Sterling: From Sketch to Stage

March 11, 2016
By: Alison Roberts, Arden Costume Supervisor/Costume Designer for Two Trains Running


Last April, >find when the Arden announced it was producing Two Trains Running, I was immediately interested.  I designed the costumes for another August Wilson play, The Piano Lesson, in 2008 and loved how the words transported us all to a different time and yet at the same time presented the characters’ struggles in a universal way.  One of the benefits to holding a staff position as the Arden’s Costume Supervisor is I get to throw my hat in the ring early. And to my great pleasure, it worked out!

Authentic Photos used by Costume Designer, Alison Roberts, as inspiration for Sterling's outfit.

Authentic photo used by Costume Designer, Alison Roberts, as inspiration for Sterling’s Act I costume.

The first step, as always, was to read the script a few times. It’s where I get all my information; time of year, time of day, character analysis, actions, job descriptions, etc.  The next step was to meet with the director, Raelle Myrick- Hodges, and the rest of the design team to discuss the vision for the show.  Making sure I was taking Raelle’s strong feeling that ours should not be a conventional, boring production into consideration, I began doing research into the time period of the play-1969. I sought out photos whenever possible of real people of the time to make sure I was making the costumes authentic. The first thing that struck me was the use of color. Bright greens, reds, oranges, and mustard yellows dominated the fashion of the time. I was also interested in expressing the tension between the generations during that time. I decided that the older characters of Memphis and Holloway would harken back to the early-mid 1960’s style, while the younger characters of Sterling and Wolf would be pushing into the 1970’s with their looks.


A sketch by Costume Designer, Alison Roberts, of Sterling’s Act I costume.

After working on sketches for each character and getting the approval of Raelle, I started my favorite part-shopping!  I used a few different websites to locate vintage clothing from the period-,, and  I was also able to utilize a shop right in Old City called Briar Vintage which specializes in vintage menswear. I also shopped fabric for Risa’s uniform at Fleishman’s on fabric row which was built by an overhire stitcher, Rufus Cottman.  After fittings with the actors, I made charts of what to wear in every scene and we commenced technical rehearsals. Some changes and adjustments were made throughout rehearsals, but what we ended up on with on Opening Night felt very close to what I envisioned! I hope you all enjoy your trip back to 1969!

U.R. as Sterling Photo by Mark Garvin

U.R. as Sterling. Photo by Mark Garvin.

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