While an undergraduate at Lehigh University, Dede Ayite pursued seemingly divergent paths: the study of science and the study of design for theater. I say “seemingly divergent” because of one overriding similarity in the pursuits: both employ trial and error. Scientists do research to test their theories, and so do designers. “One of my favorite things about my work,” said Ayite, the costume designer for The Rolling Stone, “is the research. In order to figure out the world of whatever play I’m working on I look in many directions – testing this, discarding that.”

For Ayite, that research involves YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twtter, movies, magazines, newspapers. “ I try to absorb as much information as I can,” she said. “I look for imagery that informs me about a specific time and place.”

The Rolling Stone takes place in Uganda, in 2010, and, in addition to the sources mentioned above, Ayite pored over blogs. “They gave me a vivid sense of what people like those in the play might wear in everyday life.” Also helpful: the information that the play’s director, Saheem Ali, collected on a trip earlier this year to Uganda. Ayite said: “I asked Saheem to take photos and videos which might be of use to me. I’m so grateful that he did.” (see below for video)

Uganda is in east Africa and Ayite grew up in Ghana, in west Africa. “It’s not completely fair to generalize,” she said, “but in my visual research I noticed that in Ghana the clothing is a little more flamboyant and colorful than it is in east Africa. In Ghana, men wear and look fantastic in bright African prints.” Which doesn’t mean that all the costumes in The Rolling Stone are drained of color. The character of Mama, for example, favors bold hues. “Mama was raised in a more traditional sense than the younger characters,” Ayite said, “and she needs to feel validated. Sometimes, she needs to stand out.”

Ayite herself has long been interested in patterns and colors. “When I was a child, my dad encouraged me artistically. I had art days and paintings days when I would set up my paints to color and draw. I also spent time with seamstresses, watching them work with fabric.”

As a graduate student at Yale, Ayite studied scenic design. “I don’t make much separation between the work of the scenic designer and the costume designer,” she said. “We are both trying to tell the story. And we are both working in a very collaborative process. The more I do this work the more I realize that I couldn’t achieve anything alone, without the support of amazing assistants and colleagues.”

Especially during a period as busy the last year or two has been for Ayite. The Rolling Stone is one of three current off-Broadway productions for which she has done the costumes. (Toni Stone and The Secret Life of Bees are the others.)

Ayite’s previous credit at LCT’s Newhouse was The Royale, and that show remains one of her favorite professional experiences. (She also did the costumes for LCT3’s brownsville song (b-side for tray) and will work on LCT3’s upcoming Power Strip.) “The Royale was memorable for many reasons,” she said, “but especially because of the relationship in the story between a brother and a sister. My own brother has been so encouraging – he wants the best for me.”

The Rolling Stone is also proving rewarding. “Not only was the research fascinating,” Ayite said, “but I also enjoyed the process of finding the clothing itself. Some of it we thrifted, some of it we bought and altered, and there are things that we built completely.” She added that while the story may be set in Uganda there was plenty of clothing in New York that is believable for the characters. “One of the things the play explores is the relationship between present-day Uganda and how it has been influenced in both good and bad ways by the West. The same holds true for the clothing.”

 

Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com