First, theatrical costuming begins with the script. Drawings come later.
Read the script through, put it down for a couple of days to a week, then
pick it up again and read it. Keep reading it until you begin to pick up on
HOW the characters relate to one another--how do they interact, how do they
react, what's their psychology. This plays a part in how they would dress.
Secondary to this, but just as important, is where the play takes
place--what's its setting, time period, time of the year, etc. And look for
clues that the playwright wrote into the script, too. These are things that
are inherently necessary for the action or character's reasonings found in
the storyline. Write down when each character appears in each scene--this
determines whether or not a quick-change will be needed. It also can
determine what an actor will need to wear from one scene to the next. You
can't have an actor be dressed as a ballerina in one scene and in the next
return onstage as an old lady--should that occur in a play.
Drawings and sketches are wonderful, but don't start out with the
nitty-gritty details of collars, sleeves, embellishments, etc. "Thumbnail"
sketches are a good starting point, saving paper, time, and can allow for a
rough idea without making a pretty piece of art that you'd hate to end up
having wasted the time on when the director says to you, "I don't like it,
change it, it doesn't fit the character." Remember, you have to work in
collaboration with the idea the director has for the show. And so too with
the scene and lighting designer. Otherwise, you might have an actress with
blonde hair wearing a yellow dress on a yellow couch in yellowish sunlight.
All the audience would see is a blob of yellow. Ick. And also remember
that the actor must work in the costume. A play set in the Antebellum South
might have huge hoop skirts, but those skirts must be able to go through
doors and sit in chairs and move between furniture. Therefore, you'll need
to come to agreement with the scenic and props designers on dimensions of
set and dimensions of costumes--without losing the silhouette of the
And study your costume history! Many plays out there are set in historical
time periods. I've seen plays done in quasi-period styling, and it was
visually horrible. Not only will it make most plays look amateurish, but
the audience might be left with the feeling that that's how people dressed
back then. Only in something like the musical "Kiss Me Kate" would you make
it a quasi-style, since "Kate" blends 1950's ideals of what the Elizabethan
period was like with what it really was.
You might want to find a copy of Rosemary Ingham's book "The Costume
Designer's Handbook". I found it immensely helpful with the how-to's of
costume designing. And you can't forget the business side of the whole
thing. That's the part I don't like about it. But then, I prefer building
the costumes rather than designing them--most of the time. I love the
research, so maybe I should find a grad school with a dramaturgy major as
well as a good costuming major. ^_^
Hope this helps.
>Subject: [TheCostumersManifesto] designing
>Date: Sat, 12 Jan 2002 19:44:53 EST
>I was just wondering, for my first question probably of many, do any of you
>design costumes? If so, how do you design? you see, so far I've been
>to design in a fashion way - start off with five ideas, choose one then do
>different sleeves, then different collars, different skirts etc. How do
>design costumes though? The method I've been taught genterates like 60,
>80, 100 ideas for one outfit, which is fine for fashion collections but I
>don't think it's the best way for costumes. Any advise would be great!
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