We began our first rehearsal of Into the Woods last Monday, October 22.
Into the Woods is a rare musical in the 50-year history of the Juilliard Drama Division. In our first rehearsal, the cast met the artistic and production team, which included Sarna Lapine as director, Fred Lassen as music director, Whitney Brandt as choreographer and assistant director, Mikiko Suzuki McAdams as scenic designer, Valérie Thérèse Bart as costume designer and Liz Hayes as voice coach. We didn’t get to see Jane Shaw and Alan Edwards, our sound and lighting designers, but I’m sure we’ll see them soon.
The design presentations were amazing! Sarna Lapine, Mikiko Suzuki McAdams, and Valérie Thérèse Bart have all worked together before, and it shows. All three women seemed to have truly been in touch with one another as they were building their own designs for they were able to piece together a design universe that was cohesive. I love it when people within an artistic team in a production get to intimately collaborate with each other. For example, Sarna mentioned that she wanted the set to be black and white. In the musical, there is a lot in the libretto that speaks about being in darkness and then seeing a glimmer or being brought out back into the light. Mikiko then was inspired by and then played around with the art of Kara Walker, who employs a lot of shadows and silhouettes. The costumes became the element that brought color into the world of the play. Valérie did an amazing job of evoking the change of seasons in the textures and colors of the costumes. She began with the Witch as an anchor for the design of all the other characters. She wanted the Witch to seem as if she was part of the earth and rising from the earth. From then, Valérie was able to clarify the distinction between the peasants (The Baker, Baker’s Wife, Jack, Little Red Riding Hood) and the royals (Cinderella, the Princes, etc.). All in all, the costumes had this earthy vibe that very distinct from the original Into the Woods production, in 1987.
One thing that also very much made me happy was that both designers were of Asian descent, which is something that I was very surprised and happy about. It is rare to see Asian designers in the Juilliard community. In fact, this was the first production in Juilliard in which I had an Asian costume designer and scenic designer! In the past, I’ve found it difficult at times to see costume sketches in which I am not represented accurately or in which some designs are not culturally sensitive. With a design team with Asian women at the helm, I am looking forward to being in a process wherein there will be less explaining to do. I’m very much looking forward to being in the costume fitting room with Valérie and her team.
Regina De Vera
Quezon City, Philippines