Dede Ayite’s costumes “always build layers”


NEW YORK (AP) – One of the most intriguing parts of the costumes for the Broadway play “A Soldier’s Story” was something audiences probably never saw.

Each of the 12 actors wore uniforms carefully reflecting the attire of real soldiers in 1944. Their boots, too, were faithful replicas. But around their necks were carefully engraved name plates with the name, age, and religious affiliation of each character.

Nameplates – usually hidden under costumes and out of sight – gave actors something they could physically hold as they entered character. They have become touchstones for their roles.

It was the brainchild of Dede Ayite, who won two 2021 Tony Award nominations for costume design. Even though few of the people sitting in the audience knew the name tags or what they said, it was his gift to the actors, his attempt to deepen the experience.

“Stuff like that makes me happy. I don’t need the audience to know that, “Ayite said.” It’s the buildup of these layers that adds even more texture to a room. “

Showing her versatility, Ayite is also nominated for costume design for “Slave Play,” Jeremy O. Harris’s thought-provoking work on a pre-war fantasy therapy workshop. If “A Soldier’s Play” was regulated and historically accurate, “Slave Play” is a fantasy and a fetish.

“I love the way the clothes make me feel. I love the stories you can tell through the clothes, ”said Ayite, who noted that that day her red sweater changed her behavior. “It’s the power and the beauty of what clothes can do. I want to be able to tap into it. “

For “A Soldier’s Play,” which explores racism within a unit of the US Black Army, Ayite created special padding at the elbows and knees for actor David Alan Grier, who was often clubbed. on the scene. The soldiers’ boots must have looked broken so she handed them out at the start of rehearsals.

For “Slave Play,” Ayite donned a leather dominatrix outfit under a hoop skirt for a character and mixed contemporary items – like Calvin Klein underwear – with Civil War-era pieces for make the viewer wonder what he was seeing.

“There is a kind of local quality. The characters kind of put their own spin on each of these costumes, ”said“ Slave Play ”director Robert O’Hara. “I think people who watch the show will say, ‘Wait a minute. It seems timeless with the period. So there are nods in the costumes throughout.

Ayite said she has always been curious about what makes humans tick and that she has one of Broadway’s most amazing doubles majors – theater and behavioral neuroscience. She excelled at both, but at some point she had to choose career paths.

“I had to choose the thing that brought me the most joy and the thing that somehow kept my heart intact and my mind intact. And it was art, ”she said. “I kept saying yes to the thing that spoke to my heart. And he brought me here today. And for that, I am grateful.

She holds an MA in Design from the Yale School of Drama and teaches at Harvard University. Ayite said she loved the collaborative nature of theater and her art was a “call from the soul.”

“There is nothing quite like watching an audience discover the world you helped create and seeing them moved,” she said. “I don’t have to run over there and say, ‘Hey, look at me,’ because I see that, I see the effect.”

His other Broadway credits include “American Son” and “Children of a Lesser God”. His work has been seen at Steppenwolf, La Jolla Playhouse, Berkeley Repertory, Baltimore Center Stage, Arena Stage, and Cleveland Playhouse.

Ayite learned that she won two Tony nominations last fall while at the dentist, which was encouraging. “He said, ‘You know what? I feel good about it. I think it’s going to be a good day, ”she told him. She was still processing the first text of an appointment when a second arrived with more good news.

“It’s a huge honor to think that people who see theater and those who appreciate theater see my work and recognize the effort that goes into it,” she said.

The pandemic suspended two plays she also worked on – covers of “How I Learned to Drive” and “American Buffalo.” The two sets of costumes are in storage, pending the return of the live theater. But when that happens, Ayite is ready to tweak and improve.

“I would really like to review the costumes, recognize what we have done so far, but also think of them through the prism of what we have all been through over the past year and a half,” he said. she declared. “We are all different today.


Mark Kennedy is at

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