A Conversation with Danny Davidson, Costume Designer at the Cloverdale Playhouse

By on 20 April, 2012 in Fun, Greg Thornton with 0 Comments

“As we work we must seek not for self-expression or for performance for its own sake, but only to establish the dramatist’s intention, knowing that when we have succeeded in doing so audiences will say to themselves, not, This is beautiful, This is charming, This is splendid, but–This is true.”

Robert Edmond Jones

Tara Fenn and Stephen Dubberly in THE BOYS NEXT DOOR Costume Design: Danny Davidson (Photo Courtesy: Gina Fonseca)

In the Cloverdale Playhouse costume shop/dressing room, Danny Davidson works on getting clothes ready for the evening’s performance of “The Boys Next Door.” Aside from the role of Costume Designer for this production, Danny also designed the costumes for “The Gin Game” at the Playhouse. He also is head of the Playhouse Volunteer Team.

Greg Thornton: At first glance, as I look around here, these clothes look pretty straightforward in terms of design, but a lot of thought and care goes into all of your work. How did you begin to put “The Boys” design together?

Danny Davidson: The starting point for any theatrical production is the script. The actors, directors, designers and all others involved use the playwright’s words as a guide for creating the world of these characters. The contemporary nature of the script allowed me to approach the costume design in a very organic sense. By that, I mean that I came to the first reading with ideas developed from reading the script and discussing the play with you. But strong ideas took shape when I heard the actors read through the play for the first time. Then through discussions with the actors, I began to create the idea of a palette for the show. Conceptually, I felt that the four “boys” and their two female friends should be the most visually complex and colorful; that they should bring the interest into this world. The other characters exist in a palette that runs from hints of color for the people most affected by the “boys and girls” to neutrals for the folks who had yet to be touched by the loving spirit of the main characters.

From there, it became a sort of a scavenger hunt to find the articles of clothing that felt real and right for these characters. I can’t tell you how many of the men’s clothes came out of the back of my own closet!

Greg Thornton: Did the design for “The Boys Next Door”  present any unusual challenges?

Danny Davidson: The playwright describes many specific items that hold importance to characters, especially the four boys. Finding things like a Spider-Man necktie, a Panama hat and a Ushanka (a furry Russian hat with ear flaps) required many Internet searches (especially eBay) due to the fact that these items just aren’t commonly found in Montgomery.

Greg Thornton: You have worked on so many productions in many theaters. Is there a particular period or style that you find more interesting and rewarding?

Danny Davidson: I have been fortunate to have worked in every conceivable period, and there is something about each one that excites me. But I have always been attracted to the constantly changing styles between the years 1900 and 1940, because silhouettes for women went from a very artificial look to a very natural and body conscious look and the constantly changing styles were indicative of the social, political and economic changes so prevalent in the early part of the twentieth century.

Greg Thornton: And you design for dance and ballet companies, how does that differ from designing for the theater?

Danny Davidson: My first professional work was in the world of musicals, so I learned quickly that there were many tricks to use in dealing with clothing meant for dancers. I was later fortunate in that I spent time working in the world of figure skaters, so that also gave me insight in how clothes needed to accommodate movement. Recently I have had the chance to work with Kitty Seale and the Alabama Dance Theater, and was reminded how I have to think of design in a slightly different manner. The details, like skirt length or fullness and the fit of a bodice, all have to be filtered through the needs for dancers to be able to move safely in the garments.

Greg Thornton: Do you feel that designing for the theater has changed much since you started?

Danny Davidson: It has, and in sometimes unexpected ways. Interesting ideas and concepts will always come forth, but what changes most is the ways in which technology has changed the world of costume production. College design classes now incorporate computer rendering, and readily available technology now allows us to do everything from printing our own fabric to creating intricate embroideries by machine.

Greg Thornton: Where does your research take you? Books? Film? Paintings? Do you have a short list of favorite designers?

Danny Davidson: I try to find inspiration everywhere I look, even if it is just a color combination or a texture that appeals to me. But I am a voracious collector of books on fashion, history, and art. My DVD collection is rather large, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to haunt museums of all types. Art museums, children’s museums, even technological museums and historical exhibits can lead to inspiration.

In the world of fashion, I love recent geniuses like Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood, but the pioneers (from Worth, Chanel and Dior to Vionnet, Schiaparelli, and the amazing Charles James) always excite me. Film and Stage costume designers like Theoni V. Aldredge, Adrian and Sandy Powell have always attracted me to see projects just because they were a part of it.

Greg Thornton: You wear a few hats at the Playhouse. How can people get involved here as volunteers? Are there opportunities to work with you in design? (How lucky would that be for them!)

Danny Davidson: I would love to find more folks in the Montgomery area with a love for costuming, both design and production. The simplest way to get involved is to shoot me an e-mail atdanny.davidson@cloverdaleplayhouse.org. By letting us at the Playhouse know that you would like to be a part we can find ways to use you that will hopefully help feed your passion for theater.

Greg Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse.

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