Spotlight: Celeste Jennings '18

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Celeste Jennings is an ‘18 from Arkansas, currently majoring in Studio Art at Dartmouth. On campus she has been heavily involved with Soul Scribes and the Theatre Department as a costume designer. This year she was awarded a Senior Fellowship to work on a project for the duration of the year where she is writing a play, for which she is also designing the costumes. We sat down with Celeste to learn a bit more about her experience.

Black Praxis: What has your experience been like as a costume designer at Dartmouth?

Celeste:  I think it started out with me just wanting to learn how to sew and make my own clothes thinking “Ooh, maybe I wanna do fashion” but I did not like how materialistic that world would be. After I decided I didn’t want to do that I kept working at the costume shop and I thought, “Oh! Maybe I could be a costume designer!” Then I committed to learning more about costume design and got more involved on campus with that. In costume design, I am specifically interested in representing minority characters in theatre because I feel like a lot times I watch things and wonder “Why do the Chinese people always have to be in in red floral print?” or “Why do the black people always have to wear baggy jeans? Did you really do your research?  Because I don’t think you did.” That just really bothers me, especially the big ethical question of shows with an all black cast for a show with black themes that bring in non-black designers, even though there are plenty of perfectly qualified black people in the industry. I want to try to fix that and accurately represent how different minorities dress through time.

BP:  You are going to be doing a show next term as a part of your Fellowship, right?  Can you tell us a little more about that and your involvement with the show?

Celeste:  My play, Citrus, is a choreopoem based off of Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls.  It’s basically about the struggles of black women in America from the 1840’s until now and it’s told through all these poems that are intricately woven together. Some of them are contemporary, some of them are historically based. I’m showing all these different decades through the costumes and the text, as both the playwright and the costume designer. One of the points I’m trying to make is that many of the struggles have not really changed, but I’m still trying to create hope in it by having all these women love each other and love themselves. I want to show that these women believe, “I am still fighting but I’m not going to give up because I’m still here.” I’ve been in Soul Scribes since freshman year so for my first draft I took some of the poems I wrote and arranged them in a way that I thought made sense, but I didn’t like it as much as I had hoped. So I started editing. Then I read so many autobiographies and plays and fashion books, and they helped me figure out the voice that I wanted the play to have, and the play became more mature after doing that research. What I am still nervous about is a black woman coming to my play who really struggles with something and it’s not addressed in the play. I don’t want her to feel that her experience is invalid, I’m just still working on how to incorporate more people’s perspectives into this play. I just really don’t want to leave anyone out, so right now I’m working on balancing it a little more.

BP:  So what are your next steps with your play? What can we look forward to seeing in the near future?

Celeste:  Well, I’m really excited to announce that auditions are this term! I want to cast the characters before I start working on costumes so that I can make sure the actors are comfortable in what they are wearing. We have a director, which is really exciting. Her name is JaMeeka Holloway-Burrell. She’s from North Carolina and has been doing a lot of directing there. Auditions are going to be on February 5th and I’m really hoping that people who don’t do theatre and who are interested in this black text will also come out and audition. Right now I’m compiling research and looking at books and pictures to start thinking about what I want the costumes to be like. So I’m doing a lot of that and drawing shapes to try to familiarize myself with the clothing.

BP:  You are doing this project as a Senior Fellowship.  Do you have any advice for our readers who may be interested?

Celeste:  I found out about it because I saw their email, but the website has a lot of good information. Even if you’re just thinking about it, you should definitely go on the website and fill out an interest form. Or you can click on the email address that's associated with it and email someone about your idea. Once you do that they will put you on a canvas page with all the information about the application, but until you get on that page you aren’t going to know what you need or what questions they are going to ask.  So I think that if anyone is even slightly interested they should try to squeeze their way into that.

If you are interested in auditioning, make sure to keep checking your email and the Black Praxis calendar for updates. Auditions are scheduled for the evening of February 5th with callbacks the following day. The play is scheduled to run May 4th, 5th, and 6th.  Celeste strongly encourages people who do not have theatre or acting experience to audition, and welcomes those who are just interested in helping her tell the story.

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