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CAFÉ VARIATIONS: Meet the Costume Designers

Emerson dramaturgy student Tierra Bonser interviews Caitlin Ward and Rafael Jaen, co-costume designers.

They sat in the Emerson College costume shop across from each other and sounded like old friends, one picking up the conversation where the other left off, complementing one another and discovering new ideas as a team. “We complete each other’s sentences with design,” Rafael Jaen of Emerson College said of Caitlin Ward of SITI Company. “Caitlin paints images for the stage,” Jaen started and, “Rafael takes good ideas apart and finds fabulous ways to use the elements of them,” Ward finished.

Apparently this kind of design collaboration does not happen all too often and both designers could not be more thrilled to be working on this project that allows them to reinvent vintage shapes with splashes of color and intuitive design choices. Locating the costume design in a 1950’s silhouette, the costumes for the men are an array of sharp looking suits and the women are going to cut through space in wide organza dresses, some with Dalmatian polka-dots, others in velvet American blue.

Ward explained that her joy in working with Anne Bogart is that while many productions require period costuming or specific choices based in realism, “With her [Anne] it’s okay to be graphic or visual and that can be enough justification for a choice. She’s interested in the repetition of form—which you will see in the music, in the text, in the choreography and in the design.”This repetition of form can be found in themes like polka dots for the women, for example, where the designers are using texture and color to describe character as well; the work lends itself to a more abstract feel because, as Jaen put it, “the characters of the play are more indicative of characteristics than anything—one might be Rebellion and another Searching, for example.” So the designers get to consider fabric, color and shape with an idea like rebellion in mind rather than, “This is a woman of 35, a single mother and a corporate business woman—what would she wear on a day like this?”

Throughout their team process, Ward and Jaen Skyped, exchanged text messages and phone calls as well as research about films of the 1950’s era and even cars. They spoke about the ideas behind the design as abstracting the everyday and the commonplace—they even mentioned Chaos Theory. “The thing about realism is, I hate it,” Ward said plainly and confidently. Instead the team is looking to find abstract ways of looking at something recognizable by validating the heritage of café culture (the suits, the dresses, the heels) but making it current with choices in bright color palettes and exciting patterns and textures. They are playing with the freedom of “messing with expectations in dress coding, gender and period, of finding new ways to interpret the every day.” So you might see a 1950s suited man with an iPod or a tablecloth ripped off a table and made into a woman’s—even a man’s—dress.

This virtuoso design team is changing the way we see and experience character in a play that is all about reinterpretation and exploration of daily occurrences.

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