Friday, August 29, 2008

Stones in His Pockets: A Day in the Life of a Costumer

Working as a costume designer is rarely an experience like very many other occupations. My responsibilities change drastically depending on the show I am working on or even day to day. One day I could spend shopping at every local resale store to find the ugliest plaid pants possible and the next day spent dyeing various scarves, sweaters, and shirts just the right shades of pink, green, or blue. One of the things that keeps this job exciting is that I'll never know what will be the biggest challenge for a new play (or what kind of strange look I'll get from the salesperson when I walk up to the counter with every single pair of blue tights that they have in stock and more fake flowers than I can carry).

With the most recent show in rehearsal now, Stones in His Pockets, the challenge was unlike any other show I've worked on before. With thirteen characters and only two actors (Tim Budd and Jim Van Valen), this show is unique because we see a whole town full of people being portrayed by two men, often switching characters multiple times within one page of the script. My job is to find an interesting way to help the actors portray all the different roles quickly and easily. Initially, I envisioned mind-blowing five second costume changes from a farmer's pair of grubby overalls, work boots and woolen sweater to a posh dress, wig and sunglasses fit only for a Hollywood diva. But this time the show required different plans than my overly elaborate daydreams.

With the praiseworthy speed and frequency in which these two men change their voices and body language, the costumes had to keep up. Translation = simplify, simplify, simplify... and lots of secret pockets. Through collaboration with Jim, Tim, and our director, the fabulous Jody Hovland, to find the perfect solution - we pinned down specific hats, scarves, sunglasses and more to signify each character. By means of costume pieces that can be tucked away in pockets, behind shirt collars and under jackets the audience is given just enough information to envision the same person as a catholic priest one moment and a stuck-up movie director the next.

As we inch closer to the September 5th opening, various ideas continue to shift and change, keeping me, as always, on my toes and loving it. Besides, with all the whirlwind of activity on stage it would be hard for me not to enjoy watching how Jim and Tim develop such interesting and often hilarious characters out of the costumes they have been given... an experience truly worth seeing.

Much love from the world of sewing machines and silly hats,
Lindsey Robinson

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Stones in His Pockets: Director's Blog

Today we had what's called a "stumble through" of the entire play - five days after our first rehearsal! This is designed to give the designers a chance to see how the playing space is being used, what the demands will be on costumes, what props are still needed, and where the landscape of the play needs to be partnered with sound and lights. It's a lot of pressure for actors (Tim Budd and Jim Van Valen) who are still holding their scripts while trying to remember where the heck they're supposed to be and which of the 15 characters they're transitioning into at any particular moment.

And if that wasn't harrowing enough - then we hauled them out to rural Solon to stand in a pasture with a small herd of cows while photographer Bob Goodfellow took their picture for a media release. "We'd just like a photo of a single cow - the one with the black and white face would be great - with an actor on each side," the director naively announced. Right. In spite of having grown up in a farm family, my cow savvy was in short supply. Every time the actors moved close to the cows, they backed up, a bovine chorus line. Jim and Tim held out apples and corn, luring them closer, then tried to quickly drop the food from view so Bob could shoot a photo. Meanwhile Charlie the donkey is getting way too familiar with Bob, who keeps admonishing him, "Charlie, I'm telling you, this just isn't going to work out."

Bob's a wizard. He (and his computer) will whip those bossies into photographic shape. Stay tuned - after this, the acting might seem easy!

Jody Hovland