Wednesday, February 10, 2016

IMTC's The Hound of the Baskervilles: Costume Build Part I - Dear, Prudence

Idle Muse Theatre Company prides itself on producing theatre that will transport you to another place and time. Regardless of what the characters are wearing... we take you there...but we also then turn around quickly and say..."it actually doesn't matter that someone is in a three piece suit with a narrow lapel - the issues are the same and situations are similar. Social relevance is as important a story device as the plot is to us." 

That said, we often find ourselves frequently doing period Victorian and Edwardian pieces - but I'll let the dramaturg and director blog about social, class, and cultural constructs.

Rather, let us talk briefly about Victorian sensibilities in the way of clothing and what it means to be a Victorian in said clothing.  

Victoria herself was very self conscious and liked to use her clothing to protect her from the outside world. She was constantly covered from top to bottom. As a designer that concept in and of itself is very is a choice for that character. A character that wants to be protected typically wears more layers and covers up more flesh: Layers, High necked collars. 

But then - there's all the pretty tatted lace and frills. Florals. Corsets. Yummy corsets. Yes. 

Yeah. That. We as a culture (and I mean worldwide not just English or American) find the Victorian silhouette so romantic and lusty that we have really (sometimes literally) over fetishized the look of the corset and the thigh high stocking and the high necked lace collar. Those particular garments in and of themselves have created a look that is very dominant for the female figure. What was once the epitome of vulnerability is now a very strong look. The choice is different modern women we can dress as we please and if that look is appealing, so be it and the devil may care. 

It was not so in 1889. Women wore what they wore because if they didn't their decorum and moral character was immediately questioned - or worse - taken. London was theivey and rapey. And frightening. About the time of our play begins, the famous Jack the Ripper was preying on women of ill repute. There was, immediately, a response in fashion. Garments were tighter, higher and lower in all the appropriate places. 

Fashion was not just social - but like an exoskeleton of safety.

In Dartmoor Devonshire women have a little more freedom clothing wise. It's more practical lifestyle. Rather than dodge a running carriage in a street filled with horse manure and urine...women find themselves in the middle of nowhere and having to do a lot more walking. But there are creatures  - not just likely thieves and rapists like London - but actual creatures.

If one covers up oneself in London to protect oneself from immorality and degradation, covers up oneself in the country to be safe from nature.

How, then, do we tell the story of Beryl Stapleton in period clothing? In period clothing on a budget. A tight budget. Tiiiight.  In the land of storefront theatre, as  a costume designer and producer - I try very hard to stay at $100 per person including shoes. In a cast of 11 that is very difficult. (and most of the full timers out there reading this are laughing at its near impossibility)

I've found that in this challenging arena - Layered Texture is queen. (Salve regina).

Or in Beryl's case the lack thereof. She is vulnerable and exotic and enticing. Those are easily translated into the traditional silhouette. I chose the bustle (more on that later) the overbust corset and cotton lawn under things (it's very sheer cotton and is super easy to work with)

But she is also a victim in a world where someone would notice if she were dressed inappropriately or in a state of distress. 

In order to achieve that my choice is layers of white chiffon and delicate organza butterfly details.

Why white chiffon and white organza? The idea behind the chiffon is that it will give a solid appearance when her outfit is lit head on and be more gossamer if  back lit. More spectral. More mystical. It's also a pretty solid choice to highlight her frailty.  

She is very fragile and as the show unfolds you come to find out exactly why.

Also - I can pretty much have my way with the texture. Beryl will be ruffled and trimmed and posh...and very transparently dressed in the right moments of the show to highlight her vulnerability.

As for the period trappings.  Meet...Prudence the Lobster Tail Cane Bustle. (Yes. I name some stuff in my line of business. It keeps me from going mad...)

There is a bustle pad (Purchased. I'm not THAT crazy) and a hand made cane bustle. yeah. handmade. (Right now in the photos it is just basted. I will eventually seal up this sucker. Actors are notoriously hard on stuff. Which is fine by me. I don't have to memorize anything and talk in front of people for two hours. I'll get them what they need in order to move the way they need to comfortably).

And now the fun budgeting begins. I wanted sheerness and "see-throughity" but didn't really want the look of the concentric caning. So...I made Prudence and then gave her a lovely triple layer of tulle.  The tulle is still sheer and will soften the look of the lobster tail.  By the by - I deliberately chose this shape of bustle.  While the actress will still be able to function as a will look like she cannot. We have trained ourselves to see collapsible bustling. This bustle is something much more staunch and has a visual weight that most other bustles won't have  - e.g. the other two ladies in this show will be wearing them -  but their bustles look more as if you could set the dresses aside and use the bustles as pillows upon which to nap. 

Prudence will make Beryl look like she's a prisoner of her own clothing - regardless of the lightness of the chiffon and the frothy ruffling. She will look bound up and trussed up like a sacrificial poultry. 

Ok well hopefully sexier than that....

And the finished look. (only ruffled by machine, y'all. All layers are hand sewn. three layers of tulle.)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Talking Cure: Galvanometer Build Diary

The Galvanometer

Phase III – The Build

The Conduction Paddles. Two vintage cutting boards and two 6" x 6" Red Brass 26 gauge Sheets

All cutting boards are gotta sand them down into oblivion. I used a jeweler's saw to cut out the brass sheeting into the "pad" shapes. Using both wood glue and sobo glue, I attached the paddles to the cutting boards and then used aluminum tacks to secure them.

 The Galvanometer Base Instrument/Control Center. Vintage Cigar Box with brass latch and brass hinges and an old brass and glass barometer.

So there was lots of dremel usage. If you don't have one...I highly recommend picking one up.

The husband is a sheer genius when it comes to the construction of the things....

We recycled everything we bought and used every single piece to make this bad boy.

Sawing the piping for the "optical tower"

Removing the cigar box label was a giant pain in the neck. Luckily we see an awesome chiropractor. LOL.

Pretty fun!

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Talking Cure: The Thrifting Game

The Galvanometer

Phase II – Rummaging and Thrifting

I had my groovy list of the important pieces: The Conduction Paddles; The Galvanometer Base Instrument/Control Center; The Stopwatch and Case; The Bell Jar Receptor; The Slide Rule; and the Optical Tower. I drafted a rough sketch for the director's approval.

Timing is always of the essence in a theatrical production – especially if the actors need to practice with it.

First, I created a mock up. It helped me to determine what it is I could make and with what materials. This is also something I eventually turned over to the actors for their use in rehearsal.

So. The thrifting. Budget. Budget. Budget....and budget are so important.

Hollywood had an enviable gorgeous wooden and lacquer and brass machine. I had to keep it lean which meant: Salvation Army, Etsy, Ebay, garage sales, Craigslist, Goodwill and my ever present stash of broken vintage jewelry and odd Steampunkery.

Here's what I scored:

The Conduction Paddles. Two vintage cutting boards and two 6" x 6" Red Brass 26 gauge Sheets

The Galvanometer Base Instrument/Control Center. Vintage Cigar Box with brass latch and brass hinges and an old brass and glass barometer

The Stopwatch and Case. Dilapidated Plastic Vintage Looking Watch and the box in which it came. Martha Stewart craft paint. Guilder's Paste. Scrap Leather. Broken base metal filigree belt

The Bell Jar Receptor. An old brass and glass thermometer and a 1990s glass and brass colored plastic dome clock

The Slide Rule. A vintage ruler and some assorted wood and metal whatnot from my jewelry making collection

The Optical Tower. Copper piping; copper tubing; old oiled copper jewelry display; 30 gauge wire and a vacuum tube

The vacuum tube, being from a radio, is not at all period...but it looks pretty close to the bulb that they used. I had to decorate it a little to make it look more authentic.

The Talking Cure: Adventures in Properties Design

The Galvanometer

Phase I – The Designing

Design for me always comes with plenty of research. 

What is it? From where did it originate? What did it do? What was its purpose? How was it made? How can we make an affordable replica? What was the science behind it back then? What did they have as building materials at their disposal?

Metal. Wood. Glass. Paper.

From there, I have to heavily consider theatrical practicality: can the actor use it; can it be moved; who will be taking it on and off stage; will the audience see it up close; does it need to be opened and maintained; and what size does it need to be in order to read as what it is supposed to be without being obtrusive?

So – once I read the script of the show – I talk with the director about how he would like the piece to look. In this instance, we both referenced the film version.

I don't normally do that as there is a great danger in getting research from Hollywood. Not just because of accuracy...but also because other designers have already translated into film what we need for stage. It's not always attainable from a cost standpoint.

However, the creative team working on A Dangerous Method very cleverly created what a Galvanometer would have been used for in psychoanalysis (more like a polygraph machine in the way that it measured emotional response via skin conductivity rather than what a galvanometer was originally used for – magnetic atmospheric field measurements).

There were enough recognizable shapes and pieces that could be easily obtained by Ebay, Etsy, Thrift shop, borrowing indefinitely and fabricating.

We had to scale it down, so I drafted a plan to make the galvanometer system about 1/3 of the size in the film. This included the periphery items such as the stop watch and case and the slide rule – both of which are seen on other tables in the scene. We needed all of the instruments to completely fit onto one table/one tray (for ease of use and set change choreography).

I made a list of the important pieces: The Conduction Paddles; The Galvanometer Base Instrument/Control Center; The Stopwatch and Case; The Bell Jar Receptor; The Slide Rule; and the Optical Tower. I drafted a rough sketch for the director's approval.

Thereafter, I planned shopping and acquisition so that I could get the materials right away.
Galvanometer Design for The Talking Cure
Erin R. Gallagher 2015

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Memorial Neck Tie Coin Purses (Part One)

It's difficult to lose a loved one. Not only that, but often we are left with the stuff. And the stuff can take over our lives and often manifest itself in a physical sadness that needs to be stored and dusted. It can actually sometimes even take over our lives much like those individuals featured on "Hoarders". I feel hard for those folks. They live in their own sadness like they live in a castle with a moat. It pains me.

I constantly reinvent myself as an artist. Which is not to say that I one day decide to be a dancer or a lawyer (although it is sometimes relevant. My parents are a dancer and a lawyer and they are often inspiration for my art). I'm all mixed media all the time.  That often leads me to be an architect, a painter, a sculptor, a stitcher, a drafter, a jewelry artisan and the like. It allows me the creative freedom to help my clients express themselves. I listen carefully to the message they want to say and then help them say it.

Every once in a while I get to "pay it forward" as an artist. Not meaning work for free necessarily, as I often volunteer for community art projects, but sometimes commissioned pieces can be really satisfying and wonderful. For example, my current client's father passed away and she had several of his neckties that she wanted me to make into coin purses so that she could give them as Christmas gifts. I'd never been officially asked to do a memorial piece before, so I was really honored.

Memorial items are a wonderful way to use the stuff and still remember the person. I call it "respectful recycling".

Here is the beginning of the Memorial Necktie Coin Purse  journal. The pictures are a bit outdated since I'm further along in the process, but I wanted to post today.

There are eight of them in total. (Nine ties total. There is also a solid black on that I plan to use for the lining of however many purses I can) The client provided the hardware.

Each kiss clasp had a different color or attribute, so I first  matched up each frame with each tie. The ties themselves are a beautiful time capsule of menswear. I love the one with the Spartan warriors. That one is my favorite, admittedly. They are all really great vintage and contemporary pieces, though. Some silk and handmade, some not. All vibrant and colorful.

Now since it is a coin purse, I won't be posting the pattern, per se.  I drafted it from several free online patterns that are available from quilting websites that I follow. I got permission to use the pattern.

However, I do have several construction recommendations. First, it is recommended that you photograph the items and look at them before you cut them out. If you want to change the color assignments with the kiss clasps, it's easier to do while the ties are still whole so that you can see the neckties and the little detail beads in the right lighting.

 Secondly - I highly recommend that you reserve some of the material and connect it to the tie with a safety pin so that you don't lose your place - or worse - come back later and forget your plan.

Stay tuned for part two. I'm about two weeks ahead of myself in construction and not...I will include more construction photos.

Until next time readers, stay savvy and stay creative.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Costume Design Presentation

Tonight is the designer presentations for the upcoming production of Jekyll and Hyde that we are doing this Fall.  The cast will be there to do a read through and then it's "go" time for me. The director, Nathan, and I have talked at length about the process and the stage business. Now it is time to implement all of those things into one cohesive design concept.

Sounds easy, right? It can be a challenge. Especially when you have two actors who rarely leave the stage and play at least three people. These same two actors also perform stage violence so the outfits have to be both convertible and comfortable.

I'd mentioned all of that before. The part for designers that becomes the challenge is "selling" our ideas about how we plan to do this within a set budget. While our budget is not "shoe string" - it is not at all the budget that the Steppenwolf, Lookingglass or Chicago Shakespeare Theatre would have to put on a Victorian production. So I have the opportunity to get really creative with my resources and my tools. And I do look at it as an opportunity. Problem solving is also part of design.

For example, these actors need a plethora of pockets. Where will they go? Can they be seen? Do they need hidden pockets to conceal things and what will they be concealing? Is there stage blood utilized? Yes. That means laundry. Can Victorian clothing be washed? Not really - but now it has to be.

While I'm not going to give away exactly how things will work (I do want to save something for the post show talk backs) I will tell you how many hours go in to planning this sort of thing.

From Draping to Patterning to Building to Embellishing - you will know the truth behind these costumes and why they need to be a certain way to tell this story the way we want.

Today we talk concept. I will repost pictures after the director has given his blessing.  :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

Doctor Jekyll, I Costume ... er ... Presume

My theatrical production company, Idle Muse, is producing one of my favorite stories: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  We will be putting up the production this September. Whoa. Wait. Hold on. Stop. Halt. Stani. ArrĂȘte. Alto! Lest you start channeling "The Hoff" and dancing about proclaiming that “this is this moment”...please know that we are not, I repeat not, doing the musical Jekyll and Hyde

You will just have to get your Wildhorn and Cuden fix somewhere else.

This play, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is adapted by Jeffrey Hatcher, from the novella Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. We've only had two production meetings and even though it will have it's classic Late Victorian splendor, it already promises to be just as thrilling and gory as I remember the book being.

This provides me with, now, one of my greatest challenges as a costume designer. We want to portray the grit of the era while staying true to the text. There are six actors each with his or her own track (e.g. five of said actors will play a handful of characters while the actor playing Jekyll will remain only himself). 

Did I mention that this is Late Victorian? Yep. 1883. All of its upper crusty and West London with a side of Industrial Revolution.

Most of the actors have costume changes in 5 (yes, “five”) seconds or less. The impetus is to have it all be deftly wrapped in a blanket of seriousness and not have it become a giant ludicrous "camp fest."

There is a thin line between speed and humor and speed and efficiency of movement that makes the hair on every designer's neck stand up. We designers all want our serious work to be taken seriously. Camp quick changes are all well and good when doing a production of The Mystery of Irma Vepp.  

Camp is not our intention here, so, I must carefully examine each actor's stage business with the patience of a neurosurgeon before I proceed.

The principles of the show will be guided by the director, Ensemble Member, Nathan Pease. The Concepts of the show fit into our mission statement as a company.

So too must the costumes of this show conform to that Late Victorian setting.

I love a challenge.

"This is what I know..."