Q&A: "Detroit" Costume Designer, Desiree K. Smith


Desiree K. Smith is an MFA Design and Technology student at the Department of Theatre and Film Studies.  She is the costume designer for Detroit.

What is your concept behind the costume design for Detroit?

The costume design for Detroit focuses on the notion that either couple is trying to, in several ways, become the other couple. Kenny and Sharon are striving towards “the American Dream” but are trying to live one day at a time; Ben and Mary are more financially stable but find that things are growing stale in their relationship. It became important to show, through the costume design, not only each character’s economic and social status, but also ways that they would implement changes in their individual style as their relationships with their neighbors develop.


What was your inspiration for your concept?

Much of the costume design inspiration came about during the preliminary design meetings with the director (George Contini), scenic designer (Eric Chamness), and lighting designer (Melanie Stevens). As a group, we worked to create a cohesive production design that still allowed us each to play to our strengths in each design area. For the costumes, this meant working with the director to select fashion imagery that spoke to both the setting of the play and the personalities of the characters themselves. As a costume designer, one of the difficulties of designing a realistic contemporary show lies within knowing that if you’ve done your job well, the costume choices should seem natural enough that they appear not be costumes at all. Therefore, a lot of the inspiration for the costume design of Detroit came from very familiar sources, looking at fashions and garments that are available from current retailers and working to piece together outfits that would fit each character’s personality.


What has your experience been like designing your first show at UGA Theatre?

Honestly, it has been such a pleasure to work with George, Eric, and Melanie, as well as the acting ensemble and crew. I loved getting to work with a group that is so willing to work with new ideas and embracing changes, and I am incredibly excited for others to experience the final product. Being the costume designer on Detroit came with unique challenges, a lot of which had to with letting go of my ego. It can sometimes be hard to get excited to work on a production where the costumes may go entirely unnoticed, but this process has allowed me to embrace the subtleties and unique challenges of costuming a modern show and I’ve really enjoyed watching the other design areas shine. I was also granted the unique opportunity to work in-depth with the actors’ discoveries about their characters and find ways to incorporate it into their costumes throughout the rehearsal process. Having such a positive experience designing this show, I can now look forward to designing more modern-dress shows.


How do you think Detroit fits into the UGA Theatre season of “Balances of Power?”

Detroit is certainly a great choice to fit into the season’s “Balances of Power”, since it not only focuses on the social and economic differences in power between Kenny, Sharon, Ben, and Mary, but it also plays with the power that D’Amour’s storytelling has over the audience and the effects that the viewer’s presumptions have on their interpretations of the events of her play. The influences that the characters have over each other constantly ebb and flow throughout the show, resulting in an ending that may or may not feel resolved or balanced, depending on the character that the audience associates with the most.


Why do you think this play is important to today?

Personally, I think that D’Amour’s Detroit serves an important purpose in today’s world, particularly due to the tempestuous political climate, in realistically illustrating the effects of trying to achieve “the American dream”. While it was originally written in 2009, following the previous year’s economic collapse, I think that Detroit’s significance still resonates nearly ten years later. The tangible fear of financial instability, the bare-faced humanity of substance abuse, and the pursuit of an unattainable reality – each portrayed by both couples – adds a depth to the show that appeals to our individual reservations and experiences of trying to pursue a cultural ideal.