\