By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Director: Tlaloc Rivas Scenic Design: Jess Fialko Costume Design: Hayley Ryan Lighting Design: Jess Fialko Sound Design: Wade Hampton Stage Manager: Katy McGlaughlin
David Thayer Theatre
Comments by the Designer
By the Way, Meet Vera Stark is a comedic yet moving play by Lynn Nottage. It is a critical examination of the racial stereotypes of 1930s Hollywood. The play centers on Vera Stark, an African American actress struggling to start her acting career. She is cast in movies as maids and slaves while her white actress counterpart, Gloria Mitchell, stars as the lead. The play follows Vera Stark into the 1970s when she is a guest on a talk show. Forty years into her career she still struggles with being racially stereotyped. She aims to illuminate the injustices against African American actors and actresses. Meanwhile, in 2003 there are three academics studying Vera and the impacts she had on Hollywood.
As a costume designer, this show was incredibly exciting to design because it takes place in three different decades – 1933, 1973, and 2003. I spent a lot of my design preparation looking at research photographs of each era. For the 1930s, I looked at Butterfly McQueen and Hattie McDaniel, two 1930s African American actresses, as inspiration for Vera Stark and Lottie McBride respectively. For Gloria I looked to classical movie stars such as Vivien Leigh, Marlene Dietrich, and Bette Davis.
To show the oppression Vera Stark faced, I dressed her in mostly natural hues such as grey and creams in simple fabrics such as cotton and wool. In contrast, I clothed her counterpart Gloria in sumptuous fabrics like silk charmeuse in colors like green and red. As the play progresses and the characters age, I wanted to show how their lives affected their dress. During the 1970s, Gloria shifts into darker tones with accents of color while Vera steals the spotlight with her orange African print dress. This shift in color shows how Vera begins to speak out against the hypocrisy of Hollywood instead of allowing it to happen.
Other inspirations include Dick Cavett and Phil Donahue for the character of Brad Donovan in the 1973, the bands Pink Floyd and The Eagles for Peter Rhys-Davies in 1973, and Patricia O. for the character Afua Assata Ejobo in 2003. Overall, my designs for By the Way, Meet Vera Stark heavily relied on research images from each period for inspiration. I looked to small period details such as lapel width and type, shoe styles, jewelry, and hair styles in order to ground each period. I chose color and fabric type as a way to distinguish the two main characters and to show the difference between their status in Hollywood.
Copyright 2018 Hayley Ryan