Charlotte Gaspard Q+A
The students in our production classes get giddy with excitement when it is time for Charlotte Gaspard, our resident designer, to make her visitation to Child’s Play NY rehearsals. Charlotte’s vision and artistry has helped to take the shows we do with children to new heights. Kids love to wear the transformative pieces she gives, love acting in front of the backdrops she paints, and really value building their character with the support of her designs. I sat down with Charlotte to learn more about how she works and what inspires her!
Tell us a little about what inspires you as a designer.
What inspires me the most as a designer is storytelling. I love to make things I find beautiful, but it is most important that each costume or prop or set element helps tell the tale; from helping us understand a character or relationship, to building the world in which the story takes place. Shapes, colors, textures, everything can inform how our audience connects to a show, and can help them find meaning beyond the words of the play.
You are an artist and entrepreneur with your own company, Midnight Radio Show. How does the artistic work you do in other arenas dovetail with what you do for Child’s Play NY?
With Midnight Radio Show I produce shadow puppet plays and musicals for all ages. My work with Child’s Play is the perfect addition to my work life balance, since playfulness and teaching are as important to me as being a professional artist. At this point in my career I often feel I learn more from children about why I chose a life in the theatre in the first place.
Can you speak about your training in the arts – sewing? Painting? How did you learn what you do?
I started sewing when I was ten, mostly so I could make costumes for myself and my friends for our school plays. The truth is, I always wanted to be an artist, but for a long time I did not know where that would take me. I have tried everything, but because making theater, working with my hands, and telling stories are what fuels my creative passion I ended up in the costume & production end of things and it is perfect. Sewing and costume design/construction is my specialty, but I am never afraid to try out new materials and tools, and at this point I know I could figure out how to make anything at all.
We went to college together, but it wasn’t until I saw you dressing the actors at The Public’s production of King Lear in the park that we really reconnected and I roped you into working at Child’s Play NY! That was a glorious reunion. Can you speak a little bit about what you got from your liberal-arts training at Wesleyan that has fueled you as a designer?
One of the most valuable experiences at Wesleyan was the way students were encouraged to explore all their passions, rather than pushed to specialize in only one field. While at Wesleyan I made films, costume designed plays, and dabbled in every aspect of the entertainment industry. I wrote, produced, designed, sang; from painting to sculpture to installation, film-making to stage management to budgeting, I was empowered to try it all. This is a great gift for a young person. It gave me the vision to create my own career that is pretty unique, and so much fun.
What are some of the favorite shows of Child’s Play NY that you’ve worked on? Or even just a favorite look?
That is a difficult question! I love every show we have ever done for different reasons. When our kids get up on stage after working all semester, I am proud of them no matter what.
A few favorites include “The Crucible,” “Antigone,” and “Jungle Book.” These examples come to mind because they are shows where I was particularly proud of my designs, not just the look but the way the students enjoyed their costumes & props, and the kids so bravely knocked it out of the park, with beautiful acting and teamwork.
I also love all of our Shakespeare plays, being a Bard-nerd for life and after so many years at the Public Theater; since I have worked on countless professional adult productions it is so fun when our kids say those words and tell those stories, so familiar to me and fresh for them.
What is an ideal NY day like for you?
A perfect working day takes me to all my favorite places and utilizes all my favorite skills. My favorite places are the rehearsal room, backstage, onstage, and a costume shop. An average great day will start with a shift at the Signature Theater (or Roundabout Theater, or Julliard or whichever booked me first) costume shop, sewing and building pieces for fabulous designers from Susan Hilferty to Clint Ramos, and some of the best playwrights (from Susan Lori-Parks to Shakespeare in the Park). I’ll cut out early and head over to a Child’s Play rehearsal, introducing costume and prop elements to the kids and enjoying how they interact and inspire each other. Often enough the evening will hold a rehearsal for Midnight Radio Show, playing with puppets and science fiction fairy tales, co-creating stories with members of our theatre troupe. If not that, I may be performing, or running wardrobe for a show, backstage managing quick changes and enjoying the secret dance that the crew is doing to make sure all the magic tricks of storytelling happen on stage for our actors.
Any suggestions for parents who are interested in exposing their kids to more of the stage-craft elements?
The most important thing that young people who love theater need to understand is that acting is only one tiny element and one job of dozens. I happened to grow up in a theater, both my parents worked at an off-Broadway house so my playground was backstage, box office, dressing rooms and tech booths. I was lucky, I knew how many cool careers a theater-lover could have. There are lots of cool resources in our city (normally), from museum exhibits, to backstage tours, to student talk backs with designers and playwrights. Urge your kids to notice all the elements that come together to make their favorites shows. Actors are cool, but what about what they are wearing, the lights, the sounds, the sets, the story itself. Like an iceberg, we only see a very small percentage of the people who made a show up on that stage, a fact that is often forgotten or overlooked by folks outside the industry.