Monty Priddy, J. Barrett Cooper, & Gregory Sanders in Henry IV, Part Two.
Interview by Keith Waits. Production images: Bill Brymer
Entire contents are copyright © 2020 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
Donna Lawrence-Downs has worked in the Louisville Theatre community for over 25 years. Currently, she is the resident costume designer for Kentucky Shakespeare. She was a costume shop manager, draper, and resident designer for StageOne for 18 seasons as well as costume shop manager and resident designer for Music Theatre Louisville for 15 seasons and worked as shoe mistress and draper/first hand at Louisville Ballet for 6 years. She has been lucky enough to work with many theatres in town, including Kentucky Opera, Pandora Productions, CenterStage, Bellarmine University, Actor’s Theatre, Kentucky Country Day, and Derby Dinner Playhouse.
1. What work as a costume designer was canceled or postponed because of the pandemic?
It’s My Party at Bellarmine was canceled, Shakespeare Behind Bars 25th Anniversary Production has been moved to mid-September, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival has moved the start of their season to July and moved Merry Wives of Windsor to a future season. Kentucky Opera is on schedule for the fall season and a few other fall theater projects are still up in the air.
2. How did you come to do costumes for theater?
To be honest, I followed my boyfriend at the time to college and he was a theater major. I quickly realized that if I ever wanted to see him, I needed to do something involving the theater department so I started doing costumes. I had worked on costumes in high school as well but only for fun.
3. What is your favorite show you ever worked on?
A very hard question to answer. I have been so lucky to work with such great people who do wonderful work. The Great Gilly Hopkins for Stage One in 1998 from my children’s theater days, Jesus Christ Superstar from my Music Theater Louisville days, The Full Monty for JCC, Merchant of Venice from Shakespeare Behind Bars, and I could never pick just one from Kentucky Shakespeare.
4. What was the most difficult?
Gilly Hopkins, which went to the New Victory in NYC to play for a bit, because my mom had died very unexpectedly right before going to NYC. On the technical side of that show, I needed to make Deb Macut, a size 4 actress look like she wore a size 24 and also hide the fact that the actress (Katie Blackerby Weible) playing Gilly was pregnant with her son Sam.
5. Do you prefer contemporary or period designs?
That really depends on the show but I do love period costumes.
6. What shows are on your dream list but have eluded you?
I was offered A Little Night Music to design for JCC but I turned it down due to scheduling. Merry Wives of Windsor, The Nutcracker, and any Jane Austen.
7. How did you learn to create magical baked goods?
I have always known how to bake and how to sew. Not sure how or why. My mom did not sew much. She was a good cook though not so much of a baker so when she did bake, it was special and she did it with love. I was a nanny for 6 years before going to undergrad so I was able to experiment in the kitchen when I was making meals for the kids and they were brutally honest about what I baked. I love the fact that I can make people happy when I bring treats. It’s a great endorphin rush not to mention good karma. I have had the opportunity to bake for people that I never thought I would have.
8. If you didn’t design costumes and bake, what would you be doing?
Something to do with animals, which I am sure would lead to having some giant animal sanctuary somewhere. Giant meaning lots of inhabitants, not necessarily giant animals.
9. Besides Louisville, what other places have you worked?
Indiana, Massachusetts, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Opera Theater St. Louis, Virginia to name a few.
10. What has been your quarantine playlist?
I love to collect music from friends and my husband used to be a DJ so I have an eclectic taste in music. Lots of 70’s-80’s (especially Prince), Flo Rida, Eminem, Al Jarreau, Marian Hill, JJ Grey and Mofro, John Mayer, Nat King Cole, Nancy Griffith, Buddy Guy
11. What book is on your bedside table now?
I have always said that I have not read a real book, only scripts, since graduate school but Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh and The Te of Piglet are always within reach.
12. What is the first thing you will do when you come out of quarantine?
Hhhmmm. Take a deep breath and move forward.
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.