Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Almost Classical Costume Design

Having spent a great deal of my career designing for Shakespeare and the classical repertory, I was immensely intrigued by the idea of Merchant on Venice. When I read the script I was excited by the language, the use of iambic pentameter, the fascinating characters, the references to Bollywood, and the overall vivid imagery of the show. As I reread it, I found that there were ties to Shakespearean production that needed to be retained, as well as parts of the script that needed to be “created” without references to its classical forefather. Merchant on Venice is NOT Shakespeare, but borrowing from Shakespearean design traditions will help enhance and reveal its characters and themes to our audiences.

I also noted that, upon rereading, my design research was going to take me down several paths simultaneously. Although contemporary in time and place, I am not intimately familiar with the mode of dress in Culver City, CA. Nor with Hindu-American or Muslim-American fashions… or traditional Bohra Muslim dress… or with the fashion traditions in India beyond the Sari… or with Bollywood… etc, etc, etc. and the list is endless. Well, at this point I could be totally overwhelmed by what I didn’t know, or just dig in and start learning.

I started to read…and look at LOTS of pictures. Fashion, costumes, social structure… all became important. Hollywood, Bollywood (thanks to Lavina, our dramaturg, we had a great Bollywood film night with the design team… and we learned and shared more in those few hours than imaginable)…LA fashion designers, Bombay fashion designers, ‘60s retro fashions… Everything became research.

I looked at photos of fashion week in NY and LA… as well as London and Asian designers for 2007. I researched religious mandates for clothing, as well as jewelry and body adornment (tattoos, piercings, dyes, etc). I saw Lee’s set model and discussed his design with him. I spent some time on the phone with Shishir, the playwright, discussing themes, intentions, and characters. And now I’m finally ready to do the paperwork for the design… a costume chart scheduling what is worn and when it is worn by the actors, as well as dealing with quick changes. Once that is done, I will be able to get on with the actual design of the piece, putting together composite plates that will show the director and the actors what I want each character to wear in the production.

So that’s it for now… more later when I finish the costume designs.

Carol Blanchard

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