When watching a stage show, it’s often easy to get so lost in the drama that you forget the details. The scenes play out like reality before you, presentation seamless and actors indistinguishable from the characters they portray.
This, of course, is the mark of a great play–but perhaps more so of a great team. Take Broadway designer Ann Hould-Ward, mastermind behind the revival of “The Color Purple” that hit the Great White Way in 2015 and is now touring North America. In anticipation of the show’s arrival to Baltimore Oct. 17, we chatted with Hould-Ward about the hard work that goes on behind the curtain.
“Jon [last name, the director] wants a real aesthetic,” she said of the costuming for the show. “The look came from reading the book and looking at the period of time it covers. We were looking at Celie’s life, from young girl to older woman, about the part of the south she lived in and the people who inhabited her life.”
This Celie-centered approach meant that the show’s other characters were often clad in only one or two costumes, and often from the period of time in which Celie first encountered them. Sofia, for example, appears in clothing from the ’20s, when Celie met her.
Surprisingly, the show isn’t all about the color purple, instead defaulting to what Hould-Ward calls “rustic, raw color tonalities–sepia, deep brown, and pale tones.” The clothes were designed to look weathered, as if worn every day, but also “beautifully taken care of,” a reflection of the self-respecting working class.
The result? Something Hould-Ward couldn’t be prouder of.
“The initial production was stunningly beautiful,” she says. “Our production has a deep sensitivity to the words and the music, and our simplification really lets those performers bring forth the storytelling in a beautiful, dynamic way.”
“It was stunning,” she adds. “I had never seen a show where people laughed and cried and talked back. There was a young man a couple of rows behind me that actually jumped out of his seat. It was an absolutely thrilling experience to be asked to be part of the show and to then see the incredible way it affected audiences. It’s always wonderful to do a beautiful show, but to actually watch and be part of the building of something that so clearly affects people and lets them go out of the theater feeling their own power to believe in themselves and their own strength…that’s something special.”