Josh Pearson

StageNotes: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Artist to Artist: An Interview with Costume Designer Joshua Pearson

by Rachel Alderman, Artistic Associate

Josh PearsonJoshua Pearson has previously designed costumes for both Noël Coward’s Private Lives and Elizabeth Williamson and Darko Tresnjak’s adaptation of Marivaux’ La Dispute here at Hartford Stage. With A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he works with director Darko Tresnjak (also his husband) to take us on a journey through the many worlds of Shakespeare’s delightful Dream.

What drew you to the art of costume design?

Early on, I knew I wanted to be involved in storytelling, and I love clothes. It was a natural fit.

In 2015, you designed costumes for Darko Tresnjak’s production of Private Lives by Noël Coward here at Hartford Stage. When was the first time you collaborated with Darko? How has your collaborative process with him changed over the years?

The cast of Private Lives. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.
The cast of Private Lives. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

I’ve worked on Darko’s shows as a costume shop manager, associate designer, assistant designer, and now as a costume designer. We’ve been together for 15 years, and I’ve seen 60 plays, musicals and operas that he has directed during that time. Having observed him for that long, I just know what he likes and what his pet peeves are. Darko is so experienced that he often just knows what works and how the audience will respond to an idea. It is important to get on board with where he is going. Occasionally, he’ll ask for two contrasting ideas on a character at different times during the process. If the ideas don’t gel together in a costume, I just explain why he needs to pick one. That doesn’t happen too often.

Where do you begin when building a design for a show? What was your first design impulse for A Midsummer Night’s Dream?

You just read the script, talk to the director, and start doing research.

Darko had several different concepts for this show, so I waited for him to settle on one. When you present Darko with research, if it triggers an idea that he runs with, then you know you’re on the right path. If he is too quiet, then you know to keep looking.

There are distinct communities represented in this show, including the court of Theseus in Athens and the realm of the Fairies. How do you distinguish between them? 

Darko was initially inspired by images of Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret riding horses in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Darko has set the show on a country estate on the eve of the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta. There is a lot of hunting imagery in the script, so he wanted the two of them to enter wearing equestrian clothing.

Most of the characters work on the estate. We have a butler, cook, maids, chauffeur, etc.

For the fairy world, Darko had the idea that the Ancient Greek sculptures in the garden come to life. So, for the fairy world the clothes are loosely based on Ancient Greece.

What is one of your favorite pieces created for this show?

Ask me when we open, but for now I’ll say Titania’s dress! It is made of hand-pleated silk jersey, which is incredibly hard to do. Watching the draper and first hand construct it has been a joy – they deserve a prize!