Day Two – How to wear clothes

Macbeth rehearsal

Day two

Tuesday 28th September

It is day two and we are practically sorted costume-wise. I am not remotely qualified to be a costume designer so I don’t really know what “practically sorted costume-wise” means. But as we only need to source one more pair of shoes in a company of five actors, I’d say that was “practically sorted. Costume-wise.”

Our overall concept for costumes was that we had no overall concept. We wanted the costumes to be incidental, not centre stage. Sometimes you see a show and it’s all about the costumes. This is fine. Especially when you have fantastic designers, fabrics, budgets… but we don’t have that. The primary function for our costumes was:

1) for the actors to be comfortable
2) for the actors to be not naked

Our primary concern is telling the story. The problem with finding a ‘neutral’ is the same as finding a ‘random’. It is pretty hard. Every clothing choice we made, no matter how neutral, suggested something. We thought about putting people in black, but even then I was reminded of the drama-school ‘Black Catsuit’, or even worse, the verse-and-prose-speaking-exam ‘Leotard and Acting Skirt’ with hair scraped back… (cue horrid flashback argh. Stop. NO.)

Then for me it became about being told what to wear. I don’t want to tell actors what to wear. I hate being told what to wear. I never wore a school uniform until age 11, and never had to wear “smart clothes” to work until I got a particularly corporate temping job. Being told how to dress is fascism. Control. Lack of creativity. (Some uniforms ARE stylish though).

What I mean is that generally people are happiest when they have the things they want to have adorning their bodies, adorning their bodies. Your body is your business, right? Look at what happens when people are forced by law to NOT wear something (I reckon women in France should have the right to wear what they like on their heads and faces, so long as it is their decision, right?) But that’s another story…

This is not the same for costumes however – costumes is dressing up. And actors (generally) like dressing up. Corsets, military uniforms, hats, things we never get to wear normally are allowed if you are an actor, and the paraphernalia that comes with acting can be helpful, expressive, aesthetic.

So we decided to walk the weird balance between actors feeling like themselves, feeling comfortable, wearing colours and shapes we want them to wear, without too much being suggested.

Simple. Keep it about the people who are playing and the space they are playing in. The props have to be bold so that they ‘read’ for an audience. So if we have ‘crypt-coloured’ clothes, with brightly coloured props, they will stand out.

Hurrah. A palette. And suddenly all those things we had steadfastly tried to avoid. A CONCEPT. A mood board was drawn up, a budget (ha ha!) and still the big question – “will the actors be comfortable”. I did a play once where they wanted the dress I was wearing to look wet. So 45 minutes before the beginners call on press night I couldn’t find my costume, because it was being “wetted”. I went to put it on, but as this was an outdoor shakespeare, and as the silk fabric was now heavy and dripping with water, this was not possible without some degree of hypothermia heeding my performance. From that point I wondered how difficult it would be for the designers, director and actors to all be on the same page – is it possible for aesthetics to be utilitarian? Are uniforms that exact crossover? Have I totally contradicted myself about the uniform thing?

Probably. But all I know is my main hope as “costume person” for this project is to try and get this design/function relationship as harmonious as possible. We have actors wearing stretchy fabrics, floaty fabrics, light fabrics, protective fabrics, even knee pads, fashioned out of oven gloves and velcro.

And so despite having a concept, an aesthetic and a “palette”, we still havent stopped asking the question: “Will the actors be comfortable”. With that in mind we are practically sorted costume-wise I reckon.

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