A Theatre of Color

Costume Design for the Black Theater by Myrna Colley-Lee

Introduction to the Exhibition

Production photo of Gee's Bend at the Cleveland Playhouse, 2007, Director Shirley Jo Finney


The Theatre of Color: Costume Designs for the Black Theatre by Myrna Colley-Lee is now available to museums and exhibition spaces for periods during   2013 - 2015.

Costume design is one of the most important tools that helps the playwright bring his artistic vision to life. The costume designer's creation of the costumes is like a lens that focuses on the essential message of the play and reveals the basic personalities and motivations of the characters.

In addition to being a survey and closer look at the costume designs of Myrna Colley-Lee, this new exhibition encompasses the larger world of theatre costume design and specifically the world of Black Theatre during the second half of the 20th century – the plays, playwrights, and repertory companies, that produced an extraordinary series of works that have become landmarks in the history of black culture, of American literature, and of the American theater.


Ain't  Misbehavin'  at the St. Louis Black Repertory Theater, 2007, Director Ron Himes

   "  Myrna sees costumes as an extension of a person with all of his or her quirks, contradictions, strengths, and weaknesses within a specific social, political, economic, or historical context.... That deep sense of knowing the essence of a people is reflected in her design choices.  When I have the ability to choose my costume designer, she is my first choice."
Benny Sato Ambush, worked with Mrna Colley-Lee as Director for
Crumbs from the Table of Joy; Jar the Floor, Fences and
Letters from a New England Negro

; The Wedding Band, at the Steppenwolf Theater, 2003, Director Ron O.J. Parson

          One of the threads that is carried through Colley-Lee's experience as a costume designer is her key involvement with the Black Theater movement during the late 20th century. At the time Black Theatre was receiving little funding or support and plays had to be produced with practically non-existent budgets. Colley-Lee designed costumes for some of the most important and poignant plays that were being produced during this period.   

     She was directly involved -- there at the right time, and played a pivotal role in creating costumes for the black theater during a period when playwrights were struggling to stay relevant, to produce important and timely statements, and to attract mainstream audiences. Most of the extraordinary plays that emerged during this period eloquently demonstrate the racial situation in the US, and this facet of American theater history has not been covered in other previous exhibitions.

Through costume designs, production photos, costumes, playbills and other memorabilia, and partial re-creations of plays, this exhibition brings to life the vibrant and fertile world of the Black Theatre.  

The exhibition features approximately 200 works -- drawings, renderings, collages, production photographs, and support papers, as well as 12-15 costumes, music, and DVD's for viewing in the gallery.  Detailed information about the contents of the exhibition can be found on the

Data Sheet 

Information about the themes and organization of the exhibition is available through the topics in the sidebar.

Production photo of Piano Lesson,  by August Wilson, at the Cleveland Playhouse, 2005   

All images on this site are copyrighted 2012, All rights reserved
No use allowed without prior permission

Special thanks to the Mississippi State University Libraries
for the digitization of all of the production photos from slides and photographs in their archives