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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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Act II photo gallery by John Benfield from Mrs. Hawking at WCSF ’15

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Photos of Act II of Mrs. Hawking at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15 now have been posted in our gallery section! Courtesy of John Benfield’s ready camera!

2.2. "Looks to be a service knife."

2.2. “Looks to be a service knife.”

2.5. Battle of the stick weapons.

2.5. Battle of the stick weapons.

2.6. "I hear you help women in rough spots."

2.6. “I hear you help women in rough spots.”

So check out the second half of the photos of our show! And, if you didn’t get a chance to see the first half, they have their own gallery. And, if you’d just like to get a good look at our characters in their costumes, we have a fabulous character portrait gallery taken by Damian Hickey.

Thanks so everyone whose hard work made these beautiful images come together!

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New gallery – Act I of Mrs. Hawking at WCSF ’15

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Thanks to John Benfield, we have a beautiful set of photos taken during the performance of Mrs. Hawking at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15 in our Gallery section!

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.

1.3. "You haven't seen nothing?"

1.3. “You haven’t seen nothing?”

1.5. "Soldiers, miss?"

1.5. “Soldiers, miss?”

These are great to have because they capture something of the magic of all parts of the production working together. We see the actors inhabiting their characters. They wear the gorgeous costumes designed by Jennifer Giorno. They stand in front of the beautiful, ingenious set, built by Bernie Gabin, painted by Samantha LeVangie, with input from Carolyn Daitch and Joe Gabin. The production design, which I and other helping me worked so hard on, all works together.

The images from Act I are now available for your viewing pleasure in the Gallery! Act II will be added soon, but in the meantime, enjoy this lush glimpse into the world of Mrs. Hawking.

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

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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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Mrs. Hawking on the highlight reel of Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15!

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Mrs. Hawking is accomplished at the Watch City Steampunk Festival ’15!

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We had our two performances to excellent audiences this past Saturday, and I couldn’t be more pleased and proud. Thanks to everyone who came out to see us, as well as our hardworking cast and crew who made these wonderful shows possible!

Soon we’ll be reporting in more detail about how this production turned out. In the meantime, check out this highlight reel from all the cool steampunk activities that happened at our venue, the Center for Digital Arts. In addition to shots of scenes 1.1 and 1.3 of our play, keep an eye out for Sarah Jenkins (Mrs. Fairmont), Jordan Greeley (Sir Walter), Frances Kimpel (Mrs. Hawking), and Morgan Ong (Ensemble) in their photo sessions!

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Mrs. Hawking THIS SATURDAY at Watch City Steampunk Festival!

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In just two days, our newest production of Mrs. Hawking goes up at the Watch City Steampunk Festival!

We’re reaching the end of our tech week, and things are really coming together. It’s going to be an amazing show. So please come join us for one of our two totally free performances in downtown Waltham!

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MRS. HAWKING
by Phoebe Roberts

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Two performances
as part of The Watch City Steampunk Festival 2015

presented by The Chameleon’s Dish

FREE to the public
Seating first come, first serve

2PM and 6PM
Saturday, May 9th, 2015
At the Center for Digital Arts
274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Cast
Mrs. Victoria Hawking – Frances Kimpel
Miss Mary Stone – Circe Rowan
Mr. Nathaniel Hawking – Jeremiah O’Sullivan
Mrs. Celeste Fairmont – Sarah Jenkins
Lord Cedric Brockton – Francis Hauert
Sir Walter Grainger – Jordan Greeley
Mr. John Colchester – Brian Dorfman
Miss Grace Monroe – Jennifer Giorno
Ensemble – Andrew Prentice, Morgan Ong

Crew
Director – Phoebe Roberts
Stage Manager – Eboracum Richter-Dahl
Technical Director – Bernie Gabin
Costume Designer – Jennifer Giorno
Sound Designer – Neil Marsh
Makeup Designer – Indigo Darling
Violence Designer – Arielle Kaplan

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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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Phoebe talks Mrs. Hawking for New England New Play Alliance

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Categories: development, performance, Tags: , ,

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I was lucky enough to give an interview about Mrs. Hawking for the New England New Play Alliance!

In it I discuss my thoughts behind what’s engaging about theater, the appeal of Mrs. Hawking, and how I hope to speak to geeks, theater and otherwise, with their passion and enthusiasm for the stories they love. This interview, and the details of Mrs. Hawking’s upcoming performance this weekend, will be released this Tuesday in issue #49 of their digest.

Thanks to Patti Cassidy of Boston Play Cafe for this interview!

Mrs. Hawking by Phoebe Roberts will be performed on Saturday, May 9th at 2PM and 6PM at the Center for Digital Arts at 274 Moody Street, Waltham as part of the 2015 Watch City Steampunk Festival.

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