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Meet the artist behind Blue Monday: Candida K. Nichols

How do you begin the process of designing costumes for a new production?

I start with a lot of research. This includes images, music and movies related to the period of the opera and the type of world the director and myself want the show to inhabit. My visual research includes historical details as well as items that feed my emotional response to the piece. These images inspire the aesthetic and begin the conversation about how I want the costumes to feel and interact with the other elements of the opera. I use this inspiration as I work to bring about my director’s vision, while adding my own voice to the process.

What is your favorite part of the process?

It’s often the middle, after researching and creating the world on paper – through sketches. I love seeing how everything comes to life before it goes on stage during technical rehearsals. I feel like this is the most organic part of the process in some ways. Costume pieces are generally a combination of building from scratch, pulling from existing stock, purchasing and modifying to realize the final design. The final outcome is influenced by the fabrics that are available and the items that can be pulled or purchased. All of these sort of collide and then mingle for a bit before the final image appears, transferring from the paper sketch to real life. It’s sort of like watching a garden bloom.

Blue Monday Renderings VI

Meet Vi, a strong, street-smart woman desperately in love with Joe. She does have a jealous streak, though, that’s been known to get her into trouble. Even though she does have her demons, she is able to forget about all her troubles when she is in Joe’s arms.

Costume rendering by Candida K. Nichols.

What is your particular take on 1920s style? What specific influences do you draw on when creating the looks for Blue Monday?

For Blue Monday I wanted to bring details from the 1920s to life while filtering the aesthetic through a modern lens. This meant choosing specific details and then streamlining the look, stripping away some of the fussiness, particularly for the character Vi. Distinct decisions were made about what details to keep and which to remove. It is important that there is enough visual information so that the audience clearly understands we are in the 1920s. There are so many beautiful details from this period that it is hard to choose. I have been inspired by the work of modern fashion designers who have flirted with the 1920s this season, as well as clothing worn by celebrities of the period; such as Greta Garbo and great jazz musicians. During the show I wanted to give Vi the chance for a big reveal. She starts the show in a beautiful wrap coat, which when removed, reveals a beautiful detailed beaded back on her dress.

You work with many different theatrical mediums – what do you like about working on opera?

I like the influence that the music has on me and how I respond to it emotionally. There is a grandeur to opera that I love.

Blue Monday Renderings Joe

Meet Joe, a small time gambler with big dreams. He’s a warm Southern boy trying to get ahead among the hustle and bustle of Harlem. Joe is everybody’s friend and can always see the good in people. He would do anything for his beloved Vi, but clearly doesn’t understand the depth of his feisty girlfriend’s jealous nature.

Costume rendering by Candida K. Nichols.

Your work has also toured through the United Arab Emirates through Theater Mitu, a company that focuses on world performance traditions. How does your international focus influence your work?

My work with Theater Mitu and other special projects has given me the chance to research and interpret the aesthetic of many different cultures. This has given me a very wide lens through which I view the world. As a designer, you have to learn to be sensitive when interpreting someone else’s culture, values and aesthetics – I love doing this, it is very fascinating. I love learning what is important to another culture, what the details of their aesthetic means and how an outsider looking in may view these things. It’s great to see what challenges, dialogue and questions can arise when a cultural icon is broken.  I love the rituals, symbolism and richness that surround so much of the world’s historic and modern dress.

On Site Opera & Harlem Opera Theater present Gershwin’s Blue Monday at the Cotton Club
Tuesday, June 18 & Wednesday, June 19, 2013
7pm: Cocktails & Dancing | 8pm: Blue Monday
The Cotton Club | 656 W 125th St | New York, NY
Tickets: $20 at http://onsitebluemonday.eventbrite.com
for more information: http://www.osopera.org/ 
more information about Candida K. Nichols: http://www.candidaknichols.com

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