2010 Season Artist Profile: Meg Neville

In the months leading up to our 2010 Main Stage season, we’ll be profiling the creative minds behind the season’s productions—John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Macbeth, and Much Ado About Nothing—in our e-newsletters. For the second installment, I spoke to Associate Artist Meg Neville, who designed costumes for our productions of Happy Days, An Ideal Husband, and King Lear, among others, and who will costume the first two Cal Shakes plays of 2010, John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven and Mrs. Warren’s Profession. What follows is the full transcript of my email interview with Meg. To sign up for our email newsletter, click here.


What’s the first piece of clothing you designed and/or made? (This includes clothes for dolls and pets, of course.)
Aside from designing on paper countless academy awards gowns as a child, my first actualized design was for my eighth-grade graduation from St. Paul’s Grade School in Scranton, PA. It involved two kinds of white lace and a bright pink lining. I haven’t worn lace since.

If you could have designed costumes for any play in history, what do you wish it could have been?
I would like to have designed anything in Paris where riots followed an opening production (including Mrs. Warren’s Profession), and Auntie Mame and The Women remain on my list of productions I am waiting to design for Cal Shakes.

Who are your favorite costumers? Fashion designers?
My favorite costume designer in film is, hands down, Sandy Powell (Wings of the Dove, Orlando, Shakespeare in Love), Arianne Phillips ‘ work in A Single Man (designing for Tom Ford takes talent and courage and she is supposed to be a very nice person); I love the costume work in the films of the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson, David Lynch, Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze. In theater, my teacher at YSD, Jane Greenwood, remains a great inspiration for her knowledge of period clothing, her skill with actors, her longevity, her being a mom, and her English accent.

What inspires you right now? Any particular music, current events, people, et cetera?
Inspiring these days? I love looking at The Sartorialist online and all the street photos that are everywhere. It is fun to see how people under 30, which I no longer am, interpret the past. My kids have a way with color and pattern. I saw Fela! in NYC and was blown away by the production, and have been listening to the music every day. In case Prince reads this, I should mention that he remains my number one person-to -please in all things aesthetic. You don’t have to love him like I do, but you have to admire the totality of his vision, his talent, and his Purpleness.

Can you share any early thoughts on the costuming for Pastures of Heaven and/or Mrs. Warren’s Profession?
In our first design meeting we talked about ‘poetic simplicity’—I think the costumes should feel very real and worn-in, and there will be a simplicity to them since each actor will play five or six characters. Character changes will happen with one element—a hat, a coat, et cetera— over a base costume. I can’t say a lot about Mrs. Warren’s Profession, except that Mrs. Warren will outglam the English countryside.

Subscribe now to get the best seats at the best prices for John Steinbeck’s The Pastures of Heaven, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, and the rest of our 2010 season.


AN IDEAL HUSBAND costume sketches by Meg Neville

The corsetless, Klimt-inspired Viennese couture of the villainess Mrs. Cheveley. (Portrayed by Stacy Ross.)

The very epitome of Oscar Wilde’s dandy: Lord Goring (portrayed by Elijah Alexander).

“An ideal husband!” exclaims the young Mabel Chiltern (played by Sarah Nealis). “Oh, I don’t think I should like that. It sounds like something in the next world.” And so are our spunky, truth-speaking heroine’s costumes–flower-laden, like something from the next world (if the next world were a round-the-clock over-the-top garden party).

How proper can you be? Ask Sir Robert Chiltern! (Portrayed by Michael Butler.)

Oh, wait! I’m wrong! Ask Lord Caversham! (Played by L. Peter Callender.)


Coming soon … An Ideal Husband podcast

Hidey-ho… Stefanie here. Last Wednesday we had the Meet & Greet for Jonathan Moscone’s production of An Ideal Husband. For those of you who don’t know, the Meet & Greet happens on the first day of a show’s rehearsals. The whole staff (plus a smattering of board members, donors, and other folks who rate) get together with the new show’s cast and crew to hear and see presentations by the director, set designer, costume designer, and any other designers present. Then they kick all of us out and jump into their first read-through.

For An Ideal Husband, Moscone is reuniting with his award-winning Man and Superman set designer, Annie Smart, and working with Meg Neville, who captured the beautiful desperation of the pre-Depression era with her King Lear costumes last season. Jon’s speech was a stunner, a fascinating examination of how the personal and political intersect in the lives of the powerful; watch this space for a podcast of it. During Meg’s costume presentation, we learned that Gertrude Chiltern (Julie Eccles) will be a “Grace Kelly type” with sleek blond hair and the “Victorian version of a Chanel suit,” and that the chic villainess Mrs. Cheveley will be fresh from Vienna in the latest, most avant-garde couture, which, in this case means no corset (how scandalous!) and fabrics inspired by the art of Gustav Klimt.