This week Nash and I are finishing up another collaboration of costume production with our very first intern, Ella Brooks, who is now a brilliant costume designer here in Raleigh, NC. Some of you may remember her on our old blog (Li Sashay), painting leather labels and sewing bags back before we got married. She now works fulltime at Carolina Ballet, which she loves, and occasionally we do projects together. This week we’re finishing the costumes for Miss Lulu Bett, the last play of the Women’s Theatre Festival. It is a wonderful joy to see Ella’s work in the industry and to continue working together as we evolve and grow.
The play is set in the 1920s and is a beautifully written story about dating and personal relationships (writer Zona Gale won the 1921 Pulitzer Prize for it). I pretty much spent the last month drooling over getting to make the costumes, as the Art Deco time period is a personal favorite. However, besides all the pretty beading and trim, there’s a really great story taking place. If you are a single woman navigating dating and family relationships right now, or if you have single women in your life that you care about and want to walk a mile in their shoes, then I recommend going to see this. A lot of women have certain expectations of themselves or of how dating is supposed to play out that rarely match reality. Frankly, romance can make for some confusing, frustrating, and exasperating times. This play is a reminder that we weren’t the first person to go through such things, and we’re not alone. This is especially important as the school year starts back because fall and the holidays are traditionally full of relationship extremes.
Nash and I don’t want to spoil too much of the storyline because it’s complicated and interesting and revolves around the new old dating art of ghosting, but we hope that it helps some of our friends have the courage to have a little more respect and joy for who they are. And maybe cutting yourself some slack if your personal or dating life isn’t perfect; that’s ok, and you’re allowed to make mistakes and move on with your life. Try something new. Become the person you imagine. More than once. Even if a couple of your friends or family members do not get you. Finding yourself is one of the greatest and hardest adventures we all face, I believe. Some people know instantly who they are; me, it took a while. And it’s something I’m still finding.
Now, let’s talk about the costumes. One of the big pull for me in doing this show was the opportunity to use North Carolina textiles from an era that was the height of our state’s textile production. By 1923, North Carolina was second only to Massachusetts in the number of mills, workers, and goods produced. My grandfather, who was born in the 1920s, would later work in Greensboro in women’s fashion. In my mind, this show is dedicated to him. A lot of people don’t know this, but 100 years ago, 20% of the world textile production was actually in the Carolinas. Travelers to China were likely to find a “Made in the Carolinas” clothes label. While textile production has been through its ups and downs in the past century, many of those small shops, family run factories, and businesses are still around today. For this show I turned to Asheboro for ruffle yardage, Hickory for laces, and Greensboro for cotton, linen, and silk fabrics to create “Made in USA” looks. Menswear wool fabrics from the Pennsylvania mills up north and metal fasteners from the Steel Belt cities of Chicago and Detroit. Thread spun in Mount Holly, NC. It’s been an adventure to find sources that would make the costumes look authentic.
This show has been a labor of love for so many people, not only for us. Many people have volunteered time and resources to support the festival. I hope you’ll join us this weekend or next for this funny play about a woman who was ahead of her time. Performances are at Walltown Children’s Theatre in Durham, and tickets are $20 at the door.