Images: Courtesy of a Noise Within
Angela Calin spent much of her childhood surrounded by two things: creativity and chaos. Her mother and father were both artists (a painter and sculptor, respectively) living in Romania during a time of extreme instability and violent government oppression. Throughout her upbringing, art became an escape for Calin, who busied herself with colored pencils and charcoal, gifts from her parents to encourage her natural talents.
Calin attended a high school for the visual arts before going to college in Bucharest to earn her Master of Fine Arts degree in costume and set design. She came to the U.S. in 1986 and began a career in film, but always felt drawn to the depth and passion of theater. In fall 1994, she heard that the set designer at a fairly new theater called A Noise Within had quit midseason. She applied and was quickly brought on to finish the sets for its production of King Lear. Soon after, she took on costume design as well, and by the following spring she was working in the costume department full time. She’s dressed characters for more than 50 productions throughout her 24-year tenure at A Noise Within.
Before beginning work on a new play, Calin says she must get to know the characters—where they come from and what makes them tick. “You bring in their personality based on the script and what the play says about those characters,” she explains. “And that can come either from comments from the playwright or by reading into the play and trying to understand who these people are and where they’re coming from. I make up a mini psychological profile of a character and then I try to base my design on that.”
Once Calin and the director land on an initial design, she connects with the actors and together they begin to complete the image of their characters—who they are and how they will dress. For Calin, this is an indispensable part of the process. “The actor is a very important part of this equation … because they, ultimately, are the ones who get onstage and who the audience relates to. So I always try to be in constant conversation with the actor. They can discover another direction that I, as a designer, never thought of.”
When we spoke with Calin, she was just beginning work on A Noise Within’s production of Othello. The theater has never been afraid to mix modern elements into its classical repertoire (last year’s Henry V put the warrior king in reflective aviator glasses), and its production of Othello is no different.
In director Jessica Kubzansky’s version, the 16th-century Venetian guard uniforms have been replaced with modern U.S. military gear. By refusing the audience the comforting distance, both of time and place, Calin’s costume design forces audiences to engage and grapple with the play’s themes as they apply to the here and now.
It’s stunning examples like this that show just how much meaning and subtext Calin can infuse into a play through forceful and compelling costume design.