In case you didn't know by now, September 14th marks the first performance of PCP's Season 9 full production, an original play by Chad Beckim entitled After. We have an incredible wealth of talent working on this production, including Partial Comfort's Resident Costume Designer Whitney Locher.
PCP: Whitney you've been our resident costume designer for quite some time. Do you have any highlights from past PCP productions? Favorite elements you've used that really were signature to a character, specific challenges that you found rewarding, etc.
Whitney: Yes, I've been the resident costume designer since 2008 when I designed Chad Beckim's The Main(e) Play. Each show PCP produces presents its own unique challenges, from figuring out clever costume transitions to sometimes working out special makeup effects. The pinnacle of my PCP design career would have to be putting the half-naked Andrew Garman in blackface for The Bereaved.
PCP: What were some of your first impressions of the characters in AFTER upon reading the play? For instance, any particular images that struck you? How did these impressions shape your initial ideas for your designs?
Whitney: I love Chad's plays because the characters he creates are so well drawn and specific. I feel that by the time I'm done reading the play, I really know who they are. This piece is particularly interesting to me because the characters reside in Queens. I've been living in that borough since I moved to NYC, so I feel like I have a pretty good grasp on what these characters might look like. I see and interact with them every day. I use my gut instinct for initial ideas, do a lot of research (and people-watching), and find the actors to be tremendously inspiring for all the nuanced details.
PCP: From the design meetings, it seems like the designers are moving towards an abstract approach to creating Monty's environment (Monty is our protagonist in the play). How much do the perspectives of the set/lighting/sound designers influence what you do?
Whitney: The scenic and sound designs are definitely going in an abstract direction. It's my job to keep the characters grounded while helping the other designers establish the time and place of each scene. When you're working with these types of design elements, its important that the costumes define character and tell a clear, consistent story in an abstracted environment.
PCP: Do prefer designing for original plays where new characters are created or is it more comforting to work on a play that is already familiar to you?
Whitney: So far this year, I've designed two Shakespeares, one classic farce, three operettas, a burlesque show, and another new play. I'm very lucky to be able to work on such a variety of projects. I LOVE musicals, but I have to say that new play development is my favorite. It's exhilarating to be a part of an intense collaboration, where everyone is so instrumental in the creation of a new piece. It's also exciting to have constant access to the playwright. I find working on new plays to be incredibly rewarding.
PCP: On a tight off-off-broadway budget, you've gotta be crafty. Any tricks of the trade or resources in the city that are your "go-to's"?
Whitney: It's true. You've got to be crafty and clever. Right now I'm really happy that all of the stores are having their end-of-summer sales! Modern dress shows can be surprisingly expensive. I try to shop at places that have good deals with clothes that would be appropriate to the characters and their financial situations. Sometimes things can be bought and embellished, recut, or re-imagined. It's about keeping an open mind. I'm also very lucky to have a great network of talented designer friends who frequently let me borrow from them. A lot of times things from my own closet end up on stage and I'd be lying if I said I didn't "borrow" my fiance's clothes sometimes!
- These images are from Whitney's design portfolio. The first is a design for Jenny Seastone Stern's character Melissa in Tom Bradshaw's The Bereaved. The second is Karen O'Kane, a character in the musical Jubilee that Whitney recently designed with Ohio Light Opera.
- Whitney's designs will be featured in After. beginning September 14 at The Wild Project. Tickets now available!