Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
Texas Shakespeare Festival
We were so excited to make our annual pilgrimage to Kilgore for the fourth summer in a row. It's been a crazy summer and I almost waited too late to book our hotel and tickets. We ended up not being able to stay in our favorite hotel, Holiday Inn Express and ended up in Best Western instead. Best Western is much closer than Holiday Inn, but the breakfast isn't nearly as good and the rooms open to the outside which I don't like because there's too much noise from the street. Plus I really hate sweating on my walk down to breakfast every morning. For our seats, we ended having to get tickets on the padded bench for both shows Friday. The padding on the bench is adequate, but there's no more rake there and I'm so short already, that not having the extra height means I miss a lot of the stage due to the usually taller person sitting in front of me. Saturday our seats were much better. We had front row seats for the matinee and center seats in row G for the evening performance.
The costume designers for this season are Angelina Herin, returning for her third season with TSF. This year she designed 110 in the Shade and King John. Last year she designed Richard III and The Marvelous Wondrettes, the year before it was Henry V and Carousel. She is the professor of costume design at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
This is Christopher Metzger's first season with TSF and he designed Love's Labour's Lost and Tartuffe. Christopher is based in Brooklyn and is a member of Local USA 829. I have included a link to his website below.
The Tyler Morning Telegraph did an article on the costume department.
This year, the lobby display paid tribute to Val Winkelman who received her 30 year award from the Festival. Val has been managing the festival since 2008, but she used to be a costume designer, having designed 26 productions throughout her career for the festival. These costumes are from the early 2000s.
110 in the Shade
Costume design by Angelina Herin
I had never seen a production of this musical before, although I had seen The Rainmaker, once a long time ago. The script is interesting because the Sheriff, File, is revealed to be a divorced man (his wife left him) which is unusual for the time period. He's afraid to let anyone get close to him, not the town-folk and especially not any women-folk. The lead female role, Lizzy, is approaching spinster-hood even though she is a great home-maker, keeping house for her father and brothers. Her flaw is that she is both plain in appearance and honest to a fault in personality. Men don't like women who come right out and say what they're thinking so she's been unable to attract a husband, a fact that makes her family sad, but that ultimately her father is OK with. Better to be honest than fake. When a mysterious stranger, Starbuck, comes to town (a con-man who is supposed to make it rain) he is the first to find her attractive and show her how to see herself as such. When her brothers find out that she's gone off with Starbuck, her father stops them from rescuing her from making (in their opinion) the biggest "mistake of her life". Her father tells them that this may be the only time that she's happy with a man even if it only lasts one night. The attitude toward women in general and sex out of wedlock in particular are very unusual for a father to have in this time period, which is what makes this play much more interesting than Carousel (to use an example from last season) or Oklahoma!, or any other dust bowl era play.
Unfortunately, the Festival hasn't posted any photos of this show yet. I've inquired about it, so hopefully they'll post them soon. The costumes were typical 1930's fare. The town is in the middle of the drought so colors were faded and dusty. Starbuck was in equestrian pants, a pink, bibbed shirt with white cuffs and collars, worn with black accessories of a vest, riding boots, and bowler hat. He looks a bit like a circus ringmaster. Lizzie starts the show in a green suit and then changes into a white dress for the picnic. I bought the note cards again this year so I do have a few of Angelina's renderings of the costumes to show you.
Love's Labour's Lost
Costume design by Christopher Metzger
I had also never seen a production of LLL. Normally I'm upset when Shakespeare is moved to a more modern period because I miss the extravagant costuming, however, since I had nothing to compare it to, I did not mind the show being set in the 1920's jazz age. I felt that the music added a lot to the show and I didn't miss the play within a play element being replaced by a dance. One of the remarkable things about the casting at TSF is that so many of the actors play musical instruments. This production had it's own jazz combo with a piano, stand up bass, guitar, drum kit, trumpet, and saxophone. Only the pianist was a professional musician, rather than an actor.
The King and his boys get most of the costume attention for this show, changing costumes five times. They start the show in all white sweaters and pants looking like frat boys, then ditch the sweaters for white dinner jackets and bow ties, then ditch the white costumes for black tux pants and maroon smoking jackets, then green and red Russian "muscovite" jackets with black furry hats and fake beards as a disguise. They ditch the Russian disguises for the rest of the black tie, tux ensemble. The Princess and her girls only have two changes, cool colored day dresses which they change for evening gowns in the same color palette: baby blue, mint green, purple. The only other female character in the play is Jacquenetta, a "base, country wench" that the Spanish Don Armado is in love with. She is played in this version as a cabaret singer. I couldn't find any reason for her to be in the play other than to sing songs and be swooned over. Shakespeare probably doesn't have a reason either. However, her costume is deliciously flapper-esque: long bias cut pieces in various shades of pink with an oversized velvet coat in green with a pink floral design.
Because the boys are trying to trick the girls with their silly Russian disguises, the girls are supposed to don masks to fool the boys into wooing the wrong girls. The boys have given the girls tokens of their love (a brooch, bracelet, necklace, and gloves) that they expect the girls will wear and that's how they will identify them but the girls outwit them by trading the love tokens in order to tease them with their own words later. Unfortunately, the girls didn't have time to leave stage and change or add masks or anything that would have actually served the purpose of disguise. Instead they use the net veils on their cloche hats to hide their faces however, their very distinctive dresses were obvious clues as to who they really were. So that bit didn't work for me.
Photos by John Dodd
LLL Talk Back
The talk back we attended was for this show. In the previous years, the talkbacks had been held on campus in one of the two buildings right behind the theatre. This year the talkbacks had been moved off campus to a lovely little bookstore/coffee shop called The Coffee Cherry. They had just opened less than a year ago in what was once a rather large house. It just so happened that the morning of the talkback they were also having a book signing and the author was the father of the festival's choreographer, who played the Princess in LLL.
Matt introduced the panelists and told us a little bit about his approach to the script. LLL isn't nearly as produced these days as it was back in Shakespeare's day when the French people he was making fun of with the characters were well known by his English audiences. The other institution that Shakespeare was attacking was a recently formed School for Atheism, in which students were required to leave the company of women and were expected to hate Shakespeare. There are two characters who argue with each other and are endowed with the biggest use of language for language's sake that Matt cut from their production. Matt had two reasons for these cuts: there weren't enough actors to play two more characters and their arguments didn't contribute to the romantic comedy or satire that Matt felt were the most important attributes of the play.
Matt spoke about his idea to turn the play into a musical and replace the play within a play with a dance. Originally, he wanted one musician to do all of the songs for the whole show. An actor was given a contract early on to do just that, but the actor ended up turning it down probably due to being offered a better contract at another theatre. Once that happened, Matt had to scramble during casting to make another plan. Fortunately his wife Meagan is the casting director for the festival so while she was still in process Matt was able to let her know he needed actors who could also play instruments and that he was specifically looking for a bass, drums, guitar, trumpet, and sax. Luckily he got exactly what he wanted. The pianist, Arnold Sherman, had already been hired to be the music director for 110 in the Shade and was available to become the music director and play piano for LLL. Matt does not read music, so he would find the versions of the songs he wanted in the show and send them to Arnold and Arnold would write out the arrangements for the actors in his jazz combo. There were 16 songs in the show. The actor/musicians only had one rehearsal to incorporate their songs in to the show before they opened, which is insane to me. When we do musicals our orchestra has three rehearsals with the cast. So kudos to those actors!
Cadence Lamb, who played the Princess, was also the choreographer. She was told that she was being given actors who could move well, rather than dancers. She was not daunted because one of her past gigs was to choreograph elementary school children. She taught the cast the Charleston and the Lindy Hop and then let them improvise their own dancing to begin with. After that, she began to reign them in during the rehearsal process, when finally she gave each of them specific things she wanted them to do during various moments of the play.
Rick Higgenbotham told us that he used the Paul Meyer dialect tapes for his Spanish accent. The vocal coach for the festival, Jennifer Burke, then helped him figure out when and where to use less of it so that the audience could still understand all the words. There were certain words that Rick had chosen to mispronounce as a character choice and Jennifer helped him with that.
Then Matt opened it up to questions from the audience and someone asked about the budget for the festival. Matt said the budget is $760,000 annually which Kilgore College gives them up front and then the festival pays back at the end of the season. Of that, $500,000 is spent on staff, 75,000 is spent on the productions, $25,000 is spent on meals, and $8,000 is spent on travel. If you keeping track (and good at math) that leaves another $152,000 unaccounted for. Matt also mentioned that this year they began renting a warehouse to build all the scenery in so that the technicians aren't building outside in the heat, like they had been doing the last 32 years. So rental fees for the warehouse are coming out of the budget too. My guess is the rest of the budget is spent on a combination of housing, publicity, and administrative costs, which Matt didn't mention. Matt did mention that it saves the festival money if Matt and Megan don't act because they are Actor's Equity members, they must take a paycheck for acting, but since they are not members of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Union, they don't have to take a paycheck for directing.
Another thing that came up in conversation was the unexpected crisis of having to replace an actor at the last minute during a performance. Tim Sailer had been sick and was losing his voice after the shows began their run. He was cast in 3 of the 4 shows. During intermission of July 15th performance of Tartuffe, where he played Cleante, the SM told Matt that Tim had completely lost his voice and asked what was the protocol for replacing him. In 33 years of the Festival they had never cast any understudies (because they couldn't afford to hire extra actors) and in 33 years no actors had ever had to be replaced. However, the protocol was the Matt could cover for the male roles and Meagan could cover for the female roles, so as Matt was too big to fit into the Cleante costume, he went home, dressed in all black and came back to go on for Tim. Matt stood at the side of the stage and read all of Cleante's lines, while Tim wore the costume and did the acting and blocking. After they got through that show, Tim was put on vocal rest and luckily his voice healed before he had to perform LLL on Thursday afternoon, four days later.
Costume design by Christopher Metzger
I have designed Tartuffe twice in my career; once at UTEP and once at MCC, so I am very familiar with the show. This production was excellent in every way. I loved the costumes. Christopher kept his designs in the Cavalier period with corsets, hip rolls, petticoats, and cartridge pleating galore. Mdm. Pernelle was in black, Elmire was in gold, Marianne was in blue and pink, Cleante in purple, Damis is blue, and Orgon in brown and black stripes, Dorine in blue and brown stripes as his foil. Lots of prints on all the fabrics and a lot of contrasting fabrics in each costume. I love that.
Some things that this production did that I'd never seen before. When Orgon first gets home, Dorine undresses him, taking his hat first, then his jacket, then finally his boots which made for a funny bit her trying to pull them off. Then he changed into a lounging gown and matching hat with slippers that he wore for most of the rest of the show. Tartuffe wears a monk's robe throughout most of the show until he boldly kicks the family out of the house, then apparently goes shopping for some new threads and comes back resplendent in red and gold feathery finery complete with periwig and beauty patch. The shoes were the best bit, red with enormous gold buckles. The other interesting acting bit that I'd never seen before was Micah's choice to play Tartuffe as a con man who is ready to give up when he gets caught by Orgon in the table scene until he realizes that Orgon is so stupid he won't believe what he's seen with his own eyes. Then you can see Tartuffe getting bolder and really coming into his stride as he takes possession of the house. It's almost like he's shocked that he's evicted them, but also super pleased with himself that he came up with the idea, so pleased in fact, that he goes out and buys himself a fancy new outfit, all pretext of religious modesty gone.
Photos by John Dodd
Costume design by Angelina Herin
I had never seen a production of King John, much less designed it. I hadn't even read it before. In fact, the Festival had never staged King John in its entire 32 year history. In the Director's Notes, James Dean Palmer says that King John was very popular in Shakespeare's time but wasn't much done after 1900 and has since fallen into obscurity. "However, the story is finding a resurgence in the new millennium. Perhaps it's telling that a play about feeling powerless in a world of fickle and futile politics is finding current resonance....King John is a burning homage to the frustration and sheer absurdity of living in a broken political system"
If you're not familiar with the history of the English monarchy, Lion in Winter is a good place to start. King John picks up after Henry's death and Richard's disastrous reign. Richard died making his youngest brother John, his heir instead of Geoffrey's son, Arthur. Geoffrey died before Arthur was born. John is a man of 32, Arthur, a twelve year old boy. Hearing this news, Arthur's mother Constance, takes him to France to Phillip II, who is now king, with the intent of using the French forces to raise an army and take the English throne for Arthur. Phillip backs this plan because he intends to, in the resulting squabble, get all of France's territory back from England. Because France opposes John's Kingship, the French and English forces fight and in the fight Arthur is captured and taken back to the tower to be killed but instead falls to his death in an escape attempt. Constance, in her grief, tears out her hair and dies of a broken heart. John maintains the throne in spite of his nobles leaving him to back France. John is poisoned by the Cardinal sent from Rome to keep John in line. John dies and his son Henry III becomes king at the tender age of nine, three years younger than Arthur would have been had Richard made Arthur king.
There's two subplots. One involves Richard's bastard. IRL, Richard was homosexual and never had a legitimate heir, much less an illegitimate one, a fact Constance knew and was counting on to win the throne for her son so this bit is something Shakespeare completely made up. The bastard fights for John against France and in doing so, manages to kill Austria, then man who is blamed for killing The Lionheart and bragging about it by wearing Richard's lionskin cape around his neck ever since. IRL, Austria most certainly did not kill Richard, although he did hold him for ransom awhile in his dungeon during the crusades. The other subplot involves the peace treaty called for by the people of Angiers for the Dauphin Louis to marry Blanche, John's niece, in order to stop England and France demolishing their town in the fight. In the play Loius and Blanche are adults, but IRL they were 11 and 12. That's really all you need to know about the plot.
The costume design had a very Game of Thrones feel to it, specifically the House of Stark with all the layers and fur. All the men and most of the women were in long, lace-front wigs. The wig master for the production was Nicholas Jones, and the wig stylist was Ryan Sozzi. The armor appeared to be mostly leather pieces and John even begins the play in a crown made of black leather, which is both elegant and frightening. Later he dons what is supposed to be a black metal crown studded with red jewels. It too is beautiful and frightening. My guess is that it was 3D printed. John has a wonderful leather armor piece that looked like a cross between a corset and a girdle that he only wore for one scene and no one got a photo of it, so you'll just have to imagine how lovely it was. He spends most of the show in his soldier tabard of red and white with the lions passant and the rest of the show in one courtly gown or another. There was a lot of red and brown used on the English characters and a lot of blue used on the French, as it should be in any play about English history. Constance and Arthur were in pinks and purples;, the Cardinal in white and gold with the largest egg-shaped hat I've ever seen. I did some research on my own about that hat, because it's not the traditional shape or color (red) for a Cardinal's hat and I discovered that Innocent III didn't make an official decree dictating the Cardinals costume until after John died. So they may have worn all white with egg-shaped hats before then, as far as I know but I didn't bother doing any more research to find out.
Photos by John Dodd
The gift shop has new shirts this year. We both got new ones.