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Artisan Spotlight: The Craftsmen Behind the Prestige Hats of Syncing Ink 

Aurora and Frederic
Craftsman Aurora Kenyon and Crafts Master Frederic Burleigh
Photo by Sam Ferrigno

First, what is a prestige hat is and how is it significant to Syncing Ink?
The Prestige hats we researched for Syncing Ink were made by the Yoruba tribes of Nigeria. They were worn by tribe leaders while acting in an official capacity. These cone shaped hats were decorated with brightly colored symbols of spiritual entities who guided and protected the Yoruba leaders. The symbols took the form of stylized faces, geometric patterns, and small animal statues. The characters in Syncing Ink are young African Americans learning the art and craft of hip hop. They seek the same guidance and protection their ancestors sought. The Syncing Ink prestige hats are similar in shape and symbolism to their traditional predecessors, but they are made from modern materials (e.g. headphones, cassette tapes, winter coats) as if the characters themselves constructed them from what they had lying around.

The Syncing Ink prestige hats,
each crafted by hand using
both conventional and
unconventional materials.
Photo by Sam Ferrigno.


What is the design process?
The design process for Syncing Ink has veered from the norm. Usually the costume designer collects images of clothing and accessories from the same time and place as, or with a similar look and feel to, the character they are designing for. He or she then draws sketches of the character and the pieces she wants us to build for that character. When we are in the possession of the sketches, research, and materials, we get to work. Since Syncing Ink is a new play with a director who is very interested in collaboration, this process has been proceeding more organically with ongoing input from director, designer, cast and artisans. Every day we learn something new.

How does a craft differ from a prop, or a costume?
Crafts are all the parts of the costume that are not the sewn garment. They differ from props in that they are worn on the actor's body as opposed to being objects placed upon the set. There is cross-over like for instance hand fans, umbrellas, and parasols. They are costumes but are not worn in the usual sense of the word. 

What is something about Crafts that the average audience member might not know?
Many audience members don’t know that artisans here at the Alley Theatre can build from scratch everything they see on stage. For crafts, these are things like the belt Chris Hutchison is wearing, or Mellissa Pritchett’s hat. But it is not just Crafts that deserves recognition: Props built that chair or upholstered that Sofa; Costumes built that corset and that period suit; the Scenic crew built that wall and painted that forest you see through the window.

The work you and Aurora do for the theatre is outstanding. What brought you to this career?
I have a fine arts background, but I worked as a costume stitcher for 12 years. I recently moved over to crafts because, while I enjoy tailoring, I was getting accustomed to the routine. Crafts allows me much more creativity and variety.

My first career was that of a restaurateur and caterer, owning my own business at age 28. I also performed with the Portland Oregon Opera Association as a hobby.  I performed in musical theatre and wrote, designed, produced cabaret theatre.  At age 33, I made the leap from full time cooking to full time theatre. Theatre is the great love of my life. I have the most fun of anyone I know at work. It’s not ever dull, witness Syncing Ink!!

You two make a great team; what’s your secret to working so well together?
We really love working together. We enjoy each other's company, and we challenge each other. Frederic is a wonderful mentor and teacher. He freely shares his knowledge and experience, but he also listens to my ideas and opinions.

Aurora is so bright and talented that it is my privilege and pleasure to work with her. She picks things up quickly and just “gets it” with minimal fuss.  She puts up with me grumping around on a bad day and is always there with a cup of tea. We’re friends as well as co-workers.

Watch Frederic in action giving you a close-up look at the Prestige Hats here.