Broadway By Design: Dane Laffrey & Clint Ramos Bring ONCE ON THIS ISLAND from Page to Stage
Who is Annie without her red dress? Or Eva with out her balcony? It is the charge of the Broadway designer to transport the audience into the world of a show, whether it be Great Depression-era New York City or outside of the Casa Rosada.
In Broadway by Design, BroadwayWorld is shining a spotlight on the stellar designs of this Broadway season, show by show. Today, we continue the series with Dane Laffrey and Clint Ramos, who acted as scenic and costume designers for Broadway's most vibrant revival, Once On This Island.
Once on this Island is the Broadway musical celebration that sweeps us across the sea to a small village-where, in the aftermath of a great storm, a joyous new life begins. It is the tale of Ti Moune, a fearless peasant girl who falls in love with a wealthy boy from the other side of the island. When their divided cultures threaten to keep them apart, Ti Moune, guided by the island gods, sets out on a remarkable quest to reunite with the man who has captured her heart.
Laffrey found inspiration in a real place- Haiti. "Not an imagined, romanticized Haiti of the past, but a contemporary place that has been ravaged in recent history not only by storms, but by a major earthquake, disease, lack of infrastructure and incredible poverty," he explains. "Michael Arden and I went to Haiti for research - we expected to find all of those things, and we did. But what we didn't expect, and perhaps what became the most potent inspiration for the environment, was the incredible spirit of resilience we found, and the overwhelming visual vibrance that seems to be inextricably tied to Haiti, no matter how much devastation lies underneath."
"The hundreds of photos and visceral remembered images we came away with served as the bedrock for the design as we tried to faithfully recreate the look, spirit and feeling of a very specific place to be the crucible for our story."
"Once On This Island's storytelling frame allows for an audience to imagine anything and everything. We set out to make this frame very specific and ultimately a lot more complex, jarring and political. At its core, Once On This Island is about the power and importance of passing along our stories - we made very specific choices about who the storytellers were in our version and the world they inhabited."
"The largest challenges ultimately came from the collision of our frame and the story itself. How do you make everything you need (including a lot of musical instruments) from things that are already present, hiding in plain sight? How do you incorporate the natural elements in a way that feels genuinely exciting? What does it mean to move from the world of the peasants to the world of the city? How much can we bend the theatrical rules we've made, as the story itself becomes more distant and fantastical? And, of course, what does it mean visually that at the end of the story Ti Moune is turned into a tree?"
Ramos also found inspiration in the Haitian people. "The main inspiration were the people of Haiti and every people in our contemporary world who are affected by hurricanes and natural disasters which now happen with increasing frequency. We honor them by presenting them honestly. They wear distressed clothes of figures familiar to us--weary yet resilient and the path to survival is through telling the story."
"I also got very inspired by the character of Ti Moune and how the musical creates divinity from the discarded. This became the central philosophy for the clothes."
"I think the biggest challenge was how to stick to this principle of "creating divinity through the discarded" as we created the gods," explains Ramos. "As the fable reveals itself within this contemporary storm-ravaged island framework, it became clear that the materials we needed to use to build the costume for the gods had to come from the very detritus of this world. Coke cans, mosquito nets, old vinyl tablecloths, ocean-polluting plastic bags, used electrical cables, old paint, etc... -all are used. The challenge was how to find creative ways to use these unconventional materials to create something magical."
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Once on this Island stars Phillip Boykin (Tonton Julian), Merle Dandridge(Papa Ge), Quentin Earl Darrington (Agwe), Alysha Deslorieux (Andrea), David Jennings (Armand), Hailey Kilgore (Ti Moune), Kenita R. Miller (Mama Euralie), Alex Newell (Asaka), Isaac Powell (Daniel) and Lea Salonga (Erzulie). The Storytellers for this production include Darlesia Cearcy, Rodrick Covington, Cassondra James, David Jennings, Grasan Kingsberry, Tyler Hardwick, Loren Lott, T. Oliver Reid, and Aurelia Williams.