Behind the scenes look as Drama’s wardrobe department pull off the styles of the roaring 20s
While sitting in the audience at the theatre you’re probably not wondering, “Who designed that outfit?” That’s because one of the goals of the play’s costume designer is to help the audience immerse themselves in the imaginary world presented to them.
A play set in another era requires the actors to adopt long forgotten mannerisms, accents and of course, believable stage garb. And achieving that level of authenticity takes a lot of work.
In the U of A Studio Theatre’s production of The Violet Hour – a dark comedy set in 1919 at the cusp of the roaring 20s – the costumes reflect the times.
Women did away with rigid Victorian corsets and donned slinky skin-revealing numbers. Men adopted a brighter colour palette, baggy trousers and slim jackets.
It’s quite an undertaking to outfit a full cast in the appropriate garb, but costume designers Sabrina Evertt and Joanna Johnston were up to the task.
We cashed in an all-access pass to the show’s wardrobe on the Timms’ second floor to sit in on actor Lianna Makuch’s costume fitting. Lianna (‘13 BFA) plays Rosamund Plinth in the Gatsby-era production.
For anyone who isn’t into theatre, a costume fitting may seem like a foreign term. Actors meet with the wardrobe staff and try on each outfit they’ll wear in the show. During the fittings, any adjustments that need to be made are recorded.
Lianna and Joanna – who also serves as Wardrobe Manager – huddled to discuss makeup possibilities for her character. They agree lipstick is key, as the 1920’s were the beginning of a cultural shift in daily cosmetics becoming more common among the upper class.
Lianna’s first outfit is a flouncy, blue number tied at the waist with an elaborate sash. The team, which includes Johnston, along with the Fine Arts Building Costumer Karen Kucher and Drama’s Milliner Kathleen Mulder, bustle about Lianna – murmuring about possible adjustments to be made.
A lengthy discussion evolves regarding Lianna’s hair – it’s decided she’ll wear it up.
Kathleen appears with a hat – a straw cloche with a turned up brim and blue trim – and a matching straw clutch purse for the character.
The team agonizes over jewelry for the outfit. Pearls are decidedly of the era, but what shape, colour and length? Lianna must also be able to get in and out of any accessories chosen easily, as she has a quick change with a 3-minute window in the middle of the show.
With that in mind, the team forgoes a necklace in favour of pearl drop earrings.
Lianna’s second outfit, a quintessential flapper dress boasts the era’s signature dropped waist and slinky material. Joanna is delighted the dress’ length is just right – she was concerned Lianna’s height would bring the hem up scandalously high. Prior to Lianna’s fighting she pinned some extra swatches along the hem, which seem to have done the trick.
For this outfit, a long double-string of pearls in selected and the piece de resistance – a flapper headband appears from Kathleen’s 1920’s wardrobe section backstage, complete with feather plumes and jewels.
Lianna sways back and forth in front of the costume room’s mirror, familiarizing herself with how her dress flows and practices taking the headpiece on and off.
With the costumes pinned, adjustments made and accessories chosen, the team will work together to have them ready for opening night.
The Violet Hour runs September 18 – 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Timms Centre for the Arts (87 Avenue & 112 Street) on the University of Alberta North campus in Edmonton. Tickets are $11 student, $22 adult, $20 senior available online now at TIX on the Square and at the Timms Centre box office one hour before each performance. There is a $5 preview Wednesday, September 17 at 7:30 p.m. There is no performance on Sunday, September 21. A matinee is scheduled for Thursday, September 25 at 12:30 p.m.
For information about The Violet Hour see http://uofa.ualberta.ca/events/the-violet-hour