[l-r] Costume designer David Covach, music director Scot Woolley and scenic designer Tamara L. Honesty. Photo courtesy of The Human Race Theatre Company [l-r] Costume designer David Covach, music director Scot Woolley and scenic designer Tamara L. Honesty. Photo courtesy of The Human Race Theatre Company

An interview with Set Designer Tamara Honesty and Costume Designer David Covach

photo: [l-r] Costume designer David Covach, music director Scot Woolley and scenic designer Tamara L. Honesty. Photo courtesy of The Human Race Theatre Company.

Review: Human Race rocks “Crowns”

I sat down with Tammy and David to talk about their designers’ process for “Crowns” at the Human Race Theatre Company, June 11 to 28, 2015.

How long did you work on your set design? Tell me about your process of developing a design.

Tamara Honesty: I first read the script last year and started to play around with ideas and sketches and miniature models—maybe in or on a hat. That didn’t seem to work. I went back to the script, the story. It refers to COGIC, the Church of God in Christ. Each of the characters has a parallel in Nigerian folklore. I thought about something earthy, wood tones.

David Covach joined us as he was taking a few minutes away from the final fit and finishing of costumes.

Same questions.

David Covach: I want to keep the clothes contemporary and specific to the character and to the actor. These costumes could have been purchased but that’s not what the Race wants. I read the script, thought about the gods and goddesses and started from scratch with a white canvas. We made slips for each of the church women and they come on stage and dress there.

TH: That meant there had to be some sort of closet that was visible but not permanent. We tried a couple of ideas, then came up with several closet rods hanging on chains, easily removed when not needed. They hang just behind the semi-transparent horizontal fabric that indicates shiplap wooden siding that would have been in old country churches.

DC: Each character is in her identifying outfit throughout the show, so once she steps in to the dress or skirt and top, we don’t need closets.

TH: But they do change hats and pick up hats, so what do we do with three or four dozen hats? That problem was solved with the holders attached to the other side sliding panels. Some for display very high, others just at eye level.

DC: The basic colors prevail in clothes and hats. Mother Shaw represents wisdom, in silver. Jeanette is the sea in blue. Velma is the goddess of wind and storms in a mauve-purple suit. Wanda, goddess of rivers is in golden yellow. Mabel represents fire in red. Yolanda has her own unique street style with baseball cap. The Man connects them all with an orange shirt.

Yolanda is reborn and baptized as they all put on while choir robes and their final crowns in heaven are Nigerian style prints. So you can see a lot of research went into the historic part of the final designs Consideration also goes into assuring comfortable movement and becoming cut for each body type.

TH: So with this script that has so many settings, there had to be something that moved very quickly. Some of the panels slide back and forth like a barn door and those in front, smaller, turn, presenting two surfaces. John Rensel makes the set come alive with various colorful projections on those panels.

DC: And he lights those faces, even under the big hat brims. We love working with him.

TH: We love working with the Human Race. It is so comfortable and so welcoming.

DC: At my home theatre, the Asolo in Sarasota, [Florida] I’m head of a large costume department, some hundred people. The HRTC is small, intimate, all working together, talking to each other.

Just then, Scott Kimmons walks in to the theatre. He’s the technical director who along with his crew makes Honesty’s designs actually happen. She had just been talking about her design with a floor to ceiling curved “roadway” that had to safely support people going up and down in last season’s “Becky’s New Car.”

Not having heard her, Kimmons tells the same story, teasing each other, clearly a memorable challenge that was eventually solved. He too praised John Rensel’s lighting design for that show and for “Crowns.” “What I love,” Kimmons says, “is just how very good every one of them is at what they do. There is a level of excellence. None of us is ever complacent.”

“Crowns” has some very funny lines:

“I’d lend my children before I’d lend my hat.”

“These are the hat queen rules—you do not touch my hat.”

“She might as well be naked in the casket as buried without a hat.”

“This joy…the world didn’t give it to me…the world can’t take it away.”

“Crowns” features people of faith.

If Scott Stoney or Debbie Blunden-Diggs is in the audience when you are there, look for them at the finale: Both are having as much fun as the actors on stage, singing, clapping and maybe dancing. Stand up and cheer with them.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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