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Triad Stage makes My Fair Lady our fair lady

by Lenise Willis

‘ lenise@yesweekly.com

In the 1964 musical film My Fair Lady Audrey Hepburn casts a rich, heart-warming and immovable image in many memories. Her character’s transformation from a poor, cockney flower girl to a refined “duchess” has warmed many hearts, which is one reason why Triad students and residents alike were thrilled to feel a part of Triad Stage’s theatrical production.

To bring to life such a large, legendary and magnificent production, Triad Stage relied on this community. For starters, the theater delegated the costuming process to Costume Designer Lindsay McWilliams, a student at the UNC School of the Arts in Winston- Salem.

“Usually the scene design seems to be the first thing that catches an audience member’s eyes in a show,” said Production Manager Ryan Retartha, who heads the technical team.

“But it’s almost like the costumes are scenic elements themselves because they are so elaborate.”

McWilliams, who is working on her bachelor’s in costume design, had previously worked as assistant costume designer at Triad Stage on the New Music trilogy.

There are about 350 costume pieces in all representing the opposite spectrums of London life in the early 1900s: the poor street folk, and the refined wealthy.

McWilliams says the costumes change as the plot progresses, beginning with rougher, “nubby” fabrics and then eventually to finer fabrics, such as silk. The costumes not only help to distinguish between the two class systems, but also to portray the emotional changes within the main character, Eliza Doolittle.

Many of the costumes, including all of Eliza’s, were hand sewn, and most of them are black and white with a few earth tones and occasional pastels.

“Keep in mind that when people come to see the show they have in mind this iconic movie that they’ve seen,” McWilliams noted. “So I kind of really tried to stylize that scene and take the iconic black and white that people associate with My Fair Lady, but put a spin on it and take a different route.”

In addition to McWilliams, Triad Stage also drafted the help of UNCSA professor Bill Brewer and his millinery students, who are learning the art of hat making. The six most advanced students in the class constructed the six Edwardian hats that McWilliams designed. Each hat took about 18-20 hours to construct.

“The show wouldn’t be possible without the collaboration with the School of Arts,” Retartha said. “We would not have had the personnel or the available resources or expertise. [Brewer and McWilliams] brought such a high level of preparation that the costumes really — amazingly — have been the smoothest part of this production process.”

Of course, simply designing and constructing the costumes is not the only part of the costuming process. Fittings are also both time consuming and pivotal, which is why the technical team once again reached out to local students.

“The actors don’t arrive to Greensboro until a day before the rehearsals start,” Retartha explained. “If we had tried to start [fitting] at that point we would have never gotten close to finishing all of Eliza’s costumes. So, we found a student at UNCG who had the same measurements as the actress [Julia Osborne] and we used her measurements as a model.”

Reaching out to the community and incorporating help from Winston-Salem and Greensboro students alike actually falls in-line with Triad Stage’s mission to hire and shop locally.

In fact, Retartha said they knew they were going to be utilizing a lot of local talent and even set aside a special page in the playbill just to list the number of local artists, schools and businesses that helped make the production possible.

“We think it’s worthwhile to incorporate the use of local artists, and local theater enthusiasts and college students as well,” Retartha said. He added that reaching out to the community provides an opportunity for local students to gain some professional experience, as well as helps the theatre to build a better relationship with area residents.

Retartha said his team even reached out on Facebook, posting a request for volunteers to help paint set pieces black — a helpful, but simple task.

“Having the whole area feel a part of the set we created at Triad Stage is amazing,” Retartha said.

WANNA go?

My Fair Lady runs at Triad Stage, 232 S. Elm St., now through May 5. Tickets are $10-$52, depending on seat location and performance date. For tickets or more information call 336.272.0160 or visit triadstage.org.

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