“This is a definitely a career highlight,” Nash said. “This will be the largest amount of hats for any show we’ve ever done.”
“These are the plums,” said Arena Stage’s costume director Joe Salasovich. “These are the projects that you hope you to get to do, because they’re eye-catching. But it still has to be sincere to the story. The actor has to wear it with ease.”
And this colorful surprise (now spoiled) is not easy scene to achieve. Arena Stage’s take on the Ascot scene, imagined by “My Fair Lady” costume designer Judith Bowden, features 11 handcrafted hats by Nash, many of which took more than 30 hours of labor each to create.
But if anyone can outfit stands of racegoers with gasp-inducing headwear, it is Nash, one of Washington’s most prolific milliners. Nash has perfected the processes for building an accessory that is no longer required in even the most formal of American settings. But her talent is in demand in the theater, having made hundreds of fascinators, top hats, strip-straw hats, driving hats and turbans in her roughly 13-year career at Arena Stage. She doesn’t rest, even in the off-season. During the summer, she drives to New Mexico to make hats for the Santa Fe Opera.
Nash has produced enough peaks, points and frills to outfit the entire congregation for a Westminster Abbey wedding. She made the strip-straw hats for the ladies of “Oklahoma!” The Peking Opera headdress for “M. Butterfly.” Nash once fashioned a hat with a built-in tissue box for Adelaide of “Guys and Dolls,” poi-fect for poi-sons with bad, bad colds.
Few area theaters have a milliner with such range: and hats, particularly in musical theater, play an important role. Situated near the actor’s face, where the most memorable action happens, hats must complement the story line on the stage without distracting the audience, actors or dancers.
Her hats verge on fantastical — her favorite hat is from “The Women” and contains a vulture’s head she made from plaster that sits amidst a nest of black feathers. They must weather years of wear that theater costumes inevitably endure.
And they are archived for history, or at least saved in stock for successive shows that might call for fascinators, top hats or bowlers. Many of Nash’s creations are kept in the Mead Center for American Theater’s massive hat library, a part of their costume shop with racks filled with hats created by Nash or other technicians, as well as vintage hats donated period hats from as early as the 1890s.