Monday, May 23, 2011

Designed for a Kiss

By Allie Wigley, Marketing Intern

When confronted with the task of designing costumes for
Stage Kiss, Linda Roethke found herself in the curious position of dreaming up clothes for not one play, but three—Stage Kiss, a play about life in the theater, features two plays within the play, the first of which is a 1930s melodrama, and the second, a grungy piece set in the present. The Goodman’s Allie Wigley caught up with the designer to talk inspiration, research and tackling a large scale project that seamlessly dips in and out of period costumes.

Allie Wigley: How did you initially get involved with this production?

Linda Roethke
: Jessica Thebus and I have collaborated on Sarah Ruhl's The Clean House (Goodman), Dead Man’s Cell Phone (Steppenwolf) and recently, Orlando at Court Theatre; she invited me to design the costumes for this production.

AW: How did you approach the design for Stage Kiss?

LR: That’s such a good question. I always begin the design process with research, and what guides this process is sometimes practical questions, but most often questions about the world of the play and the characters that leads to a strong point of view about the themes of the play. One of the questions I explored for Stage Kiss was, how might an actor dress themselves for an audition for a style piece? How does a deepening sense of character through the rehearsal process alter the way they might see themselves on and off stage? It’s a pretty broad and subjective field of inquiry.

AW: How did the costumes evolve through the design process?

LR: One of the important steps was actually hearing the play read in staged-reading form by the cast in an early draft last year. Jessica had cast the production and having everyone in the room—the actors that would originate the roles, Sarah Ruhl, and the director—was very helpful.

I then did more specific research in terms of the contemporary clothing for the actors, and ended up layering in vintage pieces for the characters such as [the director] Adrian and She [the leading lady] which is a nod to the past but also features styles that are popular now. For the scenes of the 1930s play within the play, I thought about what that caché of glamour was in the ’30s and how we look back at it through a contemporary lens. So I had to pull out my favorite 1930s films, and films set in the 1930s, and watch them again—such a tough job being a designer. Working with Jessica, I filtered through the piles of research until I felt the need to draw. I also had conversations with my team about how the second play within the play morphs the clothing.

AW: Did you build most of the costumes or did you find a lot of the pieces?

LR:I met with the Goodman’s costume shop manager, Heidi McMath, to talk through the designs. It was so important to all of us that the character She experiences her world changing, turning into the glamorous romantic world of the past in a fairly seamless and, yes, slightly ridiculous way. A big part of this was that the tailoring of the men's costumes in the ’30s play; that their clothes be impeccably tailored. I designed the tailoring for the men in midnight blue, a heightened blue, which is very 1930s, but rarely done anymore. The Goodman staff did all the tailoring for me, built all the tuxedos, the smoking jacket, the dressing gown. Sarah had also described a green dress [shown above] in the script, and it had to be built, so I looked at green deco glass. And we ended up building altogether three green dresses for the story telling and Millicent and Millie’s costumes as well.

AW: How do the costumes reflect the experience of the characters?

LR: It’s all a progression; all the relationships are mirrored in the costumes. For example, look at the costumes of He, the leading man. He as an actor, played by Mark L. Montgomery, goes from the actor in casual, modern black and white [right], to elegant blacks and whites: suits and ’30s formal wear [above]. It’s all a progression. He starts early on in casual wear and becomes more elaborate as She falls in love with him.

Then there is She. In the beginning you really don’t know much about her. She has a nice bag and nice shoes. Basic, plain clothes. After that she becomes Ada Wilcox through her costume. Here’s a middle-age woman with a 16-year-old kid and she’s back in a romance where she’s glamorous and he’s gorgeous. It was important that the costumes for that part be sparkly and elegant and slightly comedic. It’s heightened; it’s as if she’s looking through rose-colored glasses. After that She, the actress, becomes Ada Wilcox, the character she plays, through her costumes.

AW: It looks like there is a lot of black and white in your sketches. Were there any other specific materials, patterns or colors you wanted to repeat throughout?

LR: I’m using the stripes, the black and white, the elegant pinstripe idea and the classic hat. I have nods to those material elements throughout the play, outside of the 1930s part. Quite a few stripes, because it’s “in” now in fashion and fits in the plays within the play. There is a lot of mixing of contemporary clothing and vintage clothing, which is very popular in New York right now. I think the black is used a lot because it’s worn by a lot of theater people. Black was also extensively used in the ’30s in black deco lacquered wood. It’s black and white with a very deco pallet to go with the green dress. I used a lot of silks; all the costumes for the ’30s play are made up of silks, black satin, silk chiffon, and beautiful midnight blue wools.

AW: You mentioned that the costumes progress with the characters. How is that complicated by the plays within the play?

LR: I think the costumes will help clarify what is going on. It can be a little confusing when you read the script because multiple actors play multiple roles. When audiences experience it, I hope the costumes help keep things clear. You’ll have to let me know!

Design renderings by Linda Roethke.

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