Tag Archives: costuming

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The colors of Vivat Regina

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Categories: performance, vivat regina, Tags: ,

I’ve always loved the potential for storytelling in the choices one makes in costume design. In Mrs. Hawking, we used a series of oppositional color pairings to make statements about the characters and their circumstances. In Vivat Regina at Arisia 2016, with the help of costume designer Jennifer Giorno, we devised a new palette to support the new story.

For the leads, they maintained the color schemes they were introduced with in the original. Between her stealth suit and her widow’s weeds, Mrs. Hawking’s color is black. Nathaniel’s splash of color is his familiar red cravat. And Mary, with her maid’s apron and skirt and ballgown, sets the tone for the rest of the play with her blue.

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For Vivat Regina, we stuck to a cool, blue-based color palette. Unlike in the previous piece, where high class was indicated by red, we had everyone in the opening ballroom scene in shades of blue. Mary is getting better at blending in, but her obviously lighter shade indicates that she’s not really one of them.

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Arthur is of course in a traditional police blue. As a police officer, he will always appear in blue, just as Mary does, which forges a subtle visual connection between them.

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For Mrs. Braun, she appears in a dark violet that serves as a subtle hint to the character’s true identity. It’s a blend of the blue of our palette and the red that previously was saved for the upper classes, and this color in particular has traditionally been reserved for the highest ranking members of society in a number of cultures.

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For Clara, we wanted something eye-catching and just a little bit daring, so we went with green. It’s a step away from blue, but different enough from any other character to always catch the eye. It tells us that Clara has no trouble fitting into her society, but she can’t help but stand out.

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The green even crosses over to Nathaniel in the scene in the embassy. Though his eveningwear included a silver vest and cravat in part one, for part two we decided we wanted him to pick up Clara’s color. It shows them unified as a team.

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Finally, the one other coloring shakeup comes in the form of Mrs. Hawking’s dishabille. Her robe is her typical black, but when she’s not dressing for anyone else, some white enters her wardrobe. We’ve never seen her in anything but black before, so even this one small change is eye-catching. Still, her colorless presence keeps her stark against the rest of the cast.

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Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Costume interviews with Jenn Giorno – Mary’s new ballgown

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In our first production at Arisia ’15, we were very generously lent our leading ladies’ eveningwear by the costume company Pendragon Costumes. They are gorgeous and beautifully made, and we were really grateful to have them.

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But for the recent performance at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15, we had to find alternatives to use. Given the elaborateness of Victorian ballgowns, and the fairly punishing quick costume changes I wrote into the script, that posed a pretty big challenge for our costume designer, Jennifer Giorno. When I interviewed Jenn about her design process, Mary’s dress proved a perfect example of how she attacked that particular problem.

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

Phoebe: “So what was your approach to building the new ballgown for Mary?”

Jenn: “Well, we had the same corset piece as before, at least, so I had to try to balance the quick change with what we could add to this to make it look like a unified ballgown. So the question was, what could we add that worked quickly and affordably? And of course it had to be in Mary’s signature blue.

“I basically started off with the bolero idea. I thought the easiest thing would be to try to use the same types of pieces as we used before. Her shoulders needed to be covered, and a bolero was the easiest way to add that, because it wouldn’t have been accurate to have an entirely strapless gown. I found the bolero on eBay, and I liked that it was lace. It would complement the color of the corset. It did what we needed it to do.”

2.1. "So it is safe to say that our writer is a man of some background, and was raised in the country."2.1. "But I thought you said there was nothing to identify it." "Ah, but there is. It simply requires the proper eye to see it."

P: “I actually thought that one thing that made for a really nice change this time around was I liked her bare arms. It made her seem younger and fresher.”

J: “It does. Young women would have had shorter sleeves. Always the gloves, but shorter sleeves.”

P: “She had the gloves! It was a very elegant effect.”

1.5. "I don't believe we've met."

J: “Then I needed to match the bolero, to make it look like one unified dress instead of lots of separate pieces. It would have spoiled the effect if we had too many different shades of blue. I knew that we could make a petticoat easily, just a drawstring skirt, to mimic the pieces we used before. I made that out of a dark blue satin with a medium shine. The lace overlay was sort of a last-minute flash.”

P: “It tied it all together.”

2.1. "Oh, how exhilarating that was!"

J: “I loved the way it came out. I wanted to be able to do some sort of overlay, because they were so popular back then, and it would have been a little too plain for the standards of the time without it. Originally I was going to make it a full overlay, the layer of satin under the layer of lace. But then I liked the way the half-length overlay looked when I tried it all together.”

P: “I did too! It gave it more texture.”

J: “And it gave it another tier! Victorians loved tiers on skirts. And the fact that it was lace tied it to the bolero. It was a slightly different color of lace, but not so visibly, and it created a slight gradation of blues down the whole dress. And the way we ended up draping it in the back, it made a nice curvature with the corset’s bustle. So it looks layered and tiered all the way around, even though it’s a very simple design. It’s just a layer of lace folded over itself and gathered in the back.”

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P: “It took an eye to figure out how to make those pieces work together. To figure out how those disparate elements could create the look of one ballgown.”

J: “One thing I’m really good at is being Costume MacGyver. Having a problem and finding a way to fix it using materials at hand.”

P: “Necessity is the mother of invention. Or desperation, as I like to say lately!”

1.5. "They were all officers!"

J: “Yes! But I was happy with how Mary’s outfit came out. But throwing that lace overlay in between the corset and the skirt turned out to be the one thing that I didn’t realize was missing from the look.”

P: “It was the last thing it needed to make it look like an ensemble. It came out beautifully.”

J: “Thank you!”

2.1. "I suppose we must act quickly, then, before he has the chance to bolster his defenses."

P: “And on top of all that, the quick-change could happen.”

J: “That was the most important part. Making sure it could come on and off quickly, with the things we had at hand. I couldn’t just go out and buy a two hundred dollar dress with a zipper in the back. Because of this, of all the outfits in the show, Mary’s ballgown is probably the least close to period. But the silhouette was there, and that was enough. I tried to keep it in the right spirit— the right bustle shape, the corseted look. It kept it sufficiently evocative, even though I know it wasn’t exact, and was still really pretty.”

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

More pictures of Mary in her ballgown can be seen in our Gallery section, as beautifully worn by Mary’s actress, Circe Rowan.

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The colors of Mrs. Hawking

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Color choice in theater has always been very important to me. As a visual medium, it can add a great deal to the experience, and I think you can invest a lot of medium when color is carefully chosen.

1.1. "Is that the girl?"

1.1. “Is that the girl?”

Though not as a firm rule, we stuck to a very definite color palette in Mrs. Hawking. It was partially luck, as in many things, such as the costume design, we were limited by what we were able to acquire on our budget. But as anyone who is family with my own design tendencies would notice, I am often drawn to particular colors, in particular combinations when I’m working on the production design of shows.

Mrs. Hawking is mostly focused in a limited palette of six colors, specifically set up as dichotomies: red and blue, black and white, silver and gold. It’s not the first time I’ve sampled from that selection, as I find they’re highly evocative combinations. The trick is not to necessarily make the audience understand exactly what you intended with them, but to encourage them to draw connections and notice juxtapositions.

1.5. "Soldiers, miss?"

1.5. “Soldiers, miss?”

The red and blue dichotomy, roughly indicates the upper classes versus the lower classes. Mrs. Hawking’s parlor is painted red, to indicate its richness. You only see red in the costumes of the well-to-do, respectable characters, like Lord Brockton and Mrs. Fairmont. Nathaniel even has a red cravat with his day look in the opening scene.

1.3. "Please, for my husband's sake, and for my blameless child whose only  crime is the folly of his mother."

1.3. “Please, for my husband’s sake, and for my blameless child whose only crime is the folly of his mother.”

1.5. "They were all officers!"

1.5. “They were all officers!”

1.1 Nathaniel is the first character we lay eyes on in the world of Mrs. Hawking.

1.1 Nathaniel is the first character we lay eyes on in the world of Mrs. Hawking.

By contrast, the working class people wear blue. I’ve actually always considered blue to be Mary’s signature color, and she sets the tone for the rest of the play. She is the primary example in this mostly middle- and upper-class setting, but it carries over into Grace Monroe, the other explicitly working class character.

1.4. Mary figures out what she's going to say to

1.4. Mary figures out what she’s going to say to

1.5. "Good luck, madam." "To you as well."

1.5. “Good luck, madam.” “To you as well.”

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Black and white were juxtaposed against silver and gold. Black and white was about blending in, conforming to expectations. Black tuxedoes, white aprons and shirts, Mrs. Hawking’s widow’s weeds and stealth suit. The character who must, or want to, fit in, or even hide, use it to recede from notice.

2.3. "Now I want you to leave."

2.3. “Now I want you to leave.”

2.2. "Oh, hecky-pecky!"

2.2. “Oh, hecky-pecky!”

1.2. "I shall be frank. I've no idea what to do with you."

1.2. “I shall be frank. I’ve no idea what to do with you.”

Silver and gold, however, are about standing out, commanding attention. They feature in characters who have the power or the presence so that others notice them, give them the time of day. You see them mostly in the characters who are used to having some control over things, even if in the show it’s taken away. Nathaniel’s eveningwear is in a sharp silver, as the skirt of Mrs. Hawking’s ballgown, which also subtly ties them together. The silvery gray of Colchester’s coat speaks to his pretensions. Gold features in Brockton’s frock coat costume, and is a prominent tone in Sir Walter’s waistcoast. These people are using their power to command attention to themselves.

1.5. "It seems, Miss Stone, that we have dressed you in entirely too becoming a gown."

1.5. “It seems, Miss Stone, that we have dressed you in entirely too becoming a gown.”

2.2. "Lord Brockton-- the undersecretary? He is here?"

2.2. “Lord Brockton– the undersecretary? He is here?”

2.5. "He's lightning quick, and I'd wager he's the same body we was tracking the other night."

2.5. “He’s lightning quick, and I’d wager he’s the same body we was tracking the other night.”

2.5 "Suddenly he threatened to ruin me unless I kept the boy for him."

2.5 “Suddenly he threatened to ruin me unless I kept the boy for him.”

2.5. Big finish-- the villain breaks in with a gun.

2.5. Big finish– the villain breaks in with a gun.

When choosing these things, it’s not so much that you are trying to get the audience to consciously pick up on all your reasoning for them. It just unifies the images before their eyes in a pleasing way, and gets them thinking about what is connected to, or contrasted with, by uses of color.

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Costume interviews with Jenn Giorno – the menswear

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Categories: character, mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: , , , , ,

Did you admire the lovely Victorian costuming in our production of Mrs. Hawking? It was the work of Jennifer Giorno, our primary designer and the actress who portrayed Grace Monroe, and my very dear friend. She, like me, believes very strongly in the power of costuming to help tell the story and define the characters.

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I had the chance to sit down with Jenn and ask her how she approached the fairly challenging task of emulating historical fashions on a tight budget that had to stand up to the rigors and quick changing of theater. She had some fascinating things to say about the process, on a wide variety of costuming issues! So I’ll be breaking it into parts, and today’s section will be on one of my favorites, the menswear!

The menswear of Mrs. Hawking was designed after the very regimented styles worn in Victorian England. There was a separate uniform for respectable gentlemen’s daywear, the morning and frock suits, and eveningwear, the white and black tie tuxedos. It’s a very visually recognizable style, so it would be clear if we did it wrong. Given that we were working mostly with found, borrowed, and thrifted items, it’s amazing just how dapper our gentlemen turned out!

2.2. "Why, yes, sounds a capital idea."

Phoebe: “What do you like about Victorian menswear?”

Jenn: “I love frock coats, I love mourning coats. If men still wore morning coats as as everyday thing, I’d just be so distracted, always! Because I love the cut, even more then regular tails.”

P: “We got that in there, with Nathaniel!”

Jeremiah O'Sullivan as Nathaniel

Jeremiah O’Sullivan as Nathaniel

J: “Yep! It’s so sleek, it’s so good-looking. For me, one of the important things was distinguishing the high-class characters from the low-class ones, or the ones who were pretending to it. So Colchester is a trumped up thug with delusions of grandeur. He wears a bowler hat, which isn’t quite the thing, but it’s close enough to being the thing, so that’s what he goes to. And his coat, it’s a little bit shapeless, but it’s still a nice coat.”

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

P: “We joked that Brian made it look too good!”

J: “Yeah! But it definitely looked less crisp than all the other men. And in this performance we had him half-untucked. And in he’s not wearing a vest or tie at all, which really speaks to his low-class.

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Jordan Greeley as Sir Walter Grainger

“And with Grainger, it was subtler. He’s technically nobility, but he’s country, so he wears a lovely waistcoat, but his evening suit and shirt aren’t quite as nice and don’t fit quite as well. We even have him in a scene where he’s a little unbuttoned. So with the men, it was trying to be accurate, but getting color choices that spoke to the characters, and making the subtle class distinctions.

“Nathaniel’s looks, his daywear is gray, his eveningwear is black and silver. It speaks to him as a proper, clean-cut character. It says he wants to make a good impression and for people to like him.”

2.3. "Am I to take it that you've been going out on these... ventures... for some time now?"

P: “And to our modern eyes, I think it gives off signals that we can interpret as that he’s a good dresser. I’ve always thought Nathaniel cared about fashion, he’s interested in it and keeps up with it.”

2.5. Badass disarm.

J: “Yes, it’s important that Nathaniel, and Brockton as well, come off as a good dresser.”

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

“Brockton’s also showier about it. It’s part of his persona as the blackmailer. He likes to flaunt his power, and his dress is one of the ways he does it. The daywear in gold and black, and the nightwear in red and black. High class, but also a little sinister.”

Andrew Prentice as Ensemble

Andrew Prentice as Ensemble

“We didn’t go with proper white tie, even though that would have been appropriate. It would have had them basically all looking like penguins! That just would have been too generic. We wanted those flashes of color in there from their vests and cravats. It adds texture and speaks to their personalities.”

I’m with Jenn; I love men in sharp suits and eveningwear. It added so much to the visual impact of our male characters to have them dressed so sharply.

2.2. "What ho, gentlemen! I was hoping I might interest everyone in a game of cards."

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Gallery of character portraits from Mrs. Hawking at WCSF ’15!

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Categories: mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: , , ,

Thanks to Damian Hickey, the CDA photographer at the Watch City Steampunk Festival, we now have a beautiful gallery of in-character portraits from our most recent performance of Mrs. Hawking!

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

Francis Hauert as Lord Brockton

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

Brian Dorfman as Colchester

Circe Rowan as Mary

Circe Rowan as Mary

These shots are really gorgeous, and I’m very proud of the cast for their ability to evoke their characters in their modeling. Not to mention Jennifer Giorno’s lovely costume design! This is the first section of our new Gallery page, which will be soon followed by shots from the performance itself. But for now, enjoy these gorgeous portraits by Damian Hickey, and see how a combination of good photography, talented actors, and beautiful costuming can capture the spirit of these characters.

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Baby got bustle

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Oh. My. God. Vicky, look at her bustle.

Mrs. Hawking goes up this Saturday, and we’re in tech week! That means making sure all the technical elements are finalized. Part of the fun of our Victorian setting is getting to dress our actors in the eye-catching styles of the period. Our costumer Jennifer Giorno is very concerned with capturing the authentic look for this time and place. Because of this, you may have noticed that our ladies have got an awful lot of junk in the trunk. Because Jenn, you see, likes big bustles.

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She likes big bustles and she cannot lie.
You Victorians can’t deny
That when a lady walks in with a corseted waist
And a bustle made of lace
You get sprung!

Many fashion trends are in some way about exaggerating some physical characteristic of the form. In Victorian times, they pushed out the feminine hourglass, by cinching the waist in with corsets and building out the hips and rear. This latter effect was achieved by means of the bustle, a structural undergarment that sat just below the waist to add fullness to the back of the skirt and keep it from dragging on the ground.

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They could be formed a number of ways, by gathered layers of fabric, special cages one tied onto oneself, or with the use of padding. By the 1880s, bustles had grown to enormous proportions, even to the point where it was a common cultural joke to make fun of them, such as George Bernard Shaw does in Arms and the Man.

Want to pull up tough
‘Cause you notice that skirt was stuffed
Dig that pad and cage she’s wearing
I’m hooked and I can’t stop staring
Baby, I ain’t into that narrow type
Want to take your daguerreotype.

Unfortunately this time around we don’t have access to those gorgeous Pendragon gowns, so we have to figure things out for ourselves. Jenn made the volume in the skirt that Circe Rowan will be wearing as Mary in the ballroom scene by a combination of padding and piling up the lace overlay in the back. The bustle attached to the corset then falls over that, making it even fuller.

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Even Mrs. Hawking, who does not care one whit about fashion, finds herself obligated to wear one because it was so ubiquitous then that it would attract attention if she didn’t. I also like how the huge, unweidy frippery of the bustled skirt contrasts with her sleek, small, lean silhouette in her stealth suit.

So, as the poets say, fuck them skinny bitches in the ballroom– our hustle don’t want none unless you got bustle, hon!

Mrs. Hawking and Vivat Regina will be performed on May 7th at 119 School Street, Waltham, MA at 2PM and 6PM as part of the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016 in Waltham, MA.

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Tuxedos, fine ladies, and ruffians – more costuming for Mrs. Hawking

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Categories: mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: , ,

Jennifer Giorno, our amazing costumer, put together such a gorgeous collection of looks for our production at Arisia 2015. Historical Victorian dress, particularly for men, was very strictly regimented, but we still wanted to balance that with creating a visually engaging stylization that spoke of our characters’ personalities as well as provide texture to the world they live in. In addition to our leads, Jenn assembled a beautiful collection of looks to round out our supporting cast. Many pieces came from our personal collections, while others were very generous loans from our friends Lise Fracalossi and Nicholas Magruder.

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I particularly enjoyed the tuxedoed looks, mostly borrowed from our obliging friends. It’s a style of dress I’m a big fan of, but nowadays there’s so little occasion to ever see anyone wearing it. But we had a number of evening scenes full of high-class gentlemen, so that meant we had to get them right.

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As you can see with these looks on Matthew Kamm, Francis Hauert, and Jonathan Plesser, we took a little bit of liberty in throwing in touches of color. This is where the vests generously lent to us by Lise Fracalossi came in. The red and black scheme was a nice visual cue as to Lord Brockton’s villainous nature, and the earth tones on Sir Walter spoke to his roots as a country squire. Nathaniel’s shades of gray and silver made him look sophisticated and stylish, which was how I always saw the character. The cravats were made by me, out of fabric specifically chosen to coordinate with the colors of the vests.

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Nathaniel’s day look as worn by Jonathan Plesser was also nice. We wanted it to look noticeably different from the eveningwear, so we decided to cast it in gray, with a morning coat over a pinstripe vest. The silhouette is nicely differentiated from the cutaway tailcoats in the tuxedo ensembles. The burgundy cravat was an afterthought, but I liked how it tied Nathaniel into the dark red color scheme of Mrs. Hawking’s parlor. It at once says he’s of this place, which is both a cage and a safe place for our hero.

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The other two male day looks were worn by Francis Hauert and Bobby Imperato as Lord Brockton and John Colchester respectively. They wore handmade frock coats, more borrowed pieces from the generous costume maker Lise Fracalossi, in various shades of gray. Lord Brockton also wore another vest, this time in black and gold, along with a gold silk necktie. And you can’t deny the iconic thug look of a Victorian baddie in a bowler.

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Lastly, we have the ladies. On one hand, we have the high-class lady, Arielle Kaplan as Mrs. Celeste Fairmont, in a brightly colored blouse decorated with lace and a full satin skirt. On the other hand, we have the lower-class example, Jenn Giorno as Miss Grace Monroe, in a plain blouse, a navy twill skirt, and the only vest in the piece to be worn by a woman! I really love how these costumes contrast in color and in texture, drawing a strong visual distinction between the middle class lady and the working class girl. These pieces are from Jenn’s personal collection, informed by her vast knowledge of Victorian costuming conventions.

We were really lucky to have someone as hardworking and passionate as Jenn designing for our show. It increased the visual punch of every moment our actors were onstage.

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The ballroom scene by Pendragon Costumes

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Categories: mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: , , , ,

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Photos by Jennifer Giorno and John Benfield

When I was first writing Mrs. Hawking, I knew a big part of the appeal of the story would be the trappings and the spectacle. The look of the steampunk setting would add a great deal of gloss to the tale I was trying to tell, and I wanted to take advantage of everything that setting would afford me. And you can’t tell a grand caper set in Victorian London without a few gorgeous period costumes.

The ballroom scene of Mrs. Hawking is a fan favorite. It’s Mary’s first real mission, when she and Mary go undercover as grand society ladies to the villain Lord Brockton’s ball, and she is thrown straight into the deep end. Mrs. Hawking has her distract their opponent by pretending she is the niece of the viceroy of India, and must put on a character that matches the grand ballgown she is wearing as her disguise. It also includes what is probably the best joke in this first play:

MARY: Oh, well, you know how things are… uncle dear thought it was best for me to go away for a while… he feared I was becoming too popular with some of his, well…

LORD BROCKTON: Soldiers, miss?

(She affects a carriage of indignation.)

MARY: My lord! What kind of lady do you take me for? Fraternizing with enlisted men?

(She pauses dramatically.)

MARY: They were all officers!

I do some costume design professionally, and I remember one of the young actresses in a production I worked for a high school asking if when I wrote my own plays, I made sure to write in costuming requirements that were workable. I had to laugh at that, because as often as I bemoan playwrights who design things without any regard to the practicality for production— in fact, I wrote the craft portion of my master’s thesis on it —because Mrs. Hawking is a perfect example of my falling down on that particular job. Characters have TONS of changes in this play, sometimes every other scene, and in and out of complicated Victorian looks. That’s a hell of a task for a cast and a costumer!

Though I pitched in with a few looks for the Arisa 2015 production, mostly ones I’d already put together for the Mrs. Hawking photoshoots, our primary costume designer was Jennifer Giorno, also the actress playing Grace Monroe. So the challenge of putting together Victorian ballroom looks that could be changed in and out of in very short order fell on her. Not an easy task on our budget! But she got a great idea to see if we could a costume company to agree to sponsor our production by lending us some pieces. That is where Pendragon came in, a maker of fine costuming with a fabulous selection of steampunk and Victorian looks in their Mad Girl Clothing line.

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In return for credit in our program, they very generously agreed to lend us three pieces of handmade eveningwear for our leads. It was an incredible thing to happen to us, as it gave us the opportunity to have some of the most important costumes in the play be particularly beautiful, as well as practical for the demands of the quick change.

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A full Pendragon outfit can be seen here on Samantha LeVangie in her role as Mary. It was particularly important that Mary come out looking exquisite– transformatively so –as an indication of Mary’s potential to become a powerful, brilliant, dyanmic person. Jenn asked the company if it would be possible to get Mary’s garments in blue, as I’ve long imagined it to be Mary’s signature color.

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They provided us with two gorgeous pieces from the Corset Gown Outfit— the underskirt with its “front panel of chenille fabric sewn to a cotton skirt” and the matching chenille shrug with its “high, snap down collar.” Samantha also wears their Corset with Bustle, loaned to us by a friend who purchased it from Pendragon a number of years ago.

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When Jenn told Pendragon that the bustle corset was in the color of Welkin Blue, they chose the blue and brown pattern for the coordinating skirt and shrug. It makes for a lovely and complementary combination, particularly given Sam’s coloring and the character of Mary. Sam is an extraordinarily beautiful woman, and she wears this so well.

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The other piece Pendragon so graciously lent us was for Mrs. Hawking, modeled here by Frances Kimpel. This was also a Corset with Bustle, a particularly useful piece not only because it looked so cool, but because its toggle-hooks running down the front assisted in making the quick change a little easier. Because Mrs. Hawking is a widow, of course it had to be in black.

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To keep the looks consistent, Frances also wore a velvet bolero with the labels pinned back so the details of the corset would be visible. The skirts are from Jenn’s collection, also part of her ordinary day look. I also made Frances wear those gloves through the entirety of the play, poor thing. It made sense for all her looks– those where she is supposed to seem like a respectable middle-class widow, and when she is an operating agent in stealth garb.

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One thing that was particularly enjoyable was that the same bustle corset had such different effects when worn by these very different characters and their actresses. The same style of corset top makes Mary look like a princess…

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…has the aspect of armor when worn on Mrs. Hawking.

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If you’re interested in owning some of Pendragon’s gorgeous costuming, don’t hesitate to check out their website. Their work is both truly beautiful and extremely high-quality.

In fact, there is a chance that the pieces they lent to us are still available for purchase, as they went on sale as soon as our show finished! You could end up owning an artifact from the very first production of Mrs. Hawking!

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Dressing the parts

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Categories: mrs. hawking, performance, Tags: , , ,

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Costuming adds a whole extra dimension to theatrical productions. So much can be communicated about a character by the way they dress; actors tend to feel so much for like the people they are portraying when in costume; and it can add visual fascination to any production. Not to mention when you’re telling a story about badass superheroes in a period caper, they definitely need to look cool. So we are working our hardest to ensure that all our characters have a distinctive, appealing, and period-appropriate look.

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I have a background in costume design myself, and of course I’ve been thinking about how these characters might dress for ages, but our costumer for this production is Jennifer Giorno, who will also be playing Grace Monroe. Best known for her work in dressing people for live-action roleplay games, where she is known as the Costume Fairy, Jenn’s extensive knowledge of the clothes of the Victorian period make excellent use of everything we find charming about the look of this time and place. I’m really lucky to have her effort and expertise.

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There’s a lot to take into consideration when choosing an effective costume. The culture of the period we’re trying to make come alive has a lot of influence. Mrs. Hawking is a widow, for example, in a time where mourning was strictly regimented. Because she does not want attention drawn to herself, everything she wears in public, then, must be appropriately modest, and of course black. Mary is a working-class maid in a wealthy middle-class house, so her look must speak to both her station and the respectability such a house would want her to reflect.

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But there’s more than that, of course; there’s also their personalities to consider. A feature of Mrs. Hawking is that even people who aren’t aware of what she really does notice that she moves like a cat, a compact creature of uncanny grace and strength, so whatever we dress her in must allow the actress Frances Kimpel to project that in her movements. Mary is a tall, strong girl, perhaps a little unfashionably so by the standards of her time, but it gives her a bold physicality that makes you believe she could jump into superheroing. Again, her costume must allow Samantha LeVangie to demonstrate that level of energy and strength. On the other end of things, we know Nathaniel is a very successful, well-thought-of man who is comfortable in his place in life. Making him a sharp dresser who looks good in his clothes goes a long way toward informing of us how he fits into his world.

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And of course they’ve just got to look cool. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of watching cool people do cool things and look damn cool doing it! So we’re putting extra effort into making certain our heroes are just plain fun to look at it.

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We’re not revealing all of what they’re going to look like yet. We want to save the full looks for the show. But hopefully this will intrigue you enough until you get the full effect during the performance!

Mrs. Hawking, by Phoebe Roberts, will be performed at Arisia 2015 on Friday, January 16th at 6PM at the Westin Waterfront Boston.

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Mrs. Hawking’s widows weeds

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In order to give a good mental image of what Mary and Mrs. Hawking are supposed to look like, I’ve been working to create images that are as representative as possible of what I see in my head. Though of course when casting a show one must go with the actress with the best ability to portray the character, the photographs on this website are pretty accurate representations of what I imagine them looking like– Mary is tall and fit with dark hair and freckles, with a kind, pretty face, while Mrs. Hawking is small and powerful, with arresting features behind wavy blonde hair and sharp green eyes.

I recently held a photo shoot to capture more images of the characters with my beautiful models Frances Kimpel as Mrs. Hawking and Charlotte Oswald as Mary. They were kind to oblige me, and they are both lovely, perfect for the look of the characters, and wonderful to work with. I specifically wanted shots depicting scenes that occur in the course of the play.

I photographed them in a number of costumes, but one that turned out especially well was Mrs. Hawking’s widow’s gown. I do most of my costuming by adapting pieces I find in thrift stores to my purposes. This costume is based on an original dress I honestly kind of hated it on sight. On the hanger it looked like a garbage bag, black and shiny and chintzy. I have kind of a love-hate relationship with dresses made of moire– an iridescent fabric that looks like it has water ripples or wood knots in it –because I always find it pretty when I first glance at it, but the longer I look at it, it looks cheap. But it had a lot of the details I’m looking for in the basis of a Victorian gown, a ruffled collar, puffy sleeves, a cloth belt at the waist.

I bought it without high hopes for it. It just looked so damn tacky in the store. The checkout girl used it to wrap a glass decanter I bought in the same trip, and I never even bothered to unpack it. When this photo shoot rolled around, I hadn’t even tried it in combination with the other elements of the costume, so for all I knew it wasn’t going to work at all. But when I tried it on Frances, with black long gloves and over two layers of full tiered skirts kindly lent to me by fellow costumer Jenn Giorno… it transformed. Charlotte pinned the collar closed with a black and silver brooch, and cut a slit up the back of the dress so that it spread out over the skirts, and they even puffed out through the slit in the back to make a sort of bustle-y detail. The moire looked appropriate for the sort of tapestry appearance of fancy Victorian fabric. All together, it made for a shockingly beautiful, and shockingly accurate-looking, costume. I’m really pleased at how well it turned out, but also that I think this is evidence that my eye as costumer is developing, as I’m getting better and better at spotting pieces that will work in combination even if I never actually see them together until they’re fulling assembled.

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