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By Brian Robin

"Snow White" Provides A Design Renaissance For Ramzi Jneid

The gnawing sense of what he calls “imposter syndrome” stalks Ramzi Jneid like the inspiration for his next design. It tag-teams with his creativity for designing costumes that merge form, fashion and function, even as his career takes off.

Jneid has designed costumes for numerous SCR Youth Conservatory productions, and now he’s enjoying every moment working on his first non-Conservatory production: the Theatre for Young Audiences and Families production of Snow White.

“I steer away from saying I’m a true costume designer, but there is something fun about saying ‘I’m a costume designer,’” he said. “Costume design involves a lot more paperwork than what people think: tracking, ordering and all kinds of mundane data inputting you have to do. I find I’m pretty good at those things. I enjoy doing the mundane tasks. To me, the creative part is the most difficult thing.”

Perhaps this is the insecurity inherent in many creatives. But Jneid's considerable talent is obvious in his designs for Snow White. Given the tricky task of designing costumes for two actors playing 14 characters—who need to trade costumes on the fly in Greg Banks’ adaptation of the classic—Jneid created costumes that draw from the German Renaissance, the Harlem Renaissance and what he calls the “Beyonce Renaissance” and merged them into functional costumes that enhance Banks’ adaptation.

As Snow White’s director, H. Adam Harris clearly sees Jneid’s talent. He sees a designer who brings a fashionable-meets-functional charm to Candace Nicholas-Lippman’s Snow White and Derek Manson’s Dwarf Four. Not to mention all their other characters.

“Ramzi’s work on this show meets the story and brings a dash of high fashion, while being practical and efficient for costume changes,” Harris said. “He is tireless in finding the exact fit, color and texture to honor the story and the performers. I walked by him in the halls while he was working on a Youth Conservatory story and I knew I wanted that same energy and compassion I saw for Snow White.”

Jneid has assisted other designers since arriving at SCR in 2017 from UC Berkeley. He’s designed costumes for the Youth Conservatory productions of Snow Angel, Radio Play Disaster, Electric Darkness and Nicholas Nickleby. But Snow White is another step up the creative ladder.

“The script is chaotic in terms of how many times the actors switch back and forth, picking up a piece of clothing and dropping another one off,” Jneid said. “We want to see these actors work. We want to see them be tired and forget where they put the piece last. That opens a lot of doors. … Seeing the mechanics of the show, seeing the actors work, that’s the allure of the whole show.”

To help with that allure, Jneid began his research looking at Black figures in Renaissance paintings. He usually starts his research at the gallery, looking at paintings from a particular time period. Jneid found himself transported from the Germanic Renaissance to the Harlem Renaissance.

Because he was listening to Beyonce’s “Renaissance” album while working, Jneid had another creative stroke.

“That’s three renaissances in one,” he said. “That’s how that got into the mix: German Renaissance meets Harlem Renaissance meets Beyonce’s Renaissance. That’s my way of saying I went for an over-the-top, fantasy modern day look.”

Putting this in historic perspective, Jneid went from Albrecht Dürer to Langston Hughes and Aaron Douglas to Beyonce for inspiration in his design.

From there, Jneid thought through how to take Germanic Renaissance and Harlem Renaissance influences, make them contemporary—and make them functional for the demands of the play.

“Putting Snow White in a skirt and having her run around felt wrong,” he said. “So often, a base costume has to be simple enough, yet still harken back to the renaissance time, and also, because the play requires them to jump into action without being fully prepared. There are a lot of things playing into the base costume to work with.

“… A lot of pieces I have designed have a layer of transparency to them. The panels down Snow White’s skirt, you can see to her base costume. You can see down to Derek’s base costume. There’s a silhouette in the fabrics on the Stepma’s robe where you can see through to the base costume.”

Every piece from the Stepma’s robe—which Jneid said has a heavy Harlem Renaissance influence—to the Prince’s cape has a quick-release clasp. That’s where the functional necessity comes in.

“That’s so they don’t have to focus on the act of putting on a costume. They can focus on the story,” Jneid said. “We don’t want the costumes to slow down the momentum of the story or pull the actors out of what they’re working on.”

It’s interesting Jneid would go there, because his Snow White designing duties pull him temporarily away from his day job as SCR’s Production Office Manager. He oversees many of the logistical duties in SCR’s wide-ranging Production Department.

“With this show, the main challenge is juggling designing while doing my other, full-time job,” he said. “That was basically the biggest challenge, jumping back and forth. But the design process has been wonderful. (Costume Shop Manager) Amy Hutto and her team are fantastic. I’m absorbing a lot of their feedback and using it to better my design.

“Because this is my first show I have designed with a full costume shop, it’s a completely different experience for me and I’m grateful for that. … I found this to be a joyful experience the whole time. Whatever design challenges would arise, to me that’s part of the gig and you have to roll with the punches. I enjoy those things. I don’t find them bothersome or challenging. I find them part of the process.”

See Jneid’s Triple Renaissance designs on the Julianne Argyros Stage during Snow White’s Nov. 4-20 run.

About the author

South Coast Repertory

South Coast Repertory is a Tony Award-winning theatre is known for producing classics, contemporary hits and world premieres, for having the largest new-play development program in the nation and for advancing the art of theatre in service to the community. 

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