We had the good fortune of connecting with Isabel A. & Moriah Curley-Clay and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Isabel A. & Moriah, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
Even though we come from an artistic family, it wasn’t actually the plan for either of us. We were both studying Anthropology and in pre-professional programs at NYU. We took a Design class with our actor roommates and kind of fell into it. We both discovered we had a lot more passion for the storytelling aspect of theatre then we did for studying cases or spending full days in a lab. There is something about the universal nature of humanity that is appealing and theatre design gave us a greater opportunity to dig in to that and fufil our creative impulses.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
We are theatrical designers specializing in scenic design with the occasional costume design thrown in the mix. We are based in Atlanta and work at the professional theatres in town as well as a number regional theatres around the country. We are identical twins who collaborate in our design partnership and are members of the theatrical designers union USA829. We are particularly interested in the design challenge of new works and increasingly excited about immersive design and the possibilities that type of design approach presents. Our route into this world has been a bit more non-traditional then some. We didn’t discover theatrical design until midway through college at NYU. We learned as much as we could in the time we had left at school and supplemented that education by each working independently in the city with some professional designers we met. Grad school was great for us studying under Karl Eigsti, Deb Booth and Bob Moody but when you get out of your program, unless you want to assist other designers it is up to you to make your own connections. We worked for a few years designing and sometimes scenic painting in New Orleans, NYC, Boston, DC and wherever we knew people until our network started to grow. We designed a couple of shows for Theatre in The Square before we committed basing ourselves in Atlanta. It’s tough starting out as a young designer, especially as women in a non traditional role, you have to prove yourself more the biggest lesson we learned in the early years was to be flexible and willing to take chances. We are always looking for new opportunities and new stories to tell.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Well our best friend is a retired actor, and she’s only been to Atlanta once but we did the theatre rounds with her and those are always going to be our top stops. There are some great Vegetarian Chinese restaurants on Buford highway. The Dekalb farmers market for spices, veggies and tea is a favorite spot. The cat cafes are attractive. We probably would go to Thumbs Up for breakfast. Oakland Cemetery in the spring or fall deserves a visit. We might see what was going on at the High Museum. Little Five points thrift stores would be a day for sure. The Book Nook we can get lost in for hours. The Center for Puppetry Arts is a unique place and not to be missed. The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is also not to be missed.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people that even just meeting them has changed the course of our professional lives. For the purposes of this series we want to focus on the Women who have been majorly influential for us, specifically in Atlanta. Set design in particular has been and, continues to be a male dominated field, as are the majority of producers in professional theatre. When we moved to Atlanta we were pleasantly surprised by the number of women in leadership roles. Surely we will miss someone, but we want to specifically mention a group of women whose passion for theatre and incredible business sense, along with friendship have been inspiring on our journey in Atlanta. We owe a lot to the support and encouragement of these incredible women. Jessica Phelps-West gave us our first design job in Atlanta at Theatre in the Square. Through them we met Heidi McKerley who has been a constant collaborator and friend ever since. Margurite Hannah and Lisa Adler at Horizon Theatre, Lisa Watson at True Colors, and Rochelle Shinn at Theatrical Outfit have all been major influences on us. As we are writing this we are realizing that it’s really the community of Atlanta artists who have been incredibly supportive and collaborators that we have learned so much from. So many people who have been influential in our career paths and in our personal lives that we can’t imagine not knowing them and we are so grateful for their presence in our lives. So here is our opportunity to thank them for being amazing artists and amazing people. Tom Key, Freddie Ashley, Clifton Gutterman, Jeff Adler, Keith Bolden, Tinashe Kajese Bolden, David Crowe, Jeff McKerley, Danielle Taylor, Andre Allen, Mary Parker, S. Renee Clark, Eric Little, Ann-Carol Pence, Anthony Rodriguez, Aku Kadogo and of course our parents who are always supportive in whatever we do.