Mona Jahani, costume designer “Angels in America” at Edison Theatre, shares her experience designing and producing more than 200 costume pieces – all while keeping up as a WashU student.
Mona Jahani describes theater as a “collaborative art.” As the costume designer for the production of Angels in America, Part One: Millennium Approaches, presented at the Edison Theater Feb. 22-24 and March 1-3, Jahani has, indeed, quite a bit of collaborating to do. With a cast of nine actors playing several roles, Jahani has overseen the production of more than 200 costume pieces, all while keeping up as a WashU student. The Ampersand spoke with her about her role, about Angels in America, and about what it’s like to see your creation take form on the stage.
Briefly describe your role in in this production. How did you get involved?
I am the costume designer for the show, which means I am the person responsible for any and all costume pieces for the production. I have a team of students working in the costume shop who help put the show together, as well as support from the costume shop manager Sallie Durbin and costume design supervisor Nikki Glaros, but ultimately, I am the one making decisions about the design of the show.
When this year’s season was announced last spring, I spoke with the director Henry Schvey about wanting to be the designer, and he welcomed me on board.
What has been the most exciting part of this process? The most challenging?
It’s been beyond exciting watching my designs come to life from sketches on paper, to clothing on a rack, to costumes on actors. Watching an actor try on their costume for the first time and having it look exactly the way I had hoped is a very rewarding feeling.
Theatre is a collaborative art so of course there are always challenges in making sure to communicate with everyone involved in the process to put together a collective vision for the production. More specifically for this process, it’s been a challenge for me to juggle my responsibilities as a designer as well as my responsibilities as a student. Working on the show for over 40 hours a week all semester has really forced me to manage my time and work as efficiently as possible in order to keep up with classes.
How do you think your contributions shape the experience for viewers?
I think that costumes really do tell the audience more about the play and the characters more than one might initially imagine, in some ways it is the costume designer’s job to create the world of the play by giving the audience information about time, place, a character’s socio-economic status, etc. through what someone is wearing. If I’ve done my job well, an audience member should believe that a character woke up this morning and made the choice to get dressed the way they did. And all of those pieces should still come together into one cohesive design for the production overall.
"In some ways it is the costume designer’s job to create the world of the play. ... If I’ve done my job well, an audience member should believe that a character woke up this morning and made the choice to get dressed the way they did."
What has been significant about contributing to this show, specifically?
As a costume designer this show has certainly been one of the most challenging but rewarding projects I’ve ever worked on. Angels in America has a cast of nine actors but over 200 costume pieces, with several actors playing multiple different characters. It’s been crucial to make sure the costumes help tell the story of how these characters are visually different from one another even if they are played by the same actor. Costumes also help to further emphasize some of the truly fantastical moments within the play that take the audience somewhere beyond the threshold of reality. Working on this production has taught me so much and I am incredibly proud of everyone’s contributions, I urge everyone who has the chance to come see Angels in America!
Video: Tom Malkowicz and Javier Ventura/Washington University
Angels in America will be presented at the Edison theater February 22-24 and March 1-3, Friday and Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are free for WashU students, $15 for faculty and $20 for adults. Tickets are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office.