Interview with Dead Poets Society Costume Designer Ann Hould-Ward

Production: DEAD POETS SOCIETY, 2016-2017 Season

Q: How did you get started as a costume designer? What drew you to the field?

A: I was blessed to receive a full scholarship to Mills College in California, a wonderful woman’s college. I wanted to be an actress as I did not know there were any other parts to the theater, coming as I did from a very rural area of northern Montana. I had always loved to draw and my instructors put together that I could use the part of my mind that wanted to act along with my drawing skills and become a designer.

I think what drew me to design existed long before I knew to understand it, which was how color and patterning influence us in our everyday lives. The wide prairies of Montana and the deep colors of a summer thunderstorm there still influence what I do today. I wanted to design from the time I first held a pencil and wanted to draw. I knew you could make a plan with a drawing. I am still making those plans and helping them come to life with other people.


Q: What do you like most about collaborating with John Doyle? What sets him apart as an artist?

A: Like is not the word. What I LOVE about collaborating with John Doyle is that it is a complete journey of freedom. I am never afraid and I am never worried that it will not be right.
Because it feels so secure. I know if something needs to be changed it is always in a world of exploration and finding and that we are doing it together. I believe that is the key to great art that John somehow holds—he makes us all feel the exploration together and that we are free to bring ourselves to the table and that we will be accepted and honored.

John is set apart because he can talk about his ideas and thoughts about what theater should do in a fashion that allows all of us to work together to make a cohesive group and a united theatrical thought. He makes the kind of rehearsal room that allows actors to try things and for conversations to be ongoing about what we are creating as a collaborative whole.


Q: What is your favorite period of history to design? Why so?

A: I love any period because I always learn. The history of clothing is related to the people in power at any given point in history. It is fascinating to study and learn about any time through the clothing as it connects to the moral character, social, and governmental history that is going on during an era. The skirt lengths during World War II relate to the difficulty in getting goods. It is a circle that goes round and round. History, needs and desires, fashion: they go hand in hand.


Q: Which challenges or opportunities excite you the most in designing DEAD POETS SOCIETY?

A: I am excited, as I have said to John, to see the youth and enthusiasm and creativity of this group of young men as they work on the play with John. I think this play has a tremendous amount to say to us about the dreams and expectations we hold as young people and how the world of adults around us affects what we feel and we can accomplish. Because John’s productions are often about continuing to find the basic essence of the characters, I love being in the rehearsal room and seeing how the actors are doing this and then making my work be informed by this.


Q: What are some common misunderstandings about costume design amongst audiences? How can theater-goers better understand and appreciate your craft?

A: I think good design, in any field, is about listening to the needs of a situation, contemplating those needs and finding a solution that not only reflects what was needed but also adds a voice that enhances. I often think we as people are enamored of bells and whistles (we are like kittens in that we like shiny things) that in the long run may not really tell the story best.

Perhaps the way to understand the craft of theater designers is to think of us in terms of the story. Did we tell it well? Were you involved? Did the design make you feel something? It may seem like we were not even there, because it seemed just right and proper and did not take emphasis away from the actors. That may be when we have done our job best of all!