Monday, May 6, 2013

TDF/Irene Sharaff Awards, New York City

On Friday evening, I attended the TDF (Theatre Development Fund) Irene Sharaff Awards at the beautiful Hudson Theater in New York City, given annually to costume designers since 1993. Here's a history of this award, taken from the event program:

In 1993, TDF presented the first Lifetime Achievement Award for Costume Design. Donald Brooks (Designer and TDF Trustee) and Kenneth Yount (TDF Costume Collection Director) conceived of this award as a one-time only honor to be presented to Irene Sharaff [the famed costume designer of stage and screen]. At the time, Ms. Sharaff was very ill and died later the same year at age 83.

The following year, TDF decided to make this award an annual tradition as well as re-name it in Ms. Sharaff's honor. Along with the newly christened tdf/Irene Sharaff Lifetime Achievement Award, a second award was added: the tdf/Irene Sharaff Young Master Award.

The 12 member advisory board is made up of designers of theatre, television and film, teachers, authors, artisans, assistants and associates in order to caucus and choose the award honorees.

The tdf/Irene Sharaff Artisan Award was added to the evening in 1999 and the Memorial Tribute Award was included in 2000. The fifth and final award was created in 2004: The Robert L. Tobin Award for Sustained Excellence in Theatrical Design.

In brief, TDF/Irene Sharaff Award honorees are selected by the TDF Costume Collection's Advisory Committee and are presented through Theatre Development Fund's Costume Collection.

This year's honoree for Sustained Excellence, the great set and costume designer, Desmond Heeley, was previously honored in 1994 for Lifetime Achievement. His work for theatre, opera and ballet is instantly recognizable for its romantic and painterly style. Born in England in 1932, he began designing for the stage in 1947 and though he has been largely based in the US he has designed for ballet companies around the world, including Royal Ballet, English National Ballet, La Scala, Stuttgart, and Houston. His work has been seen in Stratford, Canada, and in theaters throughout the US, where he has lived and worked for decades. I am proud to call Desmond a friend and was thrilled to see him so honored by his colleagues. Also awarded that evening were costume designers David Toser and Daniel Lawson, jewelry maker Lawrence Vrba, and costume designer Martin Pakledinaz, who died last year and was remembered in film. 

I'm sorry for the not-great photos; in a major instance of bad timing I unthinkingly sent my excellent camera off for a new lens just days before this event and was forced to use my 8 year old backup digital camera, which was not up to the job.

*CLICK on the photos to enlarge*

Here is Desmond giving his acceptance speech. He has always reminded me of Father Christmas!

Photo onstage in front of the displays of design work of the winners, honored guests and presenters.
From left to right, to the best of my recall ability, unknown (sorry!), Mel Weingart of the Tobin Arts Fund,  actress Charlotte Moore, Designer Santo Loquasto, Victoria Bailey (TDF), Desmond Heeley, Lawrence Vrba, Daniel Lawson, David Toser, Kitty Leech (Costume Collection Advisory Committee), Stephen Cabral (Director, Costume Collection), and actress Christine Baranski, stepping in for Julianna Margulies, who had to leave and who presented Daniel Lawson's award; they both star in The Good Wife, Dan's current show.

Desmond, Dan Lawson and Lawrence (Larry) Vrba pose with their crystal awards for the photographer in front of displays of their craft. The stage was soon crammed with well-wishers and we did our best to admire the beautiful work - costumes on forms, sketches, models and photographs. More on that later!

Desmond smiles a bit wearily in front of one of his Queens (Elizabeth I, if it's not obvious), one of a series made for Tiffany's windows in the late 1980s. I remember these windows, filled with a queen apiece and an item of stunning, mammoth jewelry. I was thrilled to see that this queen survived in her golden glory. 

I'm so sorry that this isn't a better picture, but I assure you that this maquette is gorgeous to behold, and I especially love the touch of the red rose amid all of the gold and pearls. Isn't the background marvelous, with its banners flapping in the wind and the wonderfully crafted crown?

Desmond is in focus - that's all that matters! A life-sized queen designed by Martin Pakledinaz is behind us.

Here is a sketch of Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell in "The Importance of Being Earnest, Desmond's most recent Broadway show (2011), for which he won a Tony Award. Desmond designs both scenery and costumes, so you will never get just a costume rendering from him. The background has been fully painted with incredible richness of brush. Doesn't that red jump out at you? The challenge is to find a fabric that can do justice to the majestic painting here.

What do you think?

Here is a lushly painted scenic sketch from Puccini's "Manon Lescaut", done for the Metropolitan Opera in 1980.

Quite different in every way is this Act 3 sketch from Debussy's "Pelleas et Melisande", also for the Met, in 1971. This production is quite Symbolist in style but still romantic and mysterious. Sadly, it has been replaced, but it was gorgeous and made a huge impression on me as a young student designer.

"Don Pasquale", Metropolitan Opera, 1979. This sunny, lovely production was the opera in which Beverly Sills starred in her last role at the Met. There's no doom and gloom or tragic romance here, looking at the cheerful trellis and flower-bedecked proscenium, which is actually suggestive in it own way. The leading lady's name is ROSINA, and there are roses everywhere!

The Duenna", a three act comic opera by Linley and Sheridan, Center Stage, Baltimore, 1980. I wouldn't mind living inside this model, which so evocatively illustrates its Spanish setting. Lovely setting with the requisite doors and windows for 18th century comedies, pretty details and strong colors must have been magical to attend. Note the putti at the top of the proscenium, the ever-present flowers and witty candelabra decorating the side columns.

"Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead", Broadway, 1967. Sketch for John Wood as Guildenstern in Tom Stoppard's play. I love seeing detailed notes and sub-drawings on costume sketches - further direction for the costume shop as well as the actors. Not everything can be apparent from a pretty sketch alone, and why put this valuable info on the back?

Note the mood of this somber play depicted in this single sketch, and the richness of the rendering of the legs in light and shadow. 

Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Stratford Festival, Canada, 1989. I have only seen this play once and am not quite familiar with it, and can't read the character name, but I love its wildness, color and menace. The textures are rich, there is movement and energy and the commedia figures and masks leave no doubt as to where the play is set.

Manon Lescaut, title character, another doomed heroine. Metropolitan Opera. If you can see past the flash, you will note that this is white dress - but was white ever rendered with such depth? The white contrasts cleverly against the darkness of the drape and he suggestion of a chair, but you can see what kind of embellishment Desmond intended. I see layers of sheer over a white base fabric, with ruched fabric, flowers and lace and self-fabric surface decoration. There is green, tan, brown and gray in this white and cream gown; and the decor is suggested just enough for the viewer to know in an instant what is intended. The details would have been worked out with the costume shop in further discussion.

Shakespeare's "The Tempest", Stratford Festival, Ontario, 1982
Scenery and Costumes

Few plays are as difficult as "The Tempest" to pull off. The team must create a world imagined by a nobleman-turned-magician banished from his European court to an island where he creates a world that mirrors the one he left. The challenge is to present a world that is wild and (often) tropical that takes advantage of its exotic setting. It's a play using a number of themes including revenge and ultimately, forgiveness, but it requires the use of sophisticated theatrical illusion to illustrate Prospero's literal use of illusion and magic to restore himself and his daughter to their rightful place in their original society.
I saved these sketches for last as they are stunning not only as designs but as stage direction. A set and costume designer is often an uncredited stage director, and Desmond in these sketches has written out alongside his paintings explicit direction. 

This first sketch depicts the opening, the storm that Prospero conjures to throw his brother's ship off course that will bring him to his island. The sketch is titled simply "The Sea"and shows actors dressed in layers of china silk built on bamboo as they depict the waters of the storm. They are wearing torn Elizabethan ruffs as period accents and to underline the theatricality even as they depict a natural element. The sense of movement is palpable.

I cut off the character name, but it looks like Caliban is featured in the above sketch, again with detailed instructions, including a "fishlike smell!" Caliban looks to be a combination of beast and fish, with some feathers possibly thrown in as well. The character's misery is clear.

"The Dance of the Nymphs and Reapers, during the Masque. "Rye straw hats on the nymphs" and "The nymphs to have goblets of wine - shades and mosters to present the food in HUGE shells - each shell to have a little dry ice?" My favorite is the lower right figure and note - "chandeliers made of coral".

The ship of Antonio and company. Smoke, creaking sounds, wind. "Waves [actors] should be able to  cover the lower deck."

Next time, part two of this event, and pictures of the other honorees' work.