What do Angels wear?

by Rachel Pollock

At PlayMakers, we’re well into production on Tony Kushner’s epic two-part Angels in America, which we’re running in repertory soon. I’ve got a ton of cool projects to share, the first of which being the costumes we’re creating for the Angels of the Principalities, which appear in a convocation scene in Perestroika, Part 2.

Costume Designer Jan Chambers and Director Brendan Fox have a photoset of inspiration images that you can page through on flickr, to see some of the artwork that has informed the Angels’ attire. Angel Robes photoset – This includes haute couture runway images and photoshoots, garment research, and textile art including the landscape kimonos of Itchiku Kubota.

This is the design by Jan Chambers of how the Angels will be dressed.
You can see from the design collage that they will each be clad in a base costume of a loose tunic and pants, with an ornate kimono robe worn over top. We are making the kimonos (which will be the topic of a second post to come), but we decided to purchase dyeable pre-made garments for the tunics and pants. We bought seven of these rayon poncho-tunics and these loose pants from Dharma Trading Company, a vendor that creates a huge line of garments from dyeable fiber-content fabrics.

Though not an ideal dye, i wound up using RIT for the ombre effects because it’s fast, familiar, and we had the color range in stock. In an ideal world where i had the time for the testing and processing, and the budget for the dyestock, i’d love to have done these in fiber reactives. But, I have to go with what will achieve the effect desired in the time required with the budget available, so RIT it was! C’est la theatre!

The robes will be quite colorful, and every Principality has a different robe. The tunics match them in a watercolor-esque wash of dyes. Jan picked out a range of Pantone colors that should be incorporated into each effect, pulled from the palette from each Angel’s robe art. The ombre (which means the gradation from one color to another, or from one lighter value to a darker one, down the length of a garment) will go from top to bottom on each garment, so the progression from color to color that happens to a tunic must happen the same way to the pants.

Because there were so many colors and i needed to process these as quickly as possible, i did them in batches. I often had up to eight pots of dyestuff going at once!

Our two dye vats plus some pots on the dyeroom range…

…plus some more colors cooking on portable eyes set up around the facility!

To achieve an ombre, you selectively dye the garment(s) in dipped washes, layering colors over one another like this:

Left: floral pastel washes for the Principality of Europa’s garments.
Right: desert sunset colors for the Principality of America.

Those are hanging to dry after a rinse cycle, on our yardage hoist over the triple-sink. This is one of three batches of them that i did, all similar but in different color-combinations. The Europa garments are a three-color ombre–pink to peach to violet–and the America ones are grey to blue to brown.

Coincidentally, i’m teaching dye class this spring, so i’ve just overhauled my dye shop in preparation for sharing it with six students, all of whom will be novice dyers unfamiliar at first with the space. (That would be why i needed to push these dyed garments through the shop quickly over the university’s winter break, before the course begins!)

This is the most exciting part:

Reorganized dyestuff shelving!

(Note spraybox and dedicated dye microwave, not for heating up lunches!)
This is one of two shelving units i have for supplies and equipment, and with the aid of volunteer crafts assistant Rae Cauthen, we completely overhauled its organization to be much more intuitive and space-efficient. Because RIT dyes are the simplest to work with and the most common dyestuff stocked in on-site theatrical dyeshops, the students do their first project with them, so RIT accessibility and organization was our first priority. This also helped me out in efficiently processing these Principality garment ombres.

Check out our chromatically-arranged shelves:

RIT dye organization!