Behind the Costumes of DISGRACED: An Interview with Meg Murray

Textile Inspiration. Photo courtesy of Meg Murray.

Textile Inspiration. Photo courtesy of Meg Murray.

Meg Murray has been happily costume designing her way around Hampton Roads for almost twenty years. As Virginia Stage Company's resident Cutter/Draper in the costume shop, this is Meg's first production as designer. Disgraced takes us on a journey exploring an array of themes such as race, politics, and religion. With such an explosive narrative, we asked Murray for an inside look at how she kept these themes cohesive with her costuming. 

Where do you begin when building the wardrobe for a cast of characters that is cohesive with the overall feel of the show? What does that process look like?

When designing a costume plot, it always begins with the script. Occasionally the author calls for a specific look, color or piece that he/she wants to help tell the story and I try to honor that. Next would come any special requests from the director. Then it's my turn to play. I tend to assign signature colors to characters that they carry through the show and give clues to their current state. I look at the character's occupation, economic status, seasons, and setting to figure how I think they would be dressed in a particular scene. I try to use clothing style to reflect character personalities and pops of color to foreshadow the play's events---without giving too much away! For a modern dress show such as Disgraced, I use a collage of ready to wear looks to establish a character's direction, as opposed to the hand-drawn designs I would make for a vintage or fantasy design.

Emily Inspiration Collage. Photo courtesy of Meg Murray

Emily Inspiration Collage. Photo courtesy of Meg Murray

Disgraced features a cast of varying identities – age, race, religion, nationality, socioeconomic status, etc… how are these identities reflected in their costuming?

Money plays a big role in determining clothing choices. These are wealthy people, their clothing should reflect that. But their personalities should show through, also. The best example might be how I see the character Emily. She is an artist, heavily influenced by the beauty of the art and forms of the Islamic faith. She is not Muslim herself, so it would be inappropriate to dress her as such, but her clothing can reflect the colors and patterns reminiscent of those things. Also, her silhouette would be softer and lighter than that of, say, Jory, who is a very successful New York corporate lawyer. Jory, coming in straight from the office, is more severe and structured. The characters most affected by religion-- Amir and Abe-- are miles apart in their approach to Islam. In Amir's costuming, we see no references to his heritage. Abe wears his Kufi proudly, almost defiantly.

How much of a collaboration do you have with the actors? And with the director?

Textile Inspiration. Photo courtesy of Meg Murray. 

Textile Inspiration. Photo courtesy of Meg Murray. 

The director is absolutely pivotal in the final look of the show. Ultimately, my job is to help the director bring her vision to life. By the time I meet the actors, the designs have been approved and pieces are ready for fitting. If the actors have requests or concerns, I try to address them with the director so the integrity of the design stays true to the story we are telling.

What is the greatest challenge of your job? 

(Laughing) SHOPPING! I am not a mall shopper! While trying to achieve the look of the New York elite on a budget is truly a challenge, my background in community/college theater has me well versed in thrift store bargain hunting. A modern show like Disgraced does not lend itself well to thrifting, so I have spent more hours online and in our local malls looking for 'that perfect piece' and staying on budget than I ever want to spend. 

Anna Sundberg, Joy Jones, and Simon Feil in rehearsal for Virginia Stage Company's production of  Disgraced. 

Anna Sundberg, Joy Jones, and Simon Feil in rehearsal for Virginia Stage Company's production of Disgraced. 

What was the biggest take-away from your experience working on Disgraced and what do you hope audiences take away through your work?

Disgraced is not like any show I have ever done before---my experience is so steeped in musicals and fantasies, I find costuming for modern dress a bit boring. Nothing about Disgraced is boring. It is so thought--and emotion-- provoking! Every time I read it, I found a different feeling. One time angry, next time pitying. Did I love, understand and side with Emily the first time? I'm not sure how I feel about her now. Maybe Amir isn't who I thought he was at that first reading. I have never immersed myself in a play that left me with so many unanswered questions and not sure of how I am "supposed" to feel. My theater experiences are usually wrapped in a neat little 'happily ever after' package. I am grateful for the Disgraced experience that made me stretch outside my safe zone. I hope our audiences do the same. Life doesn't always fit into a neat, happy package. Even if you can afford the awesome clothes.

Disgraced begins previews on April 4 with an official opening night on Saturday, April 7 and closes April 22. Tickets for each performance range between $20 - $55 with discounts for groups, students, and the military. 

Community Events will take place throughout the run of Disgraced highlighted by: 
•    A free Brown-Bag Lunch community discussion on Wednesday, April 4, to which                 all community members are invited
•    Talkbacks after the Sunday matinee performances on April 8 and April 15
•    Post show discussions following each performance