Behind the Magic of Clint Ramos’ Once on This Island Costumes
Clint Ramos at his Midtown studio.
Ramos’ next project.
Set sketches from Ramos’ work station.
For the design of Once on This Island director Michael Arden wanted to place the story on a Haiti-inspired isle after the destruction of a storm. “The materials for the gods’ [eventual full] costumes, they’re all garbage,” Ramos says. He had to think: “What would be trident from the hurricane?”
Before transforming into Asaka, the storyteller wears a sports jersey and uses a table cloth as a prop.
Ramos then uses a tablecloth to create Asaka’s grand skirt.
What was Ramos’ biggest concern about the look for Alex Newell, who plays Asaka? “Is Alex’s skirt overwhelming him?” But no. “Alex works with that skirt amazingly.”
Ramos’ sketch for the pre-Papa Ge storyteller. Merle Dandridge originated the role of Papa Ge.
The coke can the storyteller sips from during the pre-show becomes Papa Ge’s shark fins lined down the spine.
Isaac Powell and Merle Dandridge bring Ramos’ vision to life.
The storyteller who transforms into Agwe, God of Rain, begins as a fisherman.
“There was a lot of recalibration of ‘How much garbage can we put in Agwe?” says Ramos. “How much of these plastic bags can we tie around the beard? Is it overwhelming?”
In designing Erzulie and the storyteller who precedes her, “we worked with who Lea [Salonga] is really,” says Ramos of the Tony-winning actor who portrays the Goddess of Love. “She’s Filipino and we know that … the nurse profession is populated by Filipino women. So she’s in khakis and a polo shirt with the Doctors Without Borders logo, checking people out.”
“The next step was to eliminate the khaki and eliminate her sneakers—still keep the polo. It’s very subtle, you probably wouldn’t even notice it, but she changes into white pants in her second appearance.”
“Then she puts on the crown and the veil—the mosquito net that she’s been distributing in the beginning,” says Ramos. “If you catch the pre-show you see her handing out mosquito netting to prevent malaria.”
“Her headdress is based on the research that we found in Haiti of the guy just carrying a bunch of discarded wires and USB cables on his head after a hurricane,” Ramos reveals.
“Ultimately, we work toward this full image of the goddess, but still retaining the materials, the mosquito netting and the stethoscope as the belt,” Ramos explains.
“TiMoune’s really not part of the hurricane world of the storytellers. She comes in and you’re plunged into the fable,” says Ramos. “To me, that meant that’s the gate. By the time TiMoune enters and she beckons the gods, these gods would’ve been fully transformed.”
In his second outing working on a giant television musical event, Tony-winning costume designer William Ivey Long does the time warp again, this time trading ’50s greasers for ’70s fettish and glam rock.