Costume renderings, above and below, by designer Sara Ryung Clement.
Sara Ryung Clement has designed sets and costumes for numerous world premieres at South Coast Repertory, including Catherine Trieschmann's How the World Began, Itamar Moses’ Completeness and John Glore’s adaptation of The Night Fairy. She’s also designing costumes for Cambodian Rock Band, which makes its world premiere on the Julianne Argyros Stage from March 4-25.
Clement was a visiting assistant professor in the theatre and dance programs at Loyola Marymount University from 2011-13, and is currently a lecturer at UCLA. She received her MFA in design from the Yale School of Drama and her A.B. in English literature and drama from Princeton University.
We recently caught-up with the Los Angeles-based set and costume designer to ask a few questions about Cambodian Rock Band, of which she noted, “I am beyond excited to be working on this play with this team, and I am looking forward to people seeing the show!”
What was your design inspiration for the Cambodian Rock Band costumes?
As playwright Lauren Yee says in her play introduction, some of this really happened, so a lot of my inspiration came from diving into images of Cambodia in the ’70s. Also, Cambodian Rock Band is a play with music, so it was great to have a built-in soundtrack—there is such kinetic energy and color in the music, and I think that really influences the feeling and mood of the clothes and characters.
Since Cambodian Rock Band toggles back and forth in time, what kind of research did you need to do regarding the Cambodian fashion of the ’70s?
Even within the ’70s, we are looking at two distinct times in Cambodia: before and after the takeover by the Khmer Rouge. There is a great documentary called Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll that really shows this sharp divide. One is a world that embraces color and music and experimentation and the other is literally very dark. Working on this play, I was humbled by how much I did not know, so I also spent a lot of time trying to understand the play in the context of Cambodia’s history; there are a number of great memoirs, many of which focus on this period of time. I would have loved to visit Cambodia before we got into production; I am hoping to spend some time there in the near future.
What’s the best part—and the biggest challenges—about working on costumes for a new play such as Cambodian Rock Band?
I think with a new play—especially one with a story that blows you away on the page on the first read—you feel a deep responsibility to give it the best showing possible, and to really honor the intentions of the playwright. It’s always a privilege to be a part of the first time someone sees something, and with a new play, that will be every audience member.
Tell us a bit about your background. What do you enjoy the most about being a costume designer?
I trained as a scenic designer, but I would say that my process is very similar for both scenic and costume. I start with the script, and I really try to understand who the people in the play are and how they live in their particular world day-to-day. Once I have an understanding of this, then it's much easier for me to start honing in on research. It really helps to clarify what is specific to the story of the play versus what is generally true for the period or play. I think designers need to have a strong dramaturgical streak, both in terms of research and in terms of understanding how the play works.
What other SCR productions have you designed costumes for?
A Doll's House, Part 2, How the World Began, 4000 Miles, Completeness, Becky Shaw, several Theatre for Young Audiences shows; and I will also be doing Little Black Shadows this spring.
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