Behind the Costumes of THE PARCHMAN HOUR: An Interview with Grier Coleman

While we prep for the Opening Night of The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the '61 Freedom Riders, our creative team puts the final touches before the big day on what will be an impactful show. Director and playwright, Mike Wiley, gives final notes to the actors, set and props are being placed, the music selection is fine-tuned, and lighting cues are finalized. Between the grandiose voices of the actors and live music, there is one more element that makes the intense moments on stage come to life - the costumes.

Photo Courtesy of Grier Coleman

Photo Courtesy of Grier Coleman

Grier Coleman, costumer designer for The Parchman Hour, comes to Virginia Stage Company with an impressive repertoire of work from The Julliard School, Yale School of Drama, and Playmakers Repertory Company just to name a few. A Charlotte, North Carolina native, Coleman holds a BFA in Studio Art from The North Carolina University and an MFA in Design from The Yale School of Drama.

Get to know Grier Coleman in her interview with us!


Sketch of Tonio - Look 1 for Pagliacci, composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo.  Photo Courtesy of Grier Coleman.

Sketch of Tonio - Look 1 for Pagliacci, composed by Ruggero Leoncavallo. 
Photo Courtesy of Grier Coleman.

Where do you begin when building the wardrobe for a cast of characters that is cohesive with the overall feel of the show?
I begin with historical research from whatever time period I am working in. I use the script as a guide to help determine time period, time of year, location, occupations of characters, etc. Parchman had great primary research because there are photographs and video footage of the actually freedom ride movement. 

What story did you want to tell through the clothing? 
For Parchman, we want to show a group of well dressed individuals dressed in their Sunday best simply trying to obtain equal rights peacefully, as well as show a group of people who are literally stripped of their basic freedoms and the clothing on their backs when they are thrown into Parchman Penitentiary. 

How do you make each character appear as a nuanced individual, despite the fact that they are all wearing the same uniform?
The actors really bring any individuality into the Parchman prison uniform. The Freedom Riders were not even given the dignity of an actual prison uniform. They were only given boxer shorts and t-shirts to wear while other "traditional" inmates like "PeeWee" were given the classic striped uniform which offered them more coverage. We wanted a sameness for the boxers and T-shirts. The actors' personalities are what shine through, making each character different. 

Costume designs for The Parchman Hour, written by Mike Wiley. Meredith Noel, Wallis Quaintance, Christopher Lindsey, Ja'Keetrius Woods, and Samantha Fabiani. Photo Credit Samuel W. Flint

Costume designs for The Parchman Hour, written by Mike Wiley.
Meredith Noel, Wallis Quaintance, Christopher Lindsey, Ja'Keetrius Woods, and Samantha Fabiani.
Photo Credit Samuel W. Flint

As a designer, do you have any “signatures” or things that you do for every project you work on despite the era or style?
As a designer, I want to say that I don't have any true signatures, that I try to complete each project with the needs of the script. But as I look back, I have a fondness for using a ton of surplus military medals on comedic soldiers. I also love pattern mixing, neither of which can be seen in Parchman. The Parchman Hour was a great project to work on because I had to be period detailed and could really rely on research from the time period.

Costume design for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, written by Clark Gesner. Mavis Simpson-Ernst as Lucy. Photo Courtesy of Grier Coleman

Costume design for You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown, written by Clark Gesner.
Mavis Simpson-Ernst as Lucy.
Photo Courtesy of Grier Coleman

What is the greatest challenge of your job?
The greatest challenge is also the most fun. Its a long process from reading the script, researching, speaking with the director and other designers, then sketching, buying fabrics and finding clothing pieces that will work. Then you meet the cast and get to do fittings, dress rehearsals, and finally see your final product on stage. All of it is a very rewarding challenge, you never know what obstacles are going to come your way. Every show is different, even shows that you have done before present new and different challenges.  If I had to pick something, it would always be the budgets. Otherwise, it would be so fun to have every single piece of clothing built to your exact design. But then you lose the challenge of finding that great vintage piece. Its all fun and any challenge is worth it when you get to see your work come alive in front of an audience. 

 

For more information about Grier Coleman, visit her website at www.griercoleman.com


The Parchman Hour: Songs and Stories of the '61 Freedom Riders begins with three discounted performances, October 25-27, and officially opens October 28. The production will include a series of post-show talk-backs, group discussions, and panels, and concludes November 12. Tickets range $20 - $55, with special discounts available for military, students, and groups.