Dreaming in Color

An Interview with Costume Designer Candice Donnelly
By Shannon Stockwell

From the many hues of rasa to the festival of colors known as Holi, Indian culture is marked by a love for vibrancy that is truly ancient. For a play set in India, especially one centered around poetry and art, the visual design vocabulary is of the utmost importance. A.C.T.’s production of Indian Ink is in the capable hands of costume designer Candice Donnelly, whose work has brought her to almost every corner of the world, from Broadway to Buenos Aires to Hong Kong. Previously at A.C.T., she has created costume designs for Elektra, Endgame and Play, ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Circle, and Happy End. We spoke with Donnelly to find out what is behind her costume design and how she created the visual world of Indian Ink.

Costume rendering for Flora Crewe, 
by costume designer Candice Donnelly.
What appeals to you artistically about Indian Ink?
The play has an elusive quality regarding the essence of somebody who’s not here anymore, but the characters are trying to recapture that essence in many different ways. That’s probably why Flora’s dresses are so wispy, made of very light chiffons. They’re very dreamy. I didn’t do that intentionally, but I think I did it subconsciously.

The colors of the costumes are striking, which reminds me of the different colors of rasa discussed in the play. What was the process of choosing the color palette?
It had to do with rasa. It also had to do with the set, which is blue. I liked the idea of contrast and having Flora be part of that. India is a very colorful place. Even though Flora is not necessarily a part of India, in some ways she is, because she dies there. Her rasa ends up living there. Having Flora wear vibrant colors seemed right.

Are the costumes of the Indian characters equally as colorful?
They are. [Acclaimed fashion journalist and editor] Diana Vreeland once said, “Pink is the navy blue of India.” So I had to put that color in; the 1930s Rajah wears a hot pink Indian coat. I have been to India, and it’s very vivid in so many ways. You do see that hot pink a lot, and you see people wearing saris in that color, working in the fields. It’s endemic to the country, and that’s part of what makes it so beautiful. Indians are truly in love with color.

Costume rendering for Nirad Das, 
by costume designer Candice Donnelly. 
In addition to your trip to India, what other research did you do?
I found a lot of old black-and-white photos on someone’s Flickr account. They are from the 1930s and feature a combination of Brits and upper-class Indians. There’s a picture of a train station with all these people in turbans and fezzes. [. . .] Of course, in India now, you see people in modern clothes all the time. The women still wear saris, and the men wear traditional shirts and vests; sometimes they wear them with jeans.
I looked at a lot of fashion magazines from the era, like British Vogue. Even though Flora didn’t really have money, she was still of a certain class that traveled and hung around with fashionable, forward-thinking, well-educated people, so her clothes would have been at least a little bit sophisticated.

Have you worked on other Stoppard plays before?
I’ve done Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead twice.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is very different from Indian Ink, but did you notice any similarities?
There is something metaphysical about the style of writing that identifies it as Tom Stoppard’s. For example, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, they know that they’re dying, and they’re going towards their death and can’t get out of it. From the title of the play, you know that. And then, of course, Flora Crewe is dead. I’m just thinking about it now. Stoppard might have some sort of preoccupation with the inevitability of going to the other side, and with what’s left behind.

I find Indian Ink a completely approachable Stoppard play. It’s a romantic story that unfolds as you’re watching it. I don’t feel as though you ever lose interest in it, because the story keeps evolving and it is tied up so beautifully.

For more about Indian Ink, be sure to read our latest edition of Words on Plays!
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For tickets to Indian Ink visit act-sf.org/ink.

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