Open Studio with Jared Bowen


"Made It," Actor Denis O'Hare, and more

This week, we tour a fashion-forward exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum. Discover "Made It: The Women Who Revolutionized Fashion." Then, Tony and Drama Desk Award-winner Denis O'Hare joins us virtually to discuss acting, King Lear, and his upcoming speaking event at "The Actor's Craft," presented by Commonwealth Shakespeare Company. Plus, Sabrina Nelson's mixed-media artworks.

AIRED: January 22, 2021 | 0:26:46

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen.

Coming up onOpen Studio,

from Coco Chanel to Mary Todd Lincoln's designer,

it's the women who revolutionized fashion.

>> One of the things that I think is very frequently

sort of taken for granted is how innovative

many of these women designers were and are.

>> BOWEN: Then, a class act delivers a master class.

Tony-winning actor Denis O'Hare joins us.

>> What a massive revelation to say, "I was lied to.

"I am not a good human being.

"I am not all-knowing.

"I am not all-powerful.

I am nothing."

>> BOWEN: And artist and avenger Sabrina Nelson.

>> My superpower is being able to visually communicate

how I feel about what's happening in the world.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, we follow the threads to the women

who have revolutionized fashion.

That's the focus of a new exhibition

at the Peabody Essex Museum, which features more than

100 pieces spanning 250 years of fashion design.

It's the strange thing about women's fashion--

that for most of its history,

it's men who've been the designers,

deciding not only what women might wear,

but how they wear it.

>> Yeah, yeah.

It doesn't make sense.

>> BOWEN: But this exhibition is the exception.

It's a winding tour through 250 years of the women,

as the Peabody Essex Museum proclaims,

who revolutionized fashion.

Petra Slinkard is a co-curator.

>> You know, one of the things that I think is very frequently

sort of taken for granted is how innovative

many of these women designers were and are.

Putting pockets in skirts,

the kinds of examples of improvement to a system

that women are building on for themselves.

>> BOWEN: Starting, as we find here, in the 1700s,

when Marie Antoinette was the queen atop the fashion scene.

>> In regard to silhouette, you know here, a woman's silhouette,

even if she's of a diminutive stature,

is still taking up almost three times the size

of her male counterpart.

>> BOWEN: For well over a century, European women

were part of a guild system, where they made the clothes

men told them to-- until, in the 1800s, they began to push back.

In the U.S., Elizabeth Keckley was an enslaved woman

who purchased her freedom and ultimately fashioned

her own success, dressing the upper crust

and one very famous figure.

>> She became the in-house dressmaker

for Mary Todd Lincoln.

She became her confidante, and, you know,

lived and worked very close

with her for many years.

It's her sense of scale and proportion and fit

that makes an ensemble like that work

on someone of such a short stature,

which, you know, I think just speaks to her artistic ability.

>> BOWEN: But for all the stitches and strides,

it would take years for the story to change.

>> Morning, Biddy. >> Morning, Mr. Woodcock.

>> If you've ever seen the movie Phantom Thread, you know,

here's this powerful figure, right?

He's sort of larger than life,

but he's almost sort of like the conductor.

But if you really look at that film again,

you start to see the army of women

behind the closed doors who were actually doing the making.

And then you start to see this narrative, you know,

play out, that it has for, you know, hundreds of years.

>> BOWEN: But when the alterations came, we saw them.

Like hemlines rising with the tides of change,

especially in the 1960s.

>> Women were experiencing a new sense of independence

that I think in some way was also experienced earlier

in the 1920s, when you saw another moment where

hemlines rose and waistlines went away,

but that there's this sort of

democratization that is taking place

in the fashion of the 1960s.

>> BOWEN: And where men had put women in constricting corsets

and couture, women like Elsa Schiaparelli

and Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel let the seams out.

>> It upset Chanel so much that she came out of retirement,

and that's where we start to see that boxy Chanel suit

really gain in prominence.

And it was in part because I think it was easier to wear.

>> BOWEN: Barreling through the 20th century,

Vivienne Westwood turned punk,

Rei Kawakubo deconstructed dress,

and Katharine Hamnett literally made fashion statements

on T-shirts.

>> She's using them as a billboard.

So even if you say nothing,

you say so much, you know, with what you've chosen to wear.

>> I do think that it has been one of our great goals to,

you know, make very beautiful things that also, you know,

you can drive your car and pick up your child.

>> BOWEN: Natalie Chanin is the founder of Alabama Chanin,

a fashion and lifestyle company based in Florence, Alabama,

where she joined us by Zoom.

Until Chanin came along,

Florence was a former textile town time forgot.

How many people work for you?

>> Altogether, a little over 50, 50 people altogether.

So small business.

>> BOWEN: And how many of the 50 people do you know?

>> Uh... all of them.


>> BOWEN: Which is important to you.

>> Yes, yes, it is.

>> BOWEN: Chanin's design is fully considered--

from her local employees to her use of organic materials

to the garments she hopes will still be worn decades from now.

>> I really do have this philosophy about what we wear

being utilitarian, but also, you know, made with beauty

and this care for the environment in mind.

>> BOWEN: Moving fashion forward to today,

the runway still traffics in gowns,

but also now in burqinis and all body types.

Because, Slinkard says, women have fashion all zipped up.

>> What makes women and men different in their designs,

that, you know, women are designing from that standpoint

of hand, heart, and head, and that it is emotional

and that it is, you know, it is, is powerful,

but it's powerful because of what it represents.

>> (screaming)

>> (growls)

>> Bobby!

>> Oh, oh, oh...

You should worry about you.

>> (screaming)

>> BOWEN: That was actor Denis O'Hare out for blood

as the Vampire King inTrue Blood,

one of the many roles the Tony-winning actor

has defined across television, film, and theater.

Next up, he sits down with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

for his take on one of Shakespeare's meatiest roles:

King Lear.

Denis O'Hare, thank you so much for joining us today.

>> My pleasure.

I'm awfully happy to be here.

>> BOWEN: Well, we're talking to you about the conversation

that you're going to have also

with Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

and Steve Maler aboutKing Lear.

But it occurred to me, as I was about to sit down with you,

that I know a lot of actors who are guarded

about their process.

How free are you to talk about your process

in, in that, that forum?

>> When I'm working, when I'm on a set,

I tend to be a little more close-mouthed,

because oftentimes, a set

is a political world or a...

You know, a rehearsal process.

You want to keep some secrets to yourself.

But at the same time,

I do like discussing it, and I realize,

I don't even know how to act anymore.

I just do it.

I do-- I just do it.

You know, I've been doing it for so long that it's hard for me

to remember a time when I didn't act,

or a time when I had to be taught to act.

>> BOWEN: Well, when you take on a role,

do you, do you find yourself, does your life shift?

Do, does how you operate personally begin to shift?

>> You know, it depends on the role,

it depends on the forum.

Oftentimes in rehearsals, you're leaving the day job

at the day job-- at the day.

And then when you're into performance,

it's something different, it's...

You have hopefully figured out how to do it

night after night after night without, you know,

causing your soul too much angst.

I always say that when you're doing a play, for me,

the curtain descends around... 3:00 or 4:00

of the day of a performance.

My day is sort of ruined because the show begins to invade you,

the responsibility of the show, the, the pressure of the show,

the angst of it, starts to invade you.

And the day is over.

>> BOWEN: Well, you just mentioned you hope it doesn't

consume you with angst.

That's one of my favorite questions

to ask actors, because I get so many different answers.

To what extent do the characters stay with you

even when you're not on the stage,

or even before that curtain is coming down on your life?

>> You know, I find that I have a bit of all my characters.

I can summon them like that.

Not all of them, but a lot of them.

A lot of them have left me with a, a trick

or a, a new tool.

So, you know, I certainly have a lot of physical gestures

and things that I have collected

over the years that I have reused

or I find myself falling into.

I was doing Liz Taylor inAmerican Horror Story

in the season of "Hotel."

I thought you were an actor.

You don't have to have a resume

to be beautiful or talent to be an actor.

It took me a little while to find her,

but when I found her, it was pretty solid,

except when the writing was weird.

And I was doing a thing,

and I suddenly realized

I was channeling Lafayette fromTrue Blood,

Nelsan Ellis.

>> How the (bleep) you think you can protect her

from an ancient, pissed-off vampire...

>> And I was, like, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no

no, no, no, no, that is not the character."

So I had to really work at

not falling into the trap of occasionally channeling

another character who wasn't even my character.

>> BOWEN: How much of it is drawing from your own biography,

your own family?

>> You know, generally,

you're ransacking your life for understanding.

How can I understand what the character's going through?

Where have I in my life experienced something similar?

So that's the way I sort of approach that.

>> BOWEN: Like, I've often thought about that.

I've wondered for people who are trying to find

emotion that way, too.

If you're not doing that, is it just out of self-preservation,

because it's too close?

>> You know, it's funny, I...

I've done a lot of the emotional stuff,

and sometimes it's just not there.

(chuckling): It's just not there.

The well is dry.

You know, I do this playAn Iliad,

it's a one-man show.

We did it in Boston with ArtsEmerson at the Paramount.

With that play, there are nights

when I'm approaching a big moment and I go,

"Nope, not going to happen.

Not going to happen."

So you know what?

You just duck and you go a different way.

So when we did it in Boston,

the weekend after the Boston bombing,

that was a very weird play to be doing in front of that audience,

and to be asking myself and my director, having this dialogue,

"What do these people need to hear?

"What are they, what are they thinking and feeling?

"How are they going to hear this play about war and death

"and killing, and how ultimately, it's all a waste?

How are they going to hear this?"

>> BOWEN: Well, this leads us perfectly toKing Lear.

Again, what you'll be talking about with Steve Maler,

artistic director

of Commonwealth Shakespeare Company.

This is a play, one could argue, very much of our moment.

I'll be very transparent.

We're taping this show on the seventh of January.

It'll be airing in a couple of weeks, after the inauguration.

But we've just seen what happened at the Capitol.

>> Yeah. >> BOWEN: We know, like inLear,

what can happen with a very complex, torn, ravaged leader.

Tell us about this, this piece, this character.

>> Well, you know, Shakespeare's brilliance is that

his themes are universal, and he always taps into something

deeply human, which means

they never become irrelevant.

They never age.

You know, Lear wants to retire, and he wants to divide

his kingdom, and he thinks he'll give it to his three daughters.

And as a test, he says, "How much do you love me?

Prove how much you love me."

And the first two go for it.

They brag.

They try to outdo each other.

And the third says, "I'm not going to do that.

"I don't need to prove my love to you.

You know I love you."

And he ends up banishing her and giving the rest of his territory

to be divided between the two.

And the play ends with a bloodbath,

an absolute bloodbath.

And in terms of the moment we're at now,

it was interesting to watch those mobs

tearing through the Capitol, those rioters tearing it down,

giving in to the worst aspects of human, human behavior,

the most base instincts possible.

And they were led to it by someone asking them to do that.

And so, in a weird way, Lear asks that of his daughters.

"Compete with each other, vie with each other.

"Prove to me how much you love me.

"Go on.

Tell me the biggest lie you can and I'll reward you for it."

And he does.

Is it any wonder, then, that those two greedy people

then tear each other apart trying to steal from each other?

They were taught by their father how to behave.

>> BOWEN: You've selected a passage that you'd like

to read for us.

Tell me what you've chosen.

>> This is act four, scene six,

and this is deep in the play.

He's already been banished.

He's been wandering around the heath with his fool.

His daughters are fighting for the land.

And here he is just coming with Gloucester.

He re-meets Gloucester.

Gloucester is blinded.

He has bloody sockets, he has blood dripping down him,

he's wearing a white mask over his eyes.

Lear has lost his mind at this point,

but he's beginning to focus in on a form of sanity.


Goneril with a white beard.

They flattered me like a dog.

They told me I had white hairs in my beard

ere the black ones were there.

To say "Ay" and "No" to everything I said

"Ay" and "No" to was no good divinity.

When the rain came to wet me once,

and the wind to make me chatter,

when the thunder would not peace at my bidding--

there I found 'em, there I, I smelt 'em out.

Go to, they are not men o' their words.

They told me I was everything.

'Tis a lie.

I am not ague-proof.

I love that passage.

>> BOWEN: How did you get there

just in that moment?

>> (chuckles)

Um, you know...

I think it's... it's the...

I find the last lines incredibly powerful,

so I don't even need to think about them.

I just love the idea of,

"They are not men of their words.

"They told me I was everything.

'Tis a lie."

What does it take for someone to say that?

What a massive revelation to say, "I was lied to.

"I am not a good human being.

"I am not all-knowing.

"I am not all-powerful.

I am nothing."

>> BOWEN: Well, Denis O'Hare, it has been so great

to talk to you.

I could keep talking to you, but Commonwealth Shakespeare Company

might be upset that I'm taking all of their material.

This has been really wonderful to be with you.

Thank you so much.

>> Thank you for your time.

>> BOWEN: Warm up the oven-- recipes are required

in Arts This Week.

>> My friends! (gong rings)

>> BOWEN: Saturday, Liars & Believers

presents theater you can taste

withBeyond a Winter's Day,

streaming through March 28.

The production features music, puppetry,

and recipes for audiences to cook up at home.

Company One Theatre presents three virtual play readings

inRe-Making America:

An Inaugural Message to the New Administration.

The readings begin Tuesday.

(gentle piece playing)

Tuesday is also your last chance to catchThe Magic of Handel,

presented by Handel and Haydn Society.

The performance streams online and focuses on

the Baroque composer's romance and genius.

Thursday, ring in the Lunar New Year with the Greenway.

Artists Furen Dai and Andy Li

virtually discuss their public art installations

inspired by the Chinese Zodiac.

>> ♪ Memory

>> BOWEN: 25 years ago Friday,

the 6,138th performance ofCats happened in London,

surpassing the record of Broadway's

longest-running musical, A Chorus Line.

In Detroit, artist Sabrina Nelson

turns to art to interpret the world around her.

It's a method that soared in her exhibition

Why You Wanna Fly Blackbird?,

as we see in this piece shot before the pandemic.

>> I think my medicine is art,

my language is art.

I think the term "artist" means

to be responsible for what's happening in the world.

How you see it, how you record it.

How you make things that are a result

of what you are trying to say.

Whether it's a question you're answering,

or a story you're trying to tell,

or, here's something I need to make because it's just

embedded in me, like, I have to make something.

Detroit is embedded in who I am.

I've been here all my life, since the rebellion

in 1967, that's when I was born.

And so everything around me becomes a part of the story

I'm trying to tell

or the question I'm trying to ask.

My superpower is being able to visually communicate

how I feel about what's happening in the world.

Nina Simone says, "If you're going to be an artist,

it's your duty to reflect what's happening in the world."

And in the world that I live in,

from the time I can remember remembering,

there's always trauma, and hurt, and pain.

And I'm not always talking about that, but you can't ignore it.

And on this day, I think about the lives that are lost,

that are constant, like, coming at me through different mediums.

And so I'm thinking about homicides and deaths

of young people

and how I'm affected by it.

But I'm talking about death

where people aren't considered people.

Like, "You don't matter.

"You, you're not important.

"So I'm just going to take your life.

I don't care how old you are, I don't care who you belong to."

And when that person is missing from our communities,

not just the blood family is affected.

We are all, and we should all be, concerned.

You know, a life is a life, a human is a human.

And so in this work, I'm talking about that pain.

The name of the exhibition is Why You Wanna Fly Blackbird?

And I got it from

a Nina Simone song who talks about Black women, like,

"How dare you try and be happy in your life.

"How dare you not expect pain.

"Pain is gonna come.

"You have to move through it and you have to live.

But pain will be here."

I didn't want the colors to be so seductive

that it draws you in as pretty,

like, I don't like the idea of my work being pretty.

I want it to be impactful.

I want it to be deeper than just what you see.

And I wanted it to be large enough to have some girth to it.

So these particular pieces are very large drawings.

They're also reliquaries, if you will.

So they talk about, like, the body,

the housing of the bodies that we have,

like, the home, and then

what it's like to have a nest with no eggs in it.

Thinking about the empty nest of children who never return.

You know, I don't care how old they are, they never can return.

So I'm just talking about

the darkness in that, and expressing it

with the most eloquence that I can.

The cages will represent empty homes.

That can be the home that they lived in.

That can be the community that they lived in.

How do you deal with that?

You know, that womb that's empty?

And so when we lose these people that are not treated with value

out of our communities, how do you deal with that?

So Lavonne is helping me on the dresses,

'cause I want to make dresses that will hang from the ceiling

just above the patrons' heads,

but the birdcages will be the empty wombs

underneath the dresses.

And so, I'm asking him to help me figure out

how I'm going to make the dresses,

which are made out of Japanese rice paper,

so that they can be sheer enough that the birdcages

can go underneath them and the patrons can see them

with the lighting.

And, hopefully, they have the impact that's in my head

and in my heart.

I want people to pay attention to it and to be more empathetic

with others' lives.

If you see something happening,

and you can do something about it, why wouldn't you?

And so when I look at the homicide rates

across the country,

they're incredibly high for African American,

Indigenous, and also Latin American children.

And so if this is all I can say and do about it,

I want somebody to know that I care.

Even though they're not my children, I care.

That they're missing, that they're gone,

that there's, you know, somebody should think about

doing something about it.

The motion of movement when I'm making these things,

like, when I did the nest here, you know, the motion of drawing

and drawing and drawing,

you know, that obsession of movement

and what it feels like to do that.

These movements that we do over and over

become very much ritual.

Maybe these are all prayers, visually, to say,

"I'm sorry that your life is gone,

"but I want to say that you meant something,

that you were important."

Every artist wants someone to look at their work

for a long time,

and I didn't want to make it so obvious and obtuse

where it's like, you know, you see people getting killed.

But I think the work and the drawings

and some of the paintings that I'm using can be seductive.

So I want people to make sure

that they walk away with knowing that I'm in a world,

I am affected by it,

and, don't just listen to the news and be in the world

and not really take part in what's happening.

Think about what your voice is, and what your superpower is,

and see what you can do to help.

I want to say something that's important

and I want to leave this world

with something that someone's learned from me.

My work might be sensual to draw you in,

and then it's gonna slap you a little bit.

And that's what I hope I show.

>> BOWEN: Before we leave you,

we have a look at the Peabody Essex Museum's installation

All the Flowers Are for Me,

by Pakistani artist Anila Quayyum Agha.

It's a dazzling experience that the artist hopes can be

a safe space for women in particular.

It's quite an experience.

That is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, the artists and musicians hatching a plan

to light up Boston's Hatch Shell.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen, thanks for joining us.

And as always, you can visit us online at

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,



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