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‘Time and the Conways’: Interview with the Costume Designer of a Long-Lost Broadway Masterpiece

This fall, Broadway theatregoers were treated to the revival of J.B. Priestley’s “Time and the Conways” at the American Airlines Theatre by the Roundabout Theatre Company. The poignant, dramatic tragedy starred Elizabeth McGovern (“Downtown Abbey”), Anna Camp (“Pitch Perfect”), Anna Baryshnikov (“Superior Donuts”) and more incredible talents of Broadway.

What was so special about this particular show was that the story was female-driven, the play was directed by a female (Rebecca Taichman), and the show hadn’t been on Broadway since it was first produced in 1938! It’s considered a long-lost masterpiece, which we had the fortunate opportunity of getting to experience during our time in New York City.

“Time and the Conways” is a beautiful and haunting three-act play. The first and third act are set in 1919 at one of the daughter’s 21st birthday party, during a time of celebration after World War I; the second act is set in 1937, during a time of marital and financial turmoil for the family. It’s a heart-wrenching visual exploration of a family’s journey through life and an abstract examination of time itself.

Over three acts, “Time and the Conways” showcased two years: 1919 and 1937. With that, comes an exquisite array of wardrobe that has to represent the time periods accurately without being too juxtapositional. We asked the costume designer, Paloma Young, all about her approach to the show’s design, where she took creative liberty for the sake of timely costume changes, and which pieces she acquired that were actually vintage.

Q&A with Paloma Young, Costume Designer of “Time and the Conways”

1. What’s the first thing you do when you find out you booked a show? Sketch, source potential fabric, read into the story? How did you go about the design for “Time and the Conways”?

I start with research (after reading the script). Usually the director and I will have an early chat about large concepts, but I just go into my library and the great wormhole of the internet looking for images that remind me of the characters or the world of the play. If it’s modern dress, I do a collage of contemporary research. If it’s built [generally for period pieces], I’ll do sketches supplemented by research. But [later on in the process], I’m still making adjustments with the drapers and tailors in the fitting and listening to the actors’ input.

2. This show has been off Broadway for quite a while! How was your approach to the design different from previous interpretations?

I always try to avoid other iterations of a design until after I’ve done at least my initial research. This Roundabout production is the first time I’ve worked on this particular play so I can’t speak to other designers’ approaches; but of course for me, I’m always taking the size of the venue into account when deciding on color and detail.

3. The years represented are 1919 and 1937. Did you choose to design vintage-inspired with modern fabrics, did you modify existing pieces, or did you use vintage fabrics to create new?

I love this question because it really is a mix of all of the above. Conways was mostly built with new fabrics — but only fabrics that would have existed in 1919/1937, so no polyester — but we did, sometimes, incorporate vintage laces or accessories. Some of the mens pieces are actual vintage (old wool and tailoring are incredibly hearty if you keep the moths away). We have a beautiful mens overcoat that Gabe Ebert wears in the charades. I found a handwritten note in the pocket giving the garment’s origin in Germany and approximate age of at least 130 years!

 

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