When Costumes Speak Volumes

On stage and on screen, costumes play a huge role in telling those parts of a character’s story that are not immediately visible to viewers. They should be so specific to a character, says Ramona Ward, associate professor of theatre at Alabama State University, that before the actors even utter a word, audiences should have a clear idea of who they are.

Ward ’91 A&A has been creating costumes for theater and film—she was on the wardrobe crew for the 1988 historical thriller Mississippi Burning—since her undergraduate days at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. She transferred to Penn State in 1989 when her mother, professor emerita Grace Hampton, was named vice provost, and she finished her degree in theatre arts before earning an MFA at the University of Memphis. In 2002, Ward joined the faculty at Alabama State, where she teaches classes in costume construction and stage makeup, among others.

Ward also creates costumes for university, community, regional, and national theater productions. Several of her creations have centered on the African American experience: August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, The Story of Ruby Bridges, andShoebox Picnic Road Side: Route 1 (for the Alabama Shakespeare Festival), and Nina Simone: Four Women (for the Arizona Theatre Company). “I’m interested in stories about our culture and history,” Ward says. “I do a ton of reading and visual research that helps in adding many elements that are not in the script but are essential to visual storytelling.”

Ward is also a champion for increasing the representation of African Americans in theater tech fields. “We know we have been marginalized offstage, and we are often only invited when there is a need to show diversity,” she says. “That has to change.” —Savita Iyer