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BWW Interview: Everyman Theatre Presents 'Confessions of a Designer'

BWW Interview: Everyman Theatre Presents 'Confessions of a Designer'

INTIMATE APPAREL is the third play by Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage to be presented at Everyman Theatre (the others were BY THE WAY MEET VERA STARK (2014) and RUINED (2015). The production runs until November 19.

Everyman is going the extra mile for this production. According to Managing Director Jonathan K. Waller, "We invite audiences to join us in deepening the experience by exploring how the play's themes connect to our lives and history here in the Baltimore area...we have more opportunities to do this than ever before thanks to a growing circle of committed and connected partners."

These programs include a costume exhibit, a tasting involving local restaurants, a film screening, a discussion about labor and sex work, a walking tour of Baltimore's historic garment district, and a community conversation with local and regional fashion designers.

This free program is entitled "Confessions of a Designer" which will be held on October 27, 2017 at 6 p.m. (with a reception at 5:30 p.m.) led by Everyman's Director of Community Engagement, Brian Francoise and menswear designer Stephen Wise. Participating designers include Earle Bannister, Adaria Bunch, John Cash, Brian Collins, Sally DiMarco, Crystal Joines, Dino Hartfield, Sehar Peerzada, Seleh Rahman, Stacey Stube, Richard Swartz, and Brandon Warren.

Here is an interview I had with Francoise and Wise.

BWW Interview: Everyman Theatre Presents 'Confessions of a Designer'

BWW Interview: Everyman Theatre Presents 'Confessions of a Designer'

Q: How did you get involved with Everyman?

BRIAN: I came to Everyman Theatre in January of this year to become the Director of Community Engagement, as part of the theatre's mission to deepen its connections and foster new partnerships within the greater Baltimore community.

Q: What is your background?

BRIAN: In addition to directing, performing and teaching at regional theatres and area colleges, where I focused on examining where art and community building intersect, I have also worked as an arts administrator and most recently was an Open Society Institute, Baltimore-Community Fellow, where I developed a civic arts/theatre project in Northwood--a neighborhood within Baltimore City.

Q: What is the goal of being Director of Community Engagement?

BRIAN: I want to lead a department that extends its reach into currently unaffiliated communities and neighborhoods, weaves connection in Everyman Theatre's immediate neighborhood through creative placemaking strategies, builds platforms for dialogue and civic engagement, and co-creates and co-curates programming with community leaders (artists, educators, entrepreneurs, etc.). In so doing, we will build a wider array of support for Everyman Theatre and, eventually, a broader and more diverse audience and set of stakeholders.

Q: In what ways are you getting the community involved through INTIMATE APPAREL?

BRIAN: Building on the play's central story involving a talented fashion maker, we have invited members of Baltimore's own independent fashion design community and students studying fashion design (or costume design) to co-curate creative connections between INTIMATE APPAREL through community engagement programming such as the fashion exhibit in our lobby, panel discussions like "Confessions of a Designer" and "World of the Play," education programs, and more. The "engagers" we have partnered with will have the opportunity to bring their passions and interests to the table through these public programs that were inspired by the play, INTIMATE APPAREL.

Q: You mentioned the Baltimore School for the Arts and are they related to your program?

BRIAN: We have invited schools with a fashion discipline, including Baltimore Design School, MICA's Fiber's department, and Baltimore School for the Arts students studying costume design, to shadow our Resident Costume Designer, David Burdick during his design process for INTIMATE APPAREL. Several of those students will also be making contributions to our "Boudoir Couture Showcase," on November 19, which is an end-of-the-run fashion show that will showcase wearable concepts that define the designers' points-of-view regarding intimate apparel.

Q: What is Confessions of a Designer and how does the event connect to the play?

BRIAN: Hosted by bespoke menswear designer Stephen Wise of SWB Atelier (City Paper 2016 Tailor of the Year), "Confessions of a Designer" is a community conversation exploring the "inner lining" of the independent fashion design world and its artistic, professional and personal impacts on esteemed local and regional designers. The event is a platform for community building and learning that unites audience members with makers in our community. Like the characters in INTIMATE APPAREL, whose sense of identity and purpose is defined by their work, Stephen will bring these voices together to share the dreams, hopes, struggles, and stories of love and belonging that are behind their craft.

Q: How did this collaboration come about?

STEPHEN: It came about completely organically. From the start of our conversations and the inception of this collaboration, the common denominator has always been "community"--and how by merging what Everyman is doing with what I am embarking on with this designer panel discussion can blend different worlds to form something unique and special. We were both passionate about how combining these two entities can create something new, and now we're here!

Q: Briefly explain who each of the individuals are who are involved in Confessions of a Designer and what you hope they will bring to the discussion.

BRIAN: For me, this group models the power of intergenerational collaboration and dialogue. Participating designers include Earle Bannister, Adira Bunch, John Cash, Brian Collins, Sally DiMarco, Crystal Joines, Dino Hartfield, Sehar Peerzada, Seleh Rahman, Stacey Stube, Richard Swartz, and Brandon Warren. The youngest designers in this group are in their 20s, the eldest in their 70s.

STEPHEN: In two words, each of these designers is "different" and "authentic." These two characteristics can coexist but at the same time occupy their own space, and that's what these designers represent. We all live in Baltimore, have garnered clients from Baltimore, have made and are making a living in Baltimore doing what we love--but each of our stories is and will continue to be different. The intergenerational dynamic that this panel has to offer is second to none. For example, we have Richard Swartz, the fourth-generation furrier and owner of the 128-year-old Mano Swartz Furs beside 22-year-old women swear designer Adaira Bunch.

These designers will bring a sense of clarity to what being an artisan is like through their eyes and perspective, and it will also merge the generations of the old guard, the new guard, and those of us who are somewhere in-between.

Q: Can you describe your background?

STEPHEN: I am a menswear artist and merchant whose business, SWB Atelier, is located at 216 N. Pace Street, directly across from Lexington Market. My background stems from a place of never "fitting in," and finally coming to grips that I'm just not meant to. I have been in this thing called the "fashion industry" since the age of 14 but I've had this entrepreneur vibe since about the age of 3, with no formal schooling--just some amazing teachers.

Q: Describe your business and what you do?

STEPHEN: Well, essentially we have fun every day. We are a menswear fashion and lifestyle company that creates and constructs our original clothing designs (otherwise known as "wearable art") from start to finish completely on site in our shop here in Baltimore. Our goal is to make each of our male clients feel like the superstars they are in our clothes.

Q: Where do your clients come from and how do they find out about your business?

STEPHEN: To be completely honest, I've been doing this for quite awhile now, so, a majority of our business comes from word of mouth, and a big portion of the rest of it comes from social media.

Q: Love the story on the LION KING actor coming to Baltimore. Can you expound on it?

STEPHEN: #hashtagsmatter I met LaMar Baylor, a cast member performing in Disney's THE LION KING on Broadway, because he was searching for menswear designers via various hashtags. He saw some of our work on Instagram and reached out to us that way. We had a brief conversation and quickly started discussing concepts, realizing that we thought alike creatively. About a week later, LaMar traveled from New York to Baltimore to get fitted--and literally the minute we were done, he left my store to rush back to New York for a Broadway performance that evening.

Q: How do you foresee this experience and this play influencing your work?

STEPHEN: I really feel like this partnership with Everyman Theatre will further expand my appreciation for the performing arts community and how I can incorporate the theatrical dynamic into what we create.

Q: Feel free to add or briefly expound on anything that wasn't asked about Confessions of a Designer.

BRIAN: For many coming to participate or listen to the pre-performance "Confessions of Designer" event, it may be their first time at Everyman Theatre. We encourage our new guests to join our existing patrons and, together, experience the 8pm performance of INTIMATE APPAREL that follows.

STEPHEN: I really encourage those attending as well as those on the panel to come with an open mind. This is about exposing the world to who we are as designers both professionally and personally. Designers and other artists alike share similar woes, struggles and victories. I hope people walk away with a better understanding of what our world is like as well as being less judgmental of artists of all genres alike. I also look to close the communication divide between our predecessors in the industry and those of us who are still new. I want a conversation to be created between everyone in a language and attitude that hasn't been before. Lastly this is called "Confessions of a Designer" for a reason--it will be a transparent and authentic look as to who we are on multiple levels.

"Confessions of a Designer" takes place on Friday, October 27 beginning at 6:00pm in the 2nd Floor Lobby at Everyman Theatre. A pre-panel reception starts at 5:30pm. Both programs are free with a ticket. There will be a performance of the play at 8 p.m. that evening.

For tickets and information on "Confessions of a Designer" visit

For information about Community Engagement programs and events at Everyman Theatre, visit


BWW Interview: Everyman Theatre Presents 'Confessions of a Designer'

BWW Interview: Everyman Theatre Presents 'Confessions of a Designer'

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