Q&A with Intimate Apparel Director Tasia A. Jones
Tasia A. Jones is making her Utah Shakespeare Festival debut this season, directingIntimate Apparel.She is a professional director, actor, and theatre educator hailing from Boston. Her directing credits includeIntimate Apparelat Northlight Theatre,Small Mouth Soundsat TheatreWorks,Voyeurs de VenusandWhiteat Northwestern University,For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enufat Boston University,Hidden Faces of Courage at On with Living and Learning,Oleanaat Can’t Wait Productions, the world premiere ofMargaret in Search of Herselfat ARRT/New African Company, and many others.
The Utah Shakespeare Festival: Let’s start with a general question. What is Intimate Apparel about; what are its important themes?
Tasia A. Jones: Intimate Apparel is about a woman who is determined to realize her dreams for love and success. Her determination inspires those she comes in contact with to consider their own dreams for success and happiness and the obstacles in their way.
**The Festival:**Intimate Apparel takes place in several intimate and personal locations. How will you create these spaces in a way that characters and action can move seamlessly and quickly between them?
**Jones:**Our scenic designer [Stephen C. Jones] has created a space that has anchoring elements for each character but allows our protagonist, Esther, to be the focal point at the center. This scenic structure combined with light shifts allows Esther to move seamlessly from one location to another with very little actual movement necessary.
The Festival: The play is set in 1905 Manhattan, yet it somehow resonates for us in 2021 and in various locations around the world. Why do you suppose that is so?
Jones: The themes in this play are universal. We all have dreams. We all yearn for love and acceptance. The play is also an ode to our ancestors, the everyday people who came before us and dared to dream. Their dreams opened pathways for those of us trying to make our way in the world today. This is especially true for immigrants and Black Americans. The reverberations of our ancestors lives are felt today.
The Festival: In your early director’s notes, you write about “getting a glimpse into the extraordinary lives of ordinary people.” What makes the lives of Esther and others extraordinary?
Jones: What seems ordinary is extraordinary in this play. The characters in this play all have things working against them that are beyond their control. Being a woman, an immigrant, or a person of color in 1905 Manhattan came with challenges. As a Black woman Esther has to work twice as hard to get half as far, and despite the obstacles in front of her she has created a thriving business as a seamstress creating beautiful garments and is working towards her other goals. The play is also about artistry and craftsmanship. Several characters exhibit extraordinary artistry that often goes without notice or praise.
The Festival: In many ways, all the dreams of the play’s characters have been lost by the end of the play. Yet you say that “Esther still has hopes for her dreams” and “if we still have hope, we have the ability to find the positive.” Would you elaborate on that a bit? Is this a hopeful play, and can it help us be more hopeful in our lives?
Jones: I definitely think there is hope in this play. Esther has not lost her dreams by play’s end; they have just shifted. I find it really inspiring to watch her accept her circumstances and pivot with renewed energy and hope towards a future that will be something other than what she imagined but no less vibrant. I think we could all learn from her tenacity and audacity to stay hopeful and positive against all odds, especially in our current world.
**The Festival:**Intimate Apparel is also a play that deals with inequality in gender, race, and social status. Do you think plays like this can help us understand these differences and in today’s world solve some of these pervasive issues?
Jones: I don’t know that the play can help us solve today’s issues with injustice and inequality, but it can certainly serve as a reminder that these issues have been pervasive in our society for centuries, and, hopefully, it can inspire a desire for change.
The Festival: As playgoers, what should we watch for in this production that may help us enjoy it and/or understand it more?
The costume design in this production is so intricate and detailed. I think patrons will enjoy all of the beautiful garments and fabrics in the play. Understanding Esther’s artistry and appreciation for beauty helps us understand her choices. I was also especially excited by the photographs that the playwright refers to in the script. I think patrons will enjoy how we have interpreted those photographs and embraced the idea of looking back at the past. I encourage everyone watching the play to consider those that came before them. Lynn Nottage wrote this play with her ancestors in mind. I see my grandparents’ story in this play as well. I hope to acknowledge and honor those that paved the way for me with this production and I encourage the audience to do the same as they watch.