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Resident costumes Postman cast

July 31st, 2015 · 2 Comments

Lucky to have top professional in Canada, says producer

The Postman costume designer and PARA board member Kei Yano poses on Palmerston Boulevard with a borrowed production prop. Photo by Neiland Brissenden, Gleaner News

The Postman costume designer and PARA board member Kei Yano poses on Palmerston Boulevard with a borrowed production prop. Photo by Neiland Brissenden, Gleaner News

By Annemarie Brissenden

It all happened somewhat by accident.

When Kei Yano attended a meeting about a play that dramaturge David Ferry wanted to stage in the neighbourhood, it wasn’t with the intent of landing a contract.

She was there to represent the Palmerston Area Residents’ Association (PARA), where she sits on the board, and talk about logistics. But Ferry, a veteran Toronto actor, recognized the semi-retired costume designer and immediately asked her if she would consider doing The Postman.

“With a production of this budget we would normally have had to hire a talented rookie designer. Instead we have a consummate professional with an awesome skill set,” says Ferry, who worked with Yano on a variety of television sets in the 1980s and 1990s. “Having Kei on this production is to have one of the top professional costume designers in Canada.”

Yano says that from the outset she was intrigued by the production, which tells the story of Albert Jackson, Canada’s first Black postman, and is performed from porches on a series of streets in Harbord Village and the Palmerston Avenue area.

“I like the idea of doing it on the street,” she relates. “It’s intriguing, [and] gives so much more authenticity to the project.”

Dressing 17 actors with interchangeable roles for a site-specific production comes with a whole set of unusual challenges, like planning for weather and making sure the performers can move easily from porch to porch.

It’s also not linear, and while “the actors [each] have to wear one costume,” she picked certain things to identify each character.

Sugith Varughese, at front in bow tie, performs as Councillor Earwax in The Postman on Palmerston Boulevard. Photo by Neiland Brissenden, Gleaner News

Sugith Varughese, at front in bow tie, performs as Councillor Earwax in The Postman on Palmerston Boulevard. Photo by Neiland Brissenden, Gleaner News

Sugith Varughese, who plays several key characters in the show, wears an outlandish bow tie as Councillor Earwax and then a turban as Professor Cumraswamy. In between scenes, the performers – who “have to take care of a lot of the stuff themselves” – store their props in a large mailbag that’s slung over their shoulders throughout the show.

Yano faced another challenge as well. A grassroots production does not have a large budget for costumes, so a designer has to be innovative and resourceful in her approach.

“You beg, borrow, and steal,” laughs Yano. “You have to be able to use stuff that you can get readily now.”

She does a lot of research, which she admits is one of her favourite aspects of costume design, but “part of it is saying, this is what [people wore then], and then everyone thinks it is”.

“I have found a lot of things in life are problem-solving,” says the “Annex kid” who has lived in the neighbourhood since she was three years old, attending high school at Harbord Collegiate Institute before heading off to York and Ryerson universities. She fell into costume design shortly thereafter, getting a job sewing costumes for Rudolph Nureyev’s production of Sleeping Beauty for the National Ballet of Canada. Then, “one thing led to another”.

Her 40 years in costume design included work at SCTV, E.N.G., and Littlest Hobo. “I did Littlest Hobo every summer for five years,” she says. “It was like going to summer camp; it was so much fun.” Yano also worked on Due South with Paul Gross, whom she describes as “so smart, such a bright guy”.

And attractive, she remembers. “My assistant couldn’t be in the same room and make a whole sentence.” These days, when she’s not designing costumes, she’s taking courses at Central Technical School, learning keyboard, gardening, welding, and plumbing. “I just wanted to know how things work,” she says. “It’s so much easier to handle plumbing now. I got a new fridge and figured out how to hook it up myself.”

Yano also organizes the Planet Palmerston, the street’s annual yard sale that raises money for Habitat for Humanity. “A nicer person you will not find,” says Ferry. “Our work is immeasurably enriched by having Kei with us.” For Yano, who didn’t quite anticipate having to dress so many actors, The Postman experience has been a pleasure.

“These guys are so talented,” she says. “The neighbourhood is really excited about [the production].”

Tags: Annex · Liberty · News · People

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Paul MacLean // Aug 4, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    A great story on many levels. Thanks for the profile on Kei.

  • 2 Donna // Aug 11, 2015 at 9:59 pm

    Brava Kei! We saw the show and loved the community attachment, input and history. Well done! And thanks
    Donna