William Ivey Long Keynote
The show doesn’t begin when the curtain goes up; the show begins when you enter the theater. This show, the first day of sessions for the SIMBAS-TLA Conference 2014, began on an overcast spring morning when I walked into the John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Manhattan’s West Side. It began in my favorite way possible: with coffee and a pastry. The breakfast spread was substantial, the excitement was palpable, and folks seemed ready to dive right in.
As we settled into the large lecture hall for our first day’s keynote, there was a multi-lingual hum of reunions and introductions. SIBMAS President Jan Van Goethem took the stage for welcoming remarks. Our very own TLA President Nancy Friedland was up next to echo Jan’s enthusiasm and introduce the much lauded theatrical costume designer William Ivey Long.
Mr. Long took us through some highlights of his distinguished career and talked about three specific projects close to his heart. With humor and energy, Mr. Long gave us a brief production history of the annual outdoor event “The Lost Colony,” a show that charts Sir Walter Raleigh’s doomed attempt to establish a permanent settlement in America and has been performed every year since 1937. The show’s history is intimately connected to his own. The production employed his parents for years while he was growing up, and for several decades, he has been involved with the production’s design. We got a quick rundown of the evolution of costume design for characters that varied from elaborately covered Elizabethan nobles to the less clothed indigenous Americans. Researching 16th century portraiture and early images of Native Americans helped to create more authentic costume pieces for the historical reimagining.
Drawings for “The Lost Colony” live in Mr. Long’s archive, housed in an old elementary school in his current hometown. Mr. Long has kept all but a very few of his drawings and many of his costumes. We were treated with photographs from inside the building including rows and rows of show bibles created to guide each production. He concluded with a quick image tour through his 2007 exhibition at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, North Carolina. Each room was arranged according to the dominate color in the costume.
Throughout his entertaining talk, Mr. Long inserted helpful design tidbits. I learned the actor in the white shirt is always the lead, and only to use one red dress per show. He suggested that anyone who uses more risks abusing “the value” of the color. Also, if you’re experiencing some “dark years” creatively, try building dolls. It can work wonders for the spirit and is ultimately better for you than drinking. In just twenty minutes, Mr. Long was able to give us insight into his creative process and describe his efforts to preserve the work created. All in all, it was an excellent start for the day.
Museum of the City of New York