A.W. Nadine Grant: Costume Design & Representation

by Porsche McGovern
da kink in my hair for Trey Anthony Studios. Directed by Michele Shay. Set and lighting design by Danielle Guevara. Costume Design by A.W. Nadine Grant.
da kink in my hair for Trey Anthony Studios. Directed by Michele Shay. Set and lighting design by Danielle Guevara. Costume Design by A.W. Nadine Grant.
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I first met A.W. Nadine Grant when we both were participants at USITT’s Young Designers Forum in 2009.  She is currently an Artist-in-Residence at Emerson College.

Selected credits include Canada: da kink in my hair (Trey Anthony Studios), The Turn of the Screw (DVxT Theatre), Snow White (Solar Stage Children's Theatre), Ruined (Obsidian Theatre), Directors' Showcase (Stratford Shakespeare Festival). Assistant costume design: The Tempest and The Two Gentlemen of Verona (Stratford Shakespeare Festival); world premieres of Night (Human Cargo) and El Numero Uno ( Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People). US: Borderlands and Brokeology (Kansas City Repertory Theatre); Boesman and LenaMan of La Mancha and Tartuffe and the world première of Quindaro, (UMKC), world première of Kingdom Undone (Theatre for the Thirsty).  Her training includes an MFA in costume design and technology, University of Missouri – Kansas City.  Awards include Ian and Molly Lindsay Young Design Fellow 2010, USITT Costume Design and Technology Award 2009, and Dora Nomination for Costume Design (The Turn of the Screw). 

A.W, Nadine GrantHow has being as a person of color harmed and/or helped your career?
I don’t know if being a POC has helped or harmed! Being a woman of color, I can’t help but stand out… I was one of only two black designers presenting at Clambake my year.  I also think being a black costume designer in academia is a very rare thing. 

Costume Rendering for 3/Fifths Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show at Sleeping Weazel.How has your race/ethnicity influenced your career journey?
It’s hard to know what is influenced by my race and what is the result of my talent sometimes.  When I came back to Canada, one of my first jobs was with Obsidian Theatre in Toronto, which is theatre dedicated to black and Afro-Canadian work.  They had an apprenticeship program, to foster young designers and theatre makers of color. That was a huge stepping stone for me. I think race factors in my hiring for academia.

3/Fifths Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show at Sleeping Weazel.  Directed by Mark Rayment. Scenic Design by Michael O’Reilly. Costume Design by A.W. Nadine Grant. Video Design by Jason Batcheller. Lighting Design by Bridget K. Doyle. Sound Design by Mark Van Hare.My race is definitely influencing my career journey going forward.   For example, after the past election, my husband and I seriously considered returning to Canada- even though it has many of the same issues surrounding race that the US does. We decided to stay and be part of the solution.  We believe one of the problems is lack of representation in the culture, and we as artists can be part of changing that.I feel that that part of the dismantling of white supremacy is reestablishing that we are here and have stories to tell.  I want to dedicate myself to the propagation and dispensation of black art, black theatre, and black culture. I’m tired of being the only woman of color in the room.  I feel like there are more people of color onstage, but behind the scenes, as far as the creative decision making, there’s a real lack of voices and representation.  I would really like to mentor, foster, and increase the number of designers of color. I want to stand and be counted.

3/Fifths Trapped in a Traveling Minstrel Show at Sleeping Weazel. Directed by Mark Rayment. Scenic Design by Michael O’Reilly. Costume Design by A.W. Nadine Grant. Video Design by Jason Batcheller. Lighting Design by Bridget K. Doyle. Sound Design by Mark Van Hare.What would you like people of color considering or in the early stages of a theatre career to know?  Is there any advice you wish you'd be given?
The best pieces of advice I got were from my mentor in grad school, Lindsey Davis.  He said “Modesty will not serve you.”  And basically, people want to hire the best and you need to present yourself as the best.  It’s not about being a braggart or cocky.  I tell my students this, especially my female students.  Take yourself seriously so others will.  My father said, “Let them be the ones to say no, don’t disqualify yourself.”

The Wild Party at Western Illinois University. Costume Rendering of Dolores.Give yourself permission to quit one dream, in order to embrace new ones.  Don’t buy into the mythology of the starving artist. There is nothing glamourous or romantic about poverty. Living in misery is unhealthy, and not sustainable. Partner yourself well.  I could not do what I do without my husband.  Having a life outside the theatre is important. Joy is the most active form of resistance.

Ruined at Obsidian Theatre.   Directed by Philip Akin. Set Design by Gillian Gallow. Lighting Design by Rebecca Picherack. Sound Design by Chris Stanton. Costume Design by A.W. Nadine Grant.Who was a role model of yours in your respective field?  Who was it that helped formulate who you are as a person of color trying to express your art in a white-dominated field?
The people I most admire have good work-life balance- they love the theatre and work really hard, BUT they take vacations, they don’t run themselves ragged. They may not be on Broadway- but they have time to go to the gym, and time to spend with loved ones. Racism is exhausting.  Theatre is demanding.  Self-Care is essential.As far as who influenced who I am as an artist: Lindsay Davis (UMKC), Paul Tazewell (amazing and gracious), Philip Akin (visionary, and trailblazing), and my parents- who instilled in all their kids the idea that doing good work was a testament to our integrity.

Do you have any advice for potential or current theatre faculty of color working in predominantly white institutions?
I think it’s important to understand that predominantly white institutions are inherently supporting white supremacy, and to anticipate the challenges, and not be surprised by them. Strategy is essential to transformation. And change happens very slowly.