Emma has been dressing up local actors in the Canberra theatre scene since 2006. Shows she has designed for include He Died With A Felafel In His Hand directed by Sophie Benassi, Wuthering Heights directed by Liz Bradley, along with 8 Women, The Imaginary Invalid, Lovesong, The Mousetrap and A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Centrepiece. In 2014 a move to Melbourne brought a hiatus to costume design, however, this foray into Lakespeare, even from a distance, has been a joy. A big thank you to Jacqui Rees and Emily Ridge for their skills on the sewing machines. And a special thank you to David ‘Stan’ Wippell for the clerical shirt – a very god-fatherly donation!
The Director's brief was to reference 1900s Italy with an outdoor twist. And, to add some Australiana, using the movies Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career for inspiration. To get that ‘white, outside’ look, I also watched A Room with a View as so much of that story is set in exactly the right era and in Italy. It was also important to not lock the story into one visual place. Nothing could be reduced to realism of one particular era or location.
Having original fashion plates at your fingertips was great motivation for creating a concept for the ladies’ costumes. Some images of ‘Edwardian White’ that were particularly helpful are linked below.
As the brief was to reference the early 1900s, I’ve tried to silhouette the ladies’ costumes to the 1900s look, which was easy to then create after a visit to the local Spotlight in Queanbeyan: using ivories, creams linens and browns to create that soft, picnic feel which then matches well with any bold splashes of colour.
Similarly, with the men’s costumes, contemporary images of the era were in abundance, and focusing on a game of lawn tennis (drawn from scenes in A Room with a View) brought together three of the types of costumes – the ladies, the soldiers and the noblemen. In keeping with these images, I decided to put the soldiers in shirtsleeves rather than decked out in full uniform.
With the aim of softening the detail of the soldiers’ costumes, some serious research was needed. Working over the phone with Lexi (me in Melbourne and Lexi in Canberra), we found a fantastic work wear supply shop in Toowoomba, Workwear Discounts, who have been very helpful in delivering the costumes quickly and at the best possible price. The brief included a request to use sashes for the soldiers, and the best way to do that was to match khaki and red silk. An additional detail includes using epaulettes to indicate rank.
As for the noblemen I couldn’t pass up the dapper linen suits of the era, which have a modern iteration so are still around today, with added red ties to match the soldiers: I like creating symmetry on stage with matching colours for groups, couples and hierarchies.
With a wash of creams, ivory and khaki, splashes of colour became necessary so using the script’s reference to orange and yellow, I decided the principal characters should draw on warmer tones and the mechanicals and ensemble could wear cooler colours as a contrast. It is interesting to note that Beatrice talks about the colour yellow which represented jealousy for Elizabethans – a big theme for Much Ado.
The limits of a tight budget can actually provide opportunity for creativity and new connections in the community – one of my favourite spots is Down Memory Lane in Fyshwick – and much of my own costume collection comes from there. Being able to utilize my own pieces is always a thrill and a nice necessity in these productions.
One of my most loved are the trousers for Dogberry: with this character, I could play with the silhouettes already created – using the script and knowing that Dogberry is trying to emulate the noblemen in an attempt to fit in but not quite getting it right, it was fun to reflect this in the costume and create a caricature of the concepts and mix up elements selected for the other characters.
Not only this project, but all Sekuless projects involve most of the family in some way and this venture is no different – it was proving difficult to source a clerical shirt for Friar Francis, so I contacted our god-father, David ‘Stan’ Wippell, who was a priest in the UK, to ask his advice on what to do. Stan immediately offered to donate a wonderful clerical shirt and send it all the way from Oxford, England, for this production. It’s a lovely thing to have special pieces up on stage from generous family members.
Bringing together all the elements is only one aspect of the design process. Ultimately, costume design should marry two important elements: make sure the actors feel safe on stage in their costumes and create a cohesive whole for the audience so as to quickly and easily communicate the concept. I hope I have met the brief!