Designer’s Desk: Costumes
Coming into this project I knew that costuming the Edinburgh show would prove to be challenging, pushing my ability to be creative and to problem solve. However, the challenges I thought I would face were more along the lines of “What if I have a super small budget?” or “What if the show requires a million costume changes and I have to pack all of the pieces in one tiny trunk?” It never even crossed my mind that I would be asked to design a show that didn’t exist yet. I was, and am, excited to devise our own play because then it will be something that is completely our own, but this brought up a whole new area of challenges for me. “If there is no script, how do I know how many characters there are? What kind of characters are they? What time period are we in; past, present, future? Where is the play set? Are we even on Earth? Are the characters even human?”
So there I was, trying to design a show that could potentially go in any direction the company sees possible, trying to stay flexible with the designs while at the same time providing the show with something more than just jeans and black t-shirts. What I got first was the title, Forget Fire, and the general theme of a wall, one of the first technological advancements. The wall provided some sort of physical inspiration and direction, unfortunately my brain was stuck on very literal interpretation of a wall, and God help me if I dressed all 12 cast members in brick and mortar suits. When I asked the company manager how I should go about beginning this particular design process, he told to think of it this way: instead of molding my design to a script, the script will be molded to my idea. Apparently, devising meant no limitations to what I could create, cool, awesome; but within this freedom laid the problem. As Georges Braque (whom, if you don’t know, please look up his art, and yes, it looks a lot like Picasso) once said, “It is the limitation of means that determines style, gives rise to new forms, and makes creativity possible.” Which basically means, to create, you need something to solve and be creative about. All of this limitless power was overwhelming, there was nothing to push my ideas into one direction or the other. So, I began finding and setting my own limits that I could further create from. Well, I knew that as a company we were interested in the topic of technology and its relation to the human race. The relationship we were exploring between the two was not particularly hostile or completely beneficial, but rather one that was more symbiotic. For me, this translated to architectural man-made structure dominating the top half of the outfits that then disintegrated into flowing organic forms towards the bottom working together to make one cohesive look that was slightly dissonant at the same time. This also inspired the color palette of creamy peaches and soft lilacs, representing humanity, and contrasting steely grays, blues, and blacks that invoke technology.
Okay, cool, so I had something, an inspiration that was broad enough to encompass all of the topics our company was interested in while at the same time making it specific enough for me to start working from. However, I needed another limit, another something to bounce off from; I knew the company discussed the idea of our problem with loneliness. That this problem of feeling isolated in a world of connection isn’t something that happened because of technology, but rather is a resident problem that has lasted throughout the ages, so the idea of possibly going back and forth between time seemed like a legitimate direction, and writing the play in the genre of Magical Realism was an area of excitement for all involved. Because of this, I began incorporating silhouettes from different time periods so that we could have the possibility to suggest a different time if we needed to, but also making the costumes feel outside of time (magical, if you wish) and yet relatable to today’s
Though the original concept of ‘wall’ sort of stumped me at the beginning, I began looking at it from a different perspective and found the inspiration I needed from the layers needed to create a wall and how that could symbolize our constant need to put layers on to define ourselves, hide, or proclaim who we are. And, yes, while I have quite literally layered pieces, I also hope to achieve this look through creative uses of rope, yarn, chains, zippers, and lace. This use of layers also provides the option to take pieces off, put more on, and by that providing flexibility in the looks of the characters which is essential when you don’t know what future scenes will demand.
In the midst of designing the show, an idea kept bobbing around in my head that seemed somewhat unrelated to my costume pieces, but it interested me nonetheless. The idea of a piece of fabric that could travel throughout the story that physically represented connection; and, if we skipped around in time it could transcend the periods connecting the characters from one story to the next. The moment I presented this to Cathy Thomas-Grant, the director, she immediately took to the idea and encouraged me to explore this concept more fully which I am in the process of now. So far, I have chosen a silk jersey that has a yummy, buttery, slinky-ness to it with some stretch so that the piece of fabric has a life of its own regardless of the tasks that will be asked of it in the future. If it has to flutter around stage and look pretty, it can do that. If it needs to be wrapped around someone and become a make-shift skirt, it can do that as well. I am also exploring different dying techniques to add some organic texture to the fabric, providing some visual interest which I am extremely excited about. Hopefully this crazed idea pays off and the dying techniques I’m trying look somewhat cool, fingers and toes crossed.
All in all, I am super stoked to be working on this show and am interested in seeing how it will further boost my problem solving skills, sewing skills, and nunchuks skills. Though I have faced many unexpected difficulties already, I have a feeling that these won’t be the last. Bring it on.