Catching Up From City To Coast With William Ivey Long
By ANGELA BROCKELSBY
From New York City to Manteo, costume design extraordinaire William Ivey Long and his elite team juggle multiple projects throughout the year in numerous locations with such ease that you have to wonder: what is their secret?
To find out, I embarked on a mission to catch up with Long this past July in Seaboard and Manteo, North Carolina and New York City to see if I could glean any insight into what makes William Ivey Long so successful in the world of costume design and beyond.
Long’s team comprised of a core of four: Brian Mear, Donald Sanders, Will Lowry, and Blaine Horton
Long works with this carefully selected team of design associates to help run the home base located in New York City.
On the road whether it’s visiting NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina or their archives located in the Berkshires, Mear is usually by Long’s side.
Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I went on a journey this summer and found three key elements that contribute to Long’s many achievements as the “Wizard of Broadway.”
Seaboard, North Carolina: Heart of Gold
My first stop was Seaboard, a little known town near the North Carolina and Virginia border where Long celebrates what would have been his father’s 100th birthday at a family picnic on his sprawling property on Main Street.
After moving back to Seaboard in 1998, Long, with the help of the Eastern Seaboard Trust, has been working tirelessly to rejuvenate life in the town. By investing his time and resources in the renovation of buildings, creation of jobs, and the cultivation of community support, he intends to restore the quality of life in his father’s hometown.
During the picnic, I was able to observe how Long easily maneuvered through the many circles of guests who were interspersed throughout the property, including family members, neighbors, and business associates, all the while maintaining a sense of calm and order.
Long’s long-time business associate and “Jack-of-all-trades”, Brian Mear, is in the background making sure everything is running smoothly and the guests are happy.
Before the guests arrive, Long gives me a tour of his house, which is filled with family memorabilia, pictures, and books [many of which his friends have written]. The artifacts imbue a sense of warmth that radiates throughout the house. He also takes me out to the Seaboard School, which he hopes to revive and transition into the Seaboard School of Fashion and Costume. We chat about his other ongoing projects with Seaboard, which includes: researching different fabrics for creating tutus, renovations to the old grocery store on Main Street to turn into a costume shop, and the possibility of a scene shop collaboration with a company that works on many Broadway productions.
After spending just a few hours with Long and his family, I am awed by Long’s warm reception to everyone around him. This provided me a glimpse of a key ingredient in Long’s successful career: a heart of gold, for his family, friends and community.
New York City, New York: Passion
Next stop was the “big city” where Long’s downtown studio is sheltered away from the hustle and bustle of Canal Street, nestled deep in TriBeCa with textile stores appropriately in walking distance of his office.
At first glance, I was not sure if I was at the right location since there was no significant marker on the outside of his studio, but once inside it was unmistakable that this was an artist and designer’s domain.
Inspiration boards were scattered all around the room with images pinned on multiple layers of paper. Like an onion, each sheet represented a project in the works – peel one sheet back and another idea emerges. Some of the images had yellow sticky notes marking the significance of the image. In the basement of the studio are rows of neatly marked containers filled with all sorts of materials that one might need when designing a costume.
On the main floor, Long and his design associates are circled around a mock-up of an exhibition that will go up at the North Carolina Museum of History. The exhibition will be a massive undertaking spanning Long’s career in theater and is set to open in the fall of 2012. To go along with the exhibition, Long is hand drawing on canvas life size images of his most famous creations for the entry way of the exhibit.
Long is also working on the costume designs for a Shakespeare revival of Othello to be shown in the Folger Shakespeare Library Theater opening this fall in Washington, D.C. The Folger library holds the nation’s largest collection of Shakespeare materials but they also produce dramatic pieces for the public. Long’s colleague Robert Richmond, director of The Lost Colony, is also directing Othello.
A common thread that tied all his projects together was a passion for his work, the arts, and a passion for transforming his life as well as others through design.
Manteo, North Carolina: Dedication
My final destination was the coastal town of Manteo, North Carolina, where Long has been working at The Lost Colony for over four decades, currently serving as Production Designer since 1988.
Written by Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Green, The Lost Colony is the “nation’s premier and longest-running symphonic drama” of the story of Sir Walter Raleigh’s attempt at a permanent English settlement in the New World.
Long was first introduced to the production through his parents. He was raised in the theater, working on the outdoor drama each summer with his mother performing the role of Elizabeth I and his father working as property master, technical director and eventually the director. Long rose from a small part in the production as a “colonist boy” to production designer in his many years with The Lost Colony. His early years in the theater have been a valuable experience for him, and still inform his work today.
Next year, in 2012, will mark the production’s seventy-fifth Anniversary season.
On the day of my final interview with Long, UNC TV is on site to record a segment on The Lost Colony and Long as he works out several new ideas regarding set changes for the current and upcoming season.
The dedication Long has for this outdoor drama is astounding but it is this dedication that helps set him apart from the rest of the art and design world.
And the List Goes On…
A heart of gold, passion and dedication are just a few qualities that really sets Long apart from his counterparts but it does not stop there.
One major theme I have noticed in my interviews is that he is always working. Non-stop… No, seriously. With as many as eight projects going on at once his schedule is jam packed with some exciting adventures.
Next up, a musical about a wedding from hell titled It Shoulda Been You directed by David Hyde Pierce opening at the George Street Theater in New Jersey, Othello at the Folger Shakespeare Library Theatre, and Hugh Jackman: Back on Broadway, his one man show that is opening in early November. He is also working with Broadway legends Harold Prince and Susan Stroman on their latest project, The Prince of Broadway. Not many can muster the stamina let alone the creative genius but with Long and his team, anything can be accomplished.