Just me talking about costume-y kind of stuff
My first experience of Conan was the Schwarzenegger movies, which I loved. About 20 years later, when my son was in daycare, we spent a lot of time hanging out with his buddy Robbie and Robbie's mom Beth at our pool on summer afternoons while both of our husbands were still at work. She was (and still is) one of our librarians at MCC and loved REH. Beth introduced me to a movie about his life called The Whole Wide World that had come out in 1996 with Vincent D'Onofrio as REH and Renee Zellweger as Novalyne. I hadn't known that REH was from Texas. The movie was very interesting and sad (I also didn't know that he'd killed himself). Beth also told me that they had a Barbarian Festival in his hometown of Cross Plains and that she had wanted to go to it. That was such an exciting thing. We had already missed it that year, but we wanted to make plans to go next year. Unfortunately, that never happened. Fifteen years later my husband and I took a trip to Odessa to see their replica of the Globe Theatre and on the way back home we drove through Cross Plains to see REH's house that had been turned into a museum. It was 11:00pm when we got there, so we sadly took some bad photos in the dark and then went on home. We wanted to go last year, but the pandemic cancelled everything. So here I am, seventeen years later, finally getting to go experience this wonderful, weird experience now called Robert E. Howard Days.
Groups that make Howard Days Happen
The Robert E. Howard Museum is located at the junction of Texas State Highway 36 and Avenue J in Cross Plains,Texas. The museum was the family home of author Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian. The structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in 1994 and this year, a Texas State Historical Marker was added to the site.
Since 1986, people have been coming from all around the world to Howard Days to celebrate the life and writings of acclaimed author Robert E. Howard. Held at the Robert E. Howard House & Museum in Cross Plains, Texas, it is a two-day gathering of fans, scholars, writers, artists, historians and enthusiasts, all gathered together in fellowship to celebrate and discuss the life, work and legacy of the incomparable Robert E. Howard.
The Foundation was created in 2006 and is organized to foster understanding of the life and works of Robert E. Howard. Its goal is to honor Howard’s legacy as a skillful, prolific and successful writer of fantasy, regional, horror, action and adventure stories in a wide variety of genres. The mission of the Foundation is to promote its belief in the importance of imagination and creative writing.
The REH Foundation Press was created in 2007 to help insure that all of REH’s works would be available to readers in their original form as they were written, with an absolute minimum of editing. Those familiar with the history of REH publishing know that various editors over the years have taken liberties to edit as they please, changing stories and poetry in all kinds of ways. The Wandering Star series of books that began in 1998 with The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, followed by more books from Subterranean Press and Del Rey, returned REH’s most famous characters and stories to their original form, with editing by various REHF Board members. The REH Foundation Press series continues this work, extending it to ALL of the works of REH. Each book in the 22 volume REHFP series has been edited by REHF board members, and includes many works first appearance in print. REHFP also publishes collections of works related to REH’s friends, family and life, for those that want to know more about REH the person.
Welcome to Howard History, a repository for the Robert E. Howard-related writings of Rob Roehm. Roehm has "written articles for all of the Howard publications that I’m aware of, contributed to most of the Howard websites, edited books, and even wrote a couple. I’ve unearthed “new” Howard letters and stories. I’ve been to every place in the United States that Howard mentions going to, and every known place that his family lived."
FRIDAY JUNE 11
8:30 am until gone: Coffee and donuts at the Pavilion, compliments of Project Pride
9 am – 4 pm: Robert E. Howard House Museum and Grounds open to the public. The adjacent Alla Ray Morris Pavilion will be open all day until late night.
9 am – 4 pm: REH Postal Cancellation Souvenir-Cross Plains Post Office. FRIDAY ONLY.
9:15 am – 12 Noon: Bus Tour of Cross Plains & Surrounding Areas. FRIDAY ONLY.
10 am to 4 pm: REH Foundation Press canopy and Dealers Area open on grounds east of Museum.
10 am – 4 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open. Original Robert E. Howard typescripts along with original Weird Tales magazines will be on display.
NOON: Hot Dog Lunch hosted by Project Pride at the Pavilion. Donations are welcome!
12:45 p.m.: Historical Marker Presentation at the REH Museum.
1:30 pm: PANEL: REH in the Comics. This overview panel will discuss the history of Howard characters and stories presented in a comic book format. Mark Finn moderates Roy Thomas, Fred Blosser, Patrice Louinet, Jay Zetterberg. AT FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
Following this panel: Presentation of the 2020-2021 Robert E. Howard Foundation Awards.
3:00-4:00 pm PANEL: Roy Thomas Autograph Session. AT FUMC.
5:30 – 6:30 pm: Silent Auction items available for viewing & bidding at Banquet site
6:30 pm: Robert E. Howard Celebration Banquet & Silent Auction at the Family Life Center of the Baptist Church on Main Street. Guest of Honor Speaker: Roy Thomas.
9:00 pm PANEL: Fists at the Ice House. Our perennial favorite panel about Howard’s boxing (and most prolific) writings. Panelists Mark Finn, Patrice Louinet
Afterward there will be Howard Fellowship at the Pavilion. All are welcome and adult beverages are allowed.
SATURDAY JUNE 12
9 am – 4 pm: Robert E. Howard House Museum open to the public. The adjacent Alla Ray Morris Pavilion will be open all day until late night.
9:15 am – 10:30 am: Cross Plains Walking Tour, conducted by Rusty Burke. Meet at the Ice House (Reed Construction) on Main Street and walk in the steps of Bob Howard.
10 am – 3 pm: Cross Plains Public Library open. Original Robert E. Howard typescripts along with original Weird Tales magazines will be on display.
10 am to 4 pm: REH Foundation Press canopy and Dealers Area open on grounds east of Museum.
11:00 am – 12:30 pm PANEL: The Roy Thomas Interview. Come hear an engaging chat and a Q&A session with our Guest of Honor. AT FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH.
1:00-2:00 pm PANEL: Roy Thomas Autograph Session. AT FUMC.
2:30 pm PANEL: What’s Up with REH? This is our wrap-up panel, devoted to All Things Going On with Robert E. Howard in 2021. AT FUMC
4:00 pm: Tour of REH House Grounds. Rusty Burke will lead a tour around the outside of the Howard Museum.
5:00 pm: Sunset BBQ at the Pavilion. Come and enjoy a real Texas chuck-wagon barbeque!
After BBQ: Porchlight Poetry: Listen to a multi-language reading of Howard’s poem “Cimmeria” + more REH poetry read aloud from the Museum porch. We have a microphone this year!
Afterward there will be Howard Fellowship at the Pavilion. All are welcome and adult beverages are allowed.
Rusty Burke narrated our bus tour of the Cross Cut and Burkett areas that were significant to REH. Unfortunately, the landmarks of Bob's time have all but disappeared. His school in Cross Cut is now a field, and even the school that replaced it has nothing left standing but the arched entryway. The graveyard that Dr. Howard would walk through to visit patients is still there. Patients and their families would know that he was near because they could hear him whistling.
The Howard family moved around quite a bit when Bob was young, and spent time staying at the home of another doctor in Burkett, whose house had a gazebo nearby. Scholars located a gazebo in the correct area and assumed that it was THE gazebo and that the house had already disappeared. After more research it was discovered that the gazebo and house belonged to an entirely different doctor and was not somewhere that REH had stayed. The doctor whose house it actually was, was the father of Kathryn Cochran Cravens, an actress and the first female wartime radio correspondent during WWII covering Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. The doctor's house that the Howard family had actually stayed at in Burkett, was only recently demolished but Rusty was able to take a photo of it the day before the demolition. The bridge that REH would have driven over to get from Burkett to Cross Plains is still there. That's what we got to take photos of.
Cross Plains Library
The public library owns all of REH's original manuscripts. They were on display this week. They also sell photocopies of them. Rob bought "The Sword Woman" a Dark Agnes story. They also had a display of many of the issues of Weird Tales that REH had his stories published in. Rob and I were both delighted to see an actual Weird Tales magazine but were surprised to find out how thick they were in real life, like thicker than a National Geographic. It was certainly obvious that what we heard in the panel was true: whoever wrote the most lurid story, got the cover painting.
REH Commemorative Cancellation Stamp
The special postal cancellation stamp is shown above, designed by Marvel artist Becky Cloonan. This is an exclusive souvenir available to HD attendees, only Friday only at the Cross Plains Post Office. So, the price of a stamp gets you an exclusive REH collectible! We got ours on the free postcards of the house from the gift shop.
PANEL #1 Conan Becomes a Comic Book
I was too busy taking notes to get a photo of the panel and Rob didn't think to take one either, so here's some thumbnails from Google. Fred Blosser has no photos up on the internet at all. I don't know how he managed that after publishing hundreds of books. But here's a snap from the book signing.
The panelists from left to right:
Mark Finn moderator, author of Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E Howard, Editor of the magazine The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E Howard Studies, as well as numerous essays on REH.
Jay Zetterberg: Swedish Game Designer, Entertainment VP in charge of licensing at Cabinet Entertainment.
Roy Thomas: Guest of Honor, comic book author, Marvel Editor in Chief under Stan Lee. Worked on Conan from 1970-1980 and again from 1994-1996. Co-created many other Marvel characters such as Vision, Wolverine, Ultron, Valkyrie, Red Sonja, Morbius, and Ghost Rider. Uncredited screen writing work on Conan the Barbarian, co-credited story on Conan the Destroyer. Author of the three volume set Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, as well as many essays.
Patrice Louinet: French, author of The Robert E Howard Guide and numerous essays on REH and his books as well as French adaptations of the comic book.
Fred Blosser: REH/Conan historian, published numerous non-fiction books and essays on REH's writings.
These are my notes from the panel that I fleshed out with last names and some dates. It's mostly all paraphrased from what the speakers said. There are some instances where the exact phrasing was important and those are noted with quotation marks.
Roy: Readers wrote to Marvel requesting comic book adaptations of other books--LOTR, Doc Savage, Tarzan as well as REH books. I had bought a few of the Conan paperback editions but never really read any of the books, just a couple of pages of the first story in 1969, because I loved the Frank Frazetta covers. Kull was the first character that was adapted. I wrote to Len Wein who had the rights at that time. Stan Lee offered $150 an issue, no royalties. I was embarrassed to offer so little for the intellectual property. I felt that was a "paltry sum", so I upped to $200 for Conan; I figured if they didn't sell well, Stan would take it out of my salary. Stan Lee didn’t know anything about S&S genre so he left me alone to work on it with very little oversight.
I really wanted to get John Buscema to do the art, but I couldn't afford him at the time, so my second choice was Gil Kane, but Stan wouldn't pay for him either, so he got Barry Smith, who was a newbie. I didn't want to change REH more than I needed to but I still had to appeal to Marvel readers. Plus we still had to get Comic Code Authority approval. There were a bunch of rules like you couldn't show exit wounds. Roy said, "if I'd done it 20 years later", after Marvel stopped adhering to the CCA, "I’d have done it differently." "We did everything we could to subvert the CCA". Fairly early on we took off his horned helmet and gave away his medallion. Eventually we realized he didn’t need a costume anymore. “He was naked but for a loincloth.” Roy made sure REH’s name was on the book, which was something that hadn't been done before for other Intellectual Property.
The first seven issues of Conan the Barbarian each sold less than the previous one, so Stan suggested to put humans on the cover, the previous ones had animals on the cover. So the eighth issue had a human on the cover and that one sold more than the last one. The next issue also sold more than the last one and Conan was up and running. It wasn't long before we could afford Gil Kane, and finally John Buscema. Conan was the most popular book in the mid 1970’s. For the next 20 years, humans were on the cover, and Conan was never in danger of being cancelled.
Fred: Roy contacted me, in 1971, looking for story plots, for Conan the Barbarian. In 1974 I got a letter from Roy who was starting a new magazine under the Marvel imprint of Curtis Magazines, to not just attract comic book fans, but to introduce them to the books with background articles etc.. which was Savage Sword of Conan, published in 1974, for which I finished two of REH’s unfinished stories and wrote an original that was a sequel to an original REH. (There will be more about Curtis Magazines and Savage Sword of Conan in the next panel.) My favorite book is King Kull, which took a secondary character in terms of reader interest and make him popular, with artwork by John Severin, about the time when Kull lost the throne and became a wanderer. Kull, the panelists agreed, is an underappreciated book. Esp. the John Bolton ones.
Roy: In 1976, after I had moved to California, I had a friend, Ed Summers, who ran a bookstore, who asked me, Who owns the rights to Conan? I said Lyon Sprague de Camp controls some, Glenn Lord of Pasadena Texas, owns some others. "They don’t talk to each other, it’s complicated". Ed Summers, Ed Pressman, a Hollywood producer, and me saw Pumping Iron together, and Ed Pressman thought Arnold really had star appeal. Ed Summers suggested Conan as a star vehicle for Arnold, Ed Pressman had never heard of Conan. At that point the Conan paperbacks were out of print. Ironcially, Arnold's ads for body building products were heavily featured in the Conan comics at the time. The movie idea was shopped to all the film studios, and no one really wanted the property. Arnold couldn’t speak English which the studios cited as a big problem. Later Arnold was a guest on a Sammy Davis Junior special. He said he was going to play Conan and SDJ said, “Oh, the comic book character.” Marvel started running promotional ads in Conan books for Arnold Schwarzenegger starring as Conan, but it still took years to get the film made.
Patrice: I grew up on Kirby’s Fantastic 4. I was a "Marvel zombie” I loved Neal Adams' X-Men. When I bought my first Savage Sword of Conan, it was black and white, there were no super heroes, and I thought, "Where’s Spiderman? " I hated it. Later, I bought a second one and then decided that it was good, then read the paperbacks. My favorite issue is Hawks from the Sea issues #19-27 with Barry Smith art. That run was also Roy’s fav. I also liked issue #23 Shadow of the Vulture, which introduced Red Sonja into the Hyborian Age.
Roy: Luckily others--L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter--had already pieced together the timeline of Conan’s life for the ACE paperbacks released in the 1960's, so it was easier for me to piece together stories. Roy feels that, "If you don’t like it, it’s exploiting, if you like it, it’s extended." I liked writing the Conan comics, but I don't like reading them. I quit writing Conan for 10 years when I went to DC, so I didn’t read them. When I went back to Marvel, and started writing Conan again, I had to go back and buy the 10 years worth of comics to catch up to where the character was now.
Mark: My favorite book is Conan #37 "Curse of the Golden Skull" with Neal Adams guest starring. "It wasn’t supposed to be in color", says Roy. "It was supposed to be B&W". My other favorite book is Black Colossus. I loved the art, and the inking.
Roy on working with Neal Adams on "Curse of the Golden Skull": Neal drew an "obscene snail". I used the character Rotath and it became the best selling issue of all time, because there was a paper strike, everything went on sale and stayed on sale because they weren’t printing any more new issues. For DC it was Kirby’s Sandman which sold great but it was supposed to be a one shot, so they ordered a second issue which didn’t sell. ”Neal Adams was a pain in the ass to work with but his great art made it almost worth working with him… almost.”
Fred: I didn’t like any of the 80’s Conan comics because Roy had left Marvel and wasn't doing them anymore. Eclipse Comics did an adaptation of Pigeons from Hell in 1988. It was Scott Hampton’s passion project. I liked that run. Marvel had an enormous influence with Conan, making the movies happen, and the video games in late 80’s.
Roy: Stan wanted to start more horror books b/c they were selling a lot at DC. Instead they did some Lovecraft adaptations, Cthulhu stories, Harlan Ellison, more Howard. I thought if they like Conan, they’d like these stories too. My Conan stuff was still coming out in the early 80’s even after Ient to DC. Conan comics sold well throughout the early 1980's due to the movies popularity but then tanked. I had hired the artists originally and wasn’t overmanaged by Stan, but when I came back in the 90’s, I wasn’t able to choose my artists and had to get approval for things, so I wasn’t happy being micromanaged, and I quit again after two years. Marvel dropped Conan after that.
Jay: Marvel was paying a ridiculously low, one time, flat fee per comic for the intellectual property. Marvel was not smart to drop Conan, because later, they had to buy it back.
Patrice: In 1980, Roy did a comic book version of Almuric with art by Tim Conrad, for Epic illustrated, an adult Marvel imprint, not subject to the Comics Code Authority. Almuric was originally published posthumously in Weird Tales in serialized form. When Howard died, the first half was finished, but the second half was just a first draft and unfinished. Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, pieced them together and finished the story. At that point Marvel had the rights to sell it as a movie and it was shopped around. However, movie studio executives told them that “Tim Conrad can’t draw women” so we don’t want to buy your movie. In 1986 Epic Illustrated was shut down due to it being too expensive to run. The last issue was #34; in it was Death of a Legend, as tribute to REH, story by Roy and pencils and inking by Sandy Plunkett. There was no color. It was about REH’s life and death.
Roy: The 1990’s were the dark ages of Conan comic books. Dark Horse reprinted Almuric in 1991. I came back to Marvel in 1994 and stayed till 1996 to write Conan. Cross Plains Comics existed from 1999-2001. It was almost entirely reprints , but they were good reprints. They kept the ball in play in a way that Marvel didn’t. It was REH focused. I was a silent partner, Richard Ashford was the brainchild and had been an editor of the comics at Marvel before starting Cross Plains Comics. Richard got me on board. Cross Plains Comics won an award for best new company. It was the only time I got to work with Richard Corben. I got to do Wolfshead and one issue of Red Sonja.
Patrice: In late 2000, I adapted and edited the Conan stories for the European market on Wandering Star Press. Robert E. Howard's Complete Conan of Cimmeria, Vol. 1 1932-1933. There was a different writer and artist for every graphic novel. It took a long time to develop the series. One Howard story by one creative team and no one is allowed to do more. Each book has a very different style to the others; there is not a standardized look to Conan. Volume 1 was published in 2003. They are now on their 12th book. (Click here to read an interview with Patrice on his labor of love.)
Jay: I'm a little young to remember Bronze Age comics, and when I was growing up, there weren't any comics in Sweden at the time. Red Nails is my favorite. Dark Horse ran six Conan series from 2004-16. My favorite Conan was the first series by Kurt Busiek and Cary Nord, who brought the title back from the dead. The art was only pencils and color, no inking. It had a “weird non-focus on Conan’s face so that you can imagine what he looks like yourself.”
Dark Horse published ten issues of Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword. It featured more of REH's characters besides just Conan: Kull, Dark Agnes, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Sailor Steve Costigan. When Marvel got the rights back in 2018 it had to fight tooth and nail to get Dark Horse to reissue the series in a three volume anthology.
Fred: Bob McLain, founder of Pulp Hero Press, had already published my book Savage Scrolls Vol 1: Scholarship from the Hyborian Age in 2017 in both paperback and e-book formats. This book was purely literary criticism. Bob wanted to start a new line of sword and sorcery books and wanted to include my fiction. It was to be called Savage Scrolls, after my previously published book, and was a collection of eight short stories in the sword and sorcery genre. Volume One was released in 2020, Volume Two is already in the works, and there are plans for a third and fourth installment.
Patrice: I took a long rest after my PhD dissertation on REH was published in 1990. Then I wrote the English translation of his dissertation. Since then I have written numerous things for Howard Foundation Press.
Roy I wrote a lot of introductions to books that were translated into Spanish but I didn’t keep the original articles. Later I was contacted because (someone, didn't catch the name) wanted to reprint my essays in English, I had to track down the Spanish copies and have them re-translated back into English. I wrote a three volume exploration of my work on Conan called Barbarian Life. It reads like a director's commentary on the first 100 comics of Conan. “I don’t think I’ve done REH justice. I’m always aware that this is the comic book version.”
Jay: After Dark Horse ran its course, Marvel got the rights back in 2018, started publishing in 2019. Two years ago I got a call from an older lady who said she had tons of our stuff. It turned out to be Richard Ashford's wife. She said that after Cross Plains Comics had gone out of business, Richard sent tons of pallets of print material to a warehouse in New Jersey. I called Marvel and they were very glad to be able to reclaim all that material, which included Kull, Red Sonja, Worms of the Earth, some of it was damaged but most was salvaged. The pandemic forced comic book creators to cut lines. Many books were cancelled. Dark Agnes and Solomon Kane were both cut. Marvel is doing a Howardverse with Soloman Kane, Dark Agnes, and it is set in REH’s house.
Roy Thomas Autograph
The Howard Home
It was such a special experience to be able to tour the home with one or more docents in every room who could tell you all about each piece and answer any questions you might have. The first room on the right of the entrance is the parlour. There was a glassed in book case that contained all of Dr. Howard's books. Not one medical book, they were mostly religious texts. Another bookcase contained the remaining 68 volumes of the original 300+ of REH's books which had been donated to the Howard Payne College Library upon his death. They were returned to the Museum in 2012. The parlour connected with the dining room which had an Art Noveau sculpture of Cleopatra that REH had purchased on a trip to New Orleans with his parents when he was 13. On the table were copies of school papers with his teacher's corrections and comments in the margins. The next room was the kitchen, then Robert's room, which was originally a sleeping porch that they had enclosed. It was roped off so that you couldn't go in there, but it was very narrow and full of furniture, a dresser, a twin bed, a chest, his writing desk and stool. As big a man as he was it's amazing that he fit in there. There was a window between Robert's room and his parents. The last room was his parents' bedroom which had windows in every wall. His mother had tuberculosis and the windows were left open all the time to give her more air circulation. Dr. Howard lived there eight more years after his wife and son's deaths until he died too. Later owners added onto the house by adding an inside bathroom on the right side of the hallway after the kitchen and another bedroom on the left side after Robert's room. That room is where the gift shop is located. The gift shop only takes cash, but there's an ATM a block away in the 7-11. We bought matching T-shirts for $15 each. The gift shop also has an amazing array of free items, like photocopies of his birth certificate, funeral invoice, directions to his grave, bookmarks, etc...
The video was made by the REH Foundation and highlights many of the small objects in the house. It is narrated by Rusty Burke.
The silent auction began an hour before the banquet. I did not expect there to be hundreds of items there. I bid on three items and won two. Issue #1 and #2 of Valeria and Issue #3 of Conan. They were all reprints, but I'm Ok with that. Rob bid on a lot of things and won most of them, including a copy of "Red Nails". He also won a 2007 Vanguard calendar
"Masters of Fantastic Art" for me. We ended up paying $17 for 9 items. All the money goes to the REH Foundation to fund maintenance on the house.
The banquet was the only thing that we had to pay for tickets for. It was $15 a seat and they served a pretty mean chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans. For dessert there was peach cobbler and vanilla ice cream. We sat with a daddy/daughter duo from Utah. He had taken his son to Howard Days in 2019, and was supposed to take his 12 year old daughter, Emma, last year but it didn't happen due to the pandemic. So this year was her first time. The other two gentlemen at our table were friends from Houston that had been coming for several years. The make up of the gathering was the same as at a Rush concert, it was a real sausage fest. There were 165 attendees and I counted 24 women, not including the docents: four daughters, and the rest were wives like me. I don't think there were any unaccompanied females all weekend. I made the joke that at least I shouldn't have to queue for the bathroom all weekend, but I was wrong.
Our Guest of Honor, Roy Thomas, spoke about his career in making Conan Comics for Marvel. It was basically a rehash of what he said in the panel that afternoon, but longer and more focused on his work. He mentioned how his then girlfriend, Danette, now his wife, created the DC Conan knockoff, Arak, Son of Thunder, a title she created but didn't get story writing credit for until issue #12. Dann was also the model for the character Danette in the What if? story where Conan time travels to present day New York.
The button below will take you to the recording of his keynote speech.
Table favors and program.
PANEL #2 Roy Thomas
Guest of Honor: Roy Thomas, I didn't get the moderator's name.
Roy is originally from Jackson, Missouri. He said it was a very small town. His first comic experience was as a fan boy. Roy grew up reading All Star Comics, he loved JSA, the forerunner of Justice League. His mom used to read them to him until he learned to read before first grade. There was no Kindergarten back then, there was also no 12th grade, and you only went to 11th grade if you were going to college. "The father of comic book fandom" Jerry Bails (who also loved JSA and would soon become Roy's BFF) had recently started up a correspondence with Gardner Cooper Fox and had bought some of his original JSA books from him in 1959. Roy had also written to Gardner also asking about JSA books and Gardner gave him Jerry's name and address. They struck up an immediate and prolific correspondence about their love for Golden Age comics. On a later trip to New York, Jerry stopped by the DC office and saw a syfy fanzine called "Xero", which was published by Dick Lupoff from 1960-63. (Dick's book about this time period is called All in Color for a Dime and was published in 1970. ) Jerry immediately had the idea to make a fanzine about Golden Age comic books and enlisted Roy as co-editor. It was called "Alter-Ego", and it was the first superhero fanzine running for 10 issues from 1961-69.
Roy graduated with his BA in Education in 1961 and taught high school English in St. Louis for a time afterward. He got a fellowship from Scottish Rite to attend George Washington University in D.C. and had accepted an Assistant Editor job on Superman for DC in 1965, requiring him to quit his teaching job and move to New York. He worked for DC and attended GWU for approximately two weeks when he saw an advertisement in the NY Times that Marvel was hiring writers. Roy was given a writer’s test which was four pages of Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four art that he had to fill in all the speech bubbles and narration blocks. Roy got a call and was asked to have a lunch meeting with Stan the next day. Stan offered him the job 15 minutes after they met but never told him what he thought about his writers' test. Roy didn't hesitate to quit his fellowship and his DC job and make the move.*see footnote for the whole story.
When Roy first met John Romita Sr. in 1965, John was drawing DC romance comics, but he'd gotten his start drawing Captain America in 1954. Roy knew that he’d done Capt. America, which surprised John because no one else remembered him from that. Roy was hired in the first wave of college-educated comics creators like Denny O'Neil, who was hired just a few weeks after Roy. Stan liked to hire college people, because he wasn’t able to go to college himself. Stan was 18 years older than Roy and at the time was both editing and writing. Characters that Roy co-created while at Marvel were X-Men--Wolverine, Havok, Banshee, Sunfire with Len Wein; Avengers--Vision, Ultron, Carol Danvers, Valkyrie; REH--Conan, Red Sonja, Kull; as well as Luke Cage, and Ghostrider. Stan had been working under the publisher Martin Goodman who he liked very much. However, in 1972, Martin quit publishing the comics and gave the job to his son Chip, who Stan did not like working under. Stan managed to become publisher of the comics division and at that point divided the company into a triumvirate. Roy became the Story Editor, John Verpoorten was the Production Manager, and Frank Giacoia was the Assistant Art Director, because even though Stan couldn't draw, he wanted the title of Art Director for himself. Roy said about Frank, that he had seen Gunga Din when he was 15 and it was his favorite movie. Frank would watch Gunga Din while he was inking, usually Jack Kirby's Captain America. Roy said that Frank probably watched that movie 50 times while they were working together..
Roy wasn't happy with this new arrangement and was thinking of quitting and going back to DC, just a few weeks after his promotion. A friend advised him to stay, saying that everything would change and it did. Right after that, Stan made Roy Editor in Chief and kicked Frank back down to Artist. After 2+ years as Editor in Chief, Roy was sort of fired in 1974 or sorta quit, depending on who is telling the story. Stan had decided that Roy wasn’t a team player, and Roy said he was a great team player if he was the captain of the team. Roy had written a memo to Stan about some things he felt should change and Stan said that the memo should be Roy's resignation as Editor in Chief. Stan promoted Len Wein and Marv Wolfman to Co-Editors. Roy didn’t want to work under them even though he had hired them. Roy didn’t like being in charge of everyone, but he also didn't want to be just a writer. So Roy drew up his own unique contract allowing him to write and also be his own editor, which Stan agreed to, so basically Roy was free-lancing for Marvel from 1974-1980.
Towards the end of the 1970's Stan and Roy had moved from New York to California. Roy is credited with the idea to adapt Star Wars into a comic book series which editor Jim Shooter (Editor in Chief from 1978-1987) said kept Marvel from going bankrupt in the 1980's. Roy said that at the time, Shooter was doing a great job, getting the creatives treated with more respect, getting the books out on time, but that after he fixed all of Marvel's administrative problems, he started trying to "fix" things he saw as creative problems, and that heavy-handed, my way or he highway attitude, ran off a lot of talent, including Roy.
In 1981 Roy signed an exclusive three year deal with DC after a contract dispute with Shooter. While at DC, Roy created Star Girl with his wife, Dann. Dann also created Arak ,Son of Thunder but didn't get story writing credit till issue #12. Roy ended up hating working for DC and after his contract was up, he (and Dann) went back to Marvel. Stan invited him back to be Editor in Chief once more after having gone through six other editors since Roy quit the first time.
James Warren was the first publisher to get into black and white magazine of comics in 1958 with Famous Monsters of Filmland. Roy said in another interview, "I became a buyer of the Warren mags with Famous Monsters of Filmland #1 in 1958, which I bought uptown over my lunch hour and took to my senior English class... to the dismay of my teacher. I was her top student, and she let it be known that she was disappointed in me dragging around this magazine with a picture of a man in a Frankenstein mask and a--well, I don't know how she described the woman on the cover. I made sure I kept it under my desk through the whole class, so it wouldn't get confiscated." FMOF did really well and gave rise to more black and white horror titles like Creepy, Eerie, and Vampirella, which ran from 1959-1983. At some point prior to the mid 1970's James Warren offered Stan a membership at the Friar’s Club if he wouldn’t do any B&W comics that would compete with his own titles. Stan agreed, joined the Friar's Club and then pushed Goodman at Marvel to get into the B&W comics business. Goodman developed an imprint of Marvel, called Curtis Magazines. Because this new format was a magazine and not a comic, it didn't have to adhere to the CCA so more creators wanted to work on it. It featured more adult content like profanity, nudity, and violence and therefore drew a more adult audience. Curtis Magazines only ran from 1971-75 but in those four years it published 31 new titles, among them horror comics such as Dracula Lives, The Haunt of Horror, Master of Terror, Monster Madness, Tales of the Zombie, and Vampire Tales which were competing with Warren's Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella titles for a share of the market. Although the Curtis horror titles were short lived, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Planet of the Apes, and Doc Savage ran a long time and did very well. Savage Sword of Conan was by far the most successful of all of these titles. Roy was the editor and chief writer for the first 60 issues. The SSOC series was the longest running Conan title and ran from 1974-1995.
What's the deal with Morbius? The CCA had previously forbidden the use of vampires and werewolves, but by 1971, it was time to update the code. They knew readership wasn’t 8-9 years old anymore. The updated code said it was all right to use vampires, werewolves etc in “high caliber works of art:” like Dracula, Frankenstein, etc… At that time Stan needed Roy to take over writing Fantastic Four or Spiderman. Roy wanted to do FF, but Stan made him do Spiderman. Stan made him put in a vampire. Roy thought that was stupid but complied. Roy wanted to make the vampire character a super villain, but not Dracula. Roy decided he had a blood disease that made him drink blood. Roy created Morbius the Living Vampire with Bill Kane. Roy wrote two stories about Morbius and then other people took it over. Jared Leto called him and is doing a movie adaptation of it, which is coming out in 2022.
Talk about your work on Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer. Roy was an uncredited consultant on the first movie. Ed Pressman, the producer, paid Roy $10,000 for 2 days of work and then Roy never heard from him again. Later Ed called him up out of the blue, after Roy had written the screenplay for Fire and Ice with Gerry Conway. The Conan movie was fixing to come out finally, after about six years of being held up in Hollywood red-tape. Ed said, "BTW, you remember that 10 grand I paid you ? Dino de Laurentiis is going to repay me all the money I paid for the first movie. I have a check here for 10 grand but it’s made out to you." Roy said he'd endorse it and 5 minutes later his doorbell rang and a messenger was there with the check waiting for Roy's signature.
Roy co-wrote the screenplay for the second movie with Gerry Conway. Roy said that Conan the Destroyer was a train wreck. Everything was getting cheaper, and not in a good way. There was less budget money. The first movie was made in Spain, the second in Mexico. Roy and Gerry wrote five drafts. At the time Roy was building a home in San Pedro, and since he got paid for every draft, he kept adding to the house. Dino hired Roger Donaldson to direct Destroyer. Roy and Gerry gave Roger the draft, told him to show it to Dino, and couple days later, the movie is going forward, but without Donaldson as director. Dino pulled Roger off the Conan movie to do Mutiny on the Bounty instead. Dino got a new director, Richard Fliescher, but Roy and Gerry felt he was just going through the motions. Roy gave Richard a Conan comic book, to give him a better idea of what they were going for. Gerry and Roy wanted to bring Valeria back to life. Dino like that idea and kept it but got rid of Roy and Gerry and replaced them with Stanley Mann. The only thing that got filmed as Roy and Gerry wrote it was the introduction of Zula.
Roy and Gerry were responsible for getting Grace Jones her role as Zula. In the Conan comic books there was a Black male character named Zula with Mokawk hair. He became a female warrior for the movie because although they didn't have a finished script yet they had to hire the main cast. The casting director wanted to get an Asian actress for the role. Gerry said he and Roy were thinking of Grace Jones. So that’s how she got cast. Director Dino de Laurentiis had told Roy and Gerry that he didn't want any rats, priests, or leeches, in his movie. The translator had called them blood suckers, so Roy and Gerry thought he meant vampires. Roy said it was depressing working with Dino and then he fired them. The Writers Guild of America looked at all the drafts and compared them to decide who would get the writing credit. The decision was that the credits should read, "Story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, Screenplay by Stanley Mann". The film was already in the can so Roy and Gerry were offered $5,000 to forego the screen credit so they wouldn’t have to redo them, but they said no to the money to give the finger to Dino, and made him redo the credits to include them.
*Here's the excerpt on the Marvel Writer's Test from a conversation between Roy and Stan in May, 1998 that was published in Comic Book Artist #2. I also included the first four of the Jack Kirby pages from Fantastic Four Annual #2 as an example of the Writer's Test.
Roy: Now—about the famous "Marvel Writer's Test": Sol Brodksy and Flo Steinberg told me that you put an ad for writers in the New York Times, and had hundreds of people applying.
Stan: It's news to me, but it sounds like something we might have done.
Roy: Did you have to read a lot of the tests?
Stan: I probably gave them to somebody else to read. I really don't remember.
Roy: The reason I'm curious is that supposedly I was hired on the basis of taking this writer's test while I was working at DC.
Stan: Then I must have been reading them.
Roy: We met the next day after I turned it in. You offered me a job a few minutes later, but you never referred to the test then or at any other time, so I never knew if you actually read it or if I was hired because I was already working for Mort Weisinger over at DC. [laughs]
Stan: I think I liked your personality.
Roy: It was always strange to me: I went in there expecting to discuss this writing test and figured that I must have passed—but you never mentioned it! And I'm still waiting!
Stan: [laughs] Maybe that's the case, Roy. I just don't remember.
Roy: We're actually going to print one page of that test in Comic Book Artist. The test was four Jack Kirby pages from Fantastic Four Annual #2.
Stan: Oh! When I wanted people to put dialogue over the pictures? That was a good idea!
Roy: You had Sol or someone take out the dialogue. It was just black-and-white. Other people like Denny O'Neil and Gary Friedrich took it. But soon afterwards we stopped using it.
Stan: That was a clever idea! I'm proud of me! [laughs] You know, I probably did read yours and most of the others, because I know I hate to read scripts, but if it was just pictures with dialogue balloons, I could have read that very quickly, and chances are that I did read them all. And chances are that I'm a lousy judge, so I probably liked yours! [laughs]
PANEL #3 What's Up with REH in 2021?
Panelists are all from Cabinet Entertainment, which now owns all of the Conan intellectual property.
Fred Malmberg is the Founder of Swedish toy company, Target Games (table top and RPG games) and CEO of Paradox Entertainment, which was started by Fred to adapt all of the Target games into video games. Paradox Entertainment bought the intellectual rights to Conan before Paradox was split into different companies but Fred retained control over the video game segment as well as the rights to Conan intellectual property, Fred moved his company to LA to be closer to Hollywood and to pursue film and tv licensing opportunities. Paradox was later bought out by Cabinet Entertainment in 2015, Fred said that Conan is more popular in Europe than the US. 95% of fans live there and they have more people) Very popular in Norway and they think like Conan. Turkish people believe Conan is Sumerian.
Charles "Steve" Booth is the American CEO of Cabinet Entertainment which owns the intellectual property of Conan, Kull, and Solomon Kane, among others, and licenses it for film and television production. They were responsible for the 2009 Kull the Conqueror with Kevin Sorbo, as well as the 2011 Conan reboot with Jason Momoa. It also creates table top games, video games, toys, collectibles, apparel, and other related merchandise of their intellectual property. Cabinet Entertainment donates both money and products to the continuing support of the REH Museum. the REH Foundation, and Howard Days.
Jay Zetterberg is also Swedish. Jay started out at Cabinet being in charge of the licensing for the comics division. Jay is currently in charge of all creative licensing approvals for everything that Cabinet owns, Jay was a member of Friday's panel as well, as his particular area of expertise is Conan comics.
Background on the REH Intellectual Property and what's being done with it
Here's a short publication history of REH works :
Gnome Press gathered all the known REH material at the time and published it in seven volumes in hardback between 1950-1957. Lancer/Ace published twelve volumes of Conan stories in paperback between 1967 and 1977 but they were heavily edited by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter and not all of it was original Howard material. However, with fantastical cover art by Frank Frazetta they caught the popular imaginations and sold very well. Donald M Grant published eleven illustrated volumes of REH's original Conan stories from 1974-89. Berkley published three volumes also of REH Conan stories in 1977. Bantam continued in the Lancer/Ace tradition of publishing seven more non-REH Conan stories from 1978-82. Tor published 43 volumes of new, not REH Conan stories from 1982-2003, as well as re-issuing all the Bantam volumes, plus three omnibuses. Del Rey published three illustrated volumes called Conan of Cimmeria between 2003 and 2005 that included notes, rough drafts, and manuscripts,
The REH Foundation Press is currently continuing the work that Del Rey started by bringing Conan stories back to their original form. The REH Foundation acquired all REH publishing rights in 2007 for first edition print runs of REH's letters, poems, fiction, and biography. They have since published all of REH's work in its original, unedited, unexpurgated form.
Fred Copyright has a time limit everywhere but it is different between countries and copyright laws vary. All Howard stories are copyrighted for 70 years in most countries, so all of them are now in public domain. Cabinet currently has ten federal lawsuits in litigation for copyright infringement. Here's an example of copyright infringement. Anyone can publish "The Tower of the Elephant" by REH, however, if they were to publish a story as "Conan and the Tower of the Elephant, that would be a copyright infringement because Cabinet owns the intellectual property of the Conan character.
Steve: Perilous Worlds is a new imprint of Cabinet Entertainment that publishes new Science Fiction and Fantasy titles set in the IP worlds of REH and others.
Jay: Comic Book rights were held by Marvel from 1970-2000 and then Dark Horse from 2000-2018, and now the rights are back at Marvel. Whatever new Conan stuff that Marvel invents, Cabinet owns it. Including arms and armor, by Museum Replicas. We love to work with new creators and we very seldom take a license back from a licensee.
Fred was into war games as a kid. He brought role playing games to Sweden. His favorite game was Call of Cthulhu the tabletop game released in 1981. Cabinet games must be kid friendly, appealing to existing fans, and not offensive to a 15 yr old girl, because gamers skew younger than the average Conan fan plus they skew female these days.
Upcoming Films/TV Series
When directors want to direct a Conan movie but have only seen the movie and never read the books, but Cabinet wants any films to remain true to Howard's character, whereas producers want a huge audience so it gets tricky to appeal to all fan factions. For example the 2009 Solomon Kane movie spends half the time telling his origin story.
Cabinet is looking for a streaming service to do Legend of Conan, set in the years after Conan stops being King. Universal was looking at it but the studio head left for another job. Had to wait three years for the option to expire.
Cabinet asked Evan Daugherty, a native Texan, screenwriter, and huge Howard fan to write a new Conan film. He almost cried and accepted the job immediately. He wrote a fantastic pilot which sat at Sony for three years. The film never got made, the option expired, and Cabinet bought it back from Sony one month ago. Cabinet is now looking for another network to buy it. Fred described it as Indian Jones meets Laurence of Arabia.
In 2018, Amazon commissioned a script from Ryan Condal and got Miguel Sapochnik to direct the pilot, he did GOT episode "Battle of the Bastards". Amazon bought LOTR series instead. Cabinet can’t use that material because it was developed for Amazon, so no one will ever see the best Conan script ever written.
In 2019 Netflix offered a deal to produce a live action Conan series, but Cabinet had to spend a year educating them on what Conan was and didn't close the deal until November 2020, It's in development now. The Netflix executives want it to be a franchise.
Red Sonja rights have been tied up at Millennium for a long time due to Bryan Singer's sexual assault allegations. However, Millennium has finally announced that a new director, Joey Soloway, has been attached to the picture with Hannah John-Kamen starring as Red Sonja. The film has Gail Simone on board as a story consultant. Simone re-launched the character when she authored 18 issues of Red Sonja for Dynamite Entertainment in 2013.
Dann Thomas, wife of Roy Thomas, is the first woman who was credited for writing on Wonder Woman, Issue #300 in 1983. Before they were married, Roy wrote her into a Conan story as the woman Danette who Conan meets in "What If Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?" published in What If? #13 (Feb. 1979). She also co-wrote with Roy for All Star Squadron in 1981 and Firebrand was named Danette Reilly for her. Roy credits her with creating the character Arak son of Thunder for DC, but she didn't get a writing credit till issue #12 in 1982. You can read all about her career here. https://www.wikiwand.com/en/Dann_Thomas
Every year after the BBQ, REH's poem, "The Cimmerian" is read in multiple languages. I didn't get everyone's name, from right to left: Bill Cavalier (author and MC), Mark Finn (author) read in English, Patrice Louinet (author) read in French, Barbara Baum (author) is from Venezuela and read in Spanish, Mrs. Cavalier read in German, the next man read in Italian, and the young man who is from New York read in Swedish. Each person read one stanza. After the poem concluded, then it was open mic for anyone else who wanted to read something. We listened to a couple of other pieces but there was no shade in the front of the house and it was 102 degrees, so we went on back to the hotel. Check out the guy in front in his Conan helmet. That was the lone bit of cosplaying the entire weekend. Props to him because his brain must have been roasting in there.
The Gravesite: Greenleaf Cemetary
Although his home is in Cross Plains, the family was actually buried in Brownwood. The cemetery is easy to find plus REH's grave is pinpointed on Google maps in case you didn't pick up the directions at the gift shop. The headstone is in almost the exact middle of cemetery and with the addition of the historical marker and the permanent shade structure, you really can't miss it. We were not surprised to see that people had left offerings on the grave: Shiner beer, candles, and a novel. On the front of the stone, someone left a tiny cross made of tinfoil.
The Whole Wide World, 1996
Novalyne Price met REH while she was teaching at Cross Plains High School. She was introduced to him by a mutual friend. Novalyne pursued a friendship with Bob because he was getting his stories published and although she wanted to be a writer, she hadn't had much success in that area yet. They were close friends/romantically involved the last three years of his life. She wrote the two memoirs that the film is based on. She is buried in Clear Creek Cemetery in Bangs, TX, not far from Brownwood, alongside her husband William Ellis.
If you read the trivia on the IMDB and Wikipedia pages, you'll find out that the movie was made in my hometown of Bastrop, and surrounding areas of Rockne, Bartlett, and Austin. The Howard home in the film is in Bastrop at 1310 Hill Street, as is the 1832 Tavern, at 809 Main Street, where Novalyne and Bob go to get a drink.
Rob and I are just in love with WandaVision. When the Halloween episode aired I just knew we had to do that for our next cosplay. Our anniversary is on Valentine's Day so I got us these super cute matching T-shirts. Since I'm done with both the musical and the opera costumes way ahead of schedule, I decided to start working on this project during Spring Break. I have never in my 20+ years of working at MCC, not had to work on the opera during Spring Break, so I am very excited that I get to do this so soon. Hopefully we will have conventions again soon. If Greater Austin Comic Con happens, we'll be ready.
As you know, Amazon is my go to place these days for online shopping. I was able to order most of the things I needed for Vision's costume. The Sentai suit will need to have it's face cut out and it's hands and feet cut off. I'll make his cape with the stand up collar out of some yellow lycra I have in the shop. Then I can use a scrap for the diamond on his chest. I'll use the scraps from the Sentai suit to make the green stripe down the sides of the shorts. I have a ton of plastic gemstones for his mind stone too. Easy peasy.
I have gained 40 lbs during the pandemic and as we all know, plus sized anything is hit and miss, so I decided pretty early on that I would need to make the bodysuit. I chose red stretch velvet which I will back with coutil so that it keeps it's structure like a corset.. I'm using the Yana Han cosplay pattern for that. It calls for lacing up the back like a corset, but Rob is lousy with lacing, so I'm putting a zipper up the back instead. On the show Wanda only wears pink tights underneath, but in some versions of the comic, Wanda's arms are pink as well, so I bought a pink body suit that will cover me up completely underneath. I'll probably wear it over flesh colored tights too. My calves have always been too big for most boots, so I found boots that were shorter and much lower in the back, hopefully they'll fit. I'm also making the cape and the headpiece. The headpiece will be out of L200 foam and painted red. I found a great tutorial on you tube, which I will share here. I'll either wear my Nightmare Nurse or my Squirrel Girl wig, even though my hair is currently dyed red.
Check back during Spring Break for more updates!
We have wanted to do a Harry Potter cosplay for a long time now. I even went so far as to order three sets of Gryffindor robes for the kids two years ago. Rob and I were going to be Snape and McGonagall or Hagrid and Professor Trelawny, but it just never manifested. Halloween 2019 was difficult with the death of Rob's dad. I didn't make anything for anyone. We pulled out the Gryffindor robes at the last minute for Sarah so she could go trick or treating and found out that the Small we ordered was entirely too small and wouldn't fit her anymore. She wore one of the Larges that we bought the boys and we gave the Small one away.
When we chose Puffs for our second slot, I donated the Gryffindor robes to the cause of the show. While watching the show, which was super cute and fun, it occurred to me that we could do a HP photoshoot and send it out for Christmas cards. The first idea was a Slytherin family photo with Rob as Voldemort, me as Bellatrix, Sarah as Malfoy, Sylvan as Crabbe, and Seth as Goyle. The school uniforms fit the kids perfectly, which was a lucky coincidence with the casting. Voldemort's robes were one size fits all. The only thing I had to do was come up with a new Bellatrix costume since I'm twice as big as the actress who played that character in Puffs. I chose a black corset, a long sleeved net shirt, and a ruffled black skirt with a cape.
Then I had another idea: do all the Hogwarts ghosts. Nearly Headless Nick. Fat Friar, and Moaning Myrtle were all parodied in Puffs, so I already had those costumes, built by the fabulous Matt Smith for the show, and again the sizing was a lucky coincidence. I had to make a Bloody Baron and a Grey Lady costume. I ordered the fabric from Fabric.com and it arrived in a week. I made a Restoration Justacorp for The Baron with slops, that he wore with a pre-existing doublet that I made for Three Musketeers. For The Grey Lady, I used a pre-existing skirt from Beaux Stratagem and matching bodice that I made for Christmas Carol. I had to remove the sleeves and create new ones to bring it into the correct period. I added an overskirt and some more trim.
At some point, I bought an awesome tiara at a Skellington Market. I really wanted to make something to go with it. That's when I had the idea to do all the Founders' Objects in our Ghost photo. Rob already had a sword, I used the silver cup from the show, my tiara was Rowena's diadem, my grandmother's locket became Salazar's, and for Moaning Myrtle, an old patterning book stood in for Tom Riddle's diary. All I needed now was a photographer. Of couse I asked my friend Krista Kasper to do the honors. She did Seth's senior pictures and really did an amazing job on them. I asked her before Thanksgiving when I was still putting together all the costumes, wigs, and props. We set up a date, I did the location scouting, and like a very busy bee, started patterning and sewing. In fact I was still sewing the morning of the photo shoot.
The family showed up at 1:00 and it was a tight schedule to get everyone dressed with wigs and makeup in the Ghosts costumes. We had to do those first because Rob had to shave afterwards to be Voldemort. I really needed another hour to do a better job with the wigs and makeup, but as it was literally the shortest day of the year, hurrying had to happen or we would lose the light.
Krista took a ton of photos, which are really great. The only problems were the girls' wigs weren't on very well and you can see our hairline in the close ups. Also, there's a reason I'm not an actress. I don't take great photos, especially when I'm supposed to be cruel like Bellatrix or haughty like the Grey Lady. However, all things considered, the photoshoot was a rousing success. We celebrated with pizza and Christmas tv shows back at our house.
Did I mention that Krista is also great wit Photoshop? Check out the awesome Dark Mark and Hogwarts castle she gave us. She also managed to make Rob's arms white after I did his Voldemort makeup on his face and neglected to do his arms as well. He also forgot to take off his Fitbit, so she got rid of that too.
I put this little playlist together while waiting for Tristan and Isolde to upload to you tube tonight. It started at 3pm and still hasn't finished uploading and it's after 11 pm. But here's a bunch of fun Spooky Season historyical/vintage/cosplay/sewing videos. Enjoy!
As you may recall two years ago I started these cosplays. I finished mine but was never happy with the tail. I got stuck on Dr. Doom's armor, because it got ruined when I tried to do all the spray painting when it was both too hot and too humid. The final straw was when I ruined the thermoplastic mask. Luckily, all things eventually work out and I used the ruined Dr. Doom mask for Rob's Swamp Thing mask, for which it worked perfectly. You can click on the above link to read all about it.
Dr. Doom Process
Fast forward to the Pandemic. I tried making a pepakura mask of Dr. Doom because I found a pattern online. I'd never done pepakura before and I ended up being very frustrated with the hundred tiny little pieces and got crazy glue all over my fingers. But it was good to figure out a pattern. I cut the paper apart into just three pieces and then cut it out of foam. Rob used the dremmel and sanded it all down.
I took Darlisha's advice and had Rob sand all the old paint off of the armor pieces from two years ago. I then repainted them in cooler weather. Two coats of the hammered silver paint. Then I went back in with flat black acrylic and did some antiquing. Once that dried, I did a clear coat of protective satin gloss.
I couldn't find the two shin pieces so I'm having to remake those with the new helmet. The shin pieces were easy to recreate. The helmet gave me a lot of trouble. The foam I bought from Joanne's back in May was too thick, and didn't want to be heat formed nearly as well as the previous stuff. The pieces didn't fit together as well as I'd hoped either so there's quite of bit of hot glue showing on the face. It was really cold outside yesterday so I was doing the heat gun part inside the house and I was using a styrofoam head to form the EVA foam on top of. And yes I was fully aware of how toxic styro is when melted. However it didn't occur to me that I could melt styro that was underneath the foam. I started smelling something so I picked up the top piece that I had been working on and underneath the head was all melted in on itself. YIKES! I took the whole thing outside, put the styro head in the trash and then ran around opening all the doors and windows and googling inhaled poison info. We're fine.
I got the first coat of plastidip on at 6:00 and waited 30 minutes in between all the other coats of plastidip, grey primer, and hammered silver. I brought the pieces in for the night at 9:30. And yes, I did most of the painting in the dark under the porch light with a flashlight. I had the brilliant idea to attach most of the pieces to each other with long brads but Office Depot closed at 7 and doesn't open again until 10 am today, so I'm doing the antiquing this morning and the clear coats before I send Rob out on that errand.
We started putting all the armor together at 11 and I worked on it till noon. We only got the upper body put together in time for the costume contest at Skellington. That's OK because we won anyway. There were only three entrants in the couples category, us, Sarah and Katryna, and another married couple who were Aragon type rangers. They had bought their pieces from Pyramid Collection, I know because I get their catalogue and ordered that same belt for a show. Anyway, we won, and the girls came in second.
So, I gained 35 pounds during the pandemic, so none of my Squirrel Girl costume pieces still fit, except the jacket. Also, I found new boots that are better than the ones I had last time. I ordered new things from Amazon because I just didn't have time to build things from scratch. I bought grey leggings brown shorts, a brown corset, a new better looking wig, and a much smaller and lighter squirrel tail.
The shorts are really long, so I cut them down to a 1" inseam and then sewed fur trim around the hem. I washed the fur trim to make it match the fur around my jacket and the boots.
Sarah and her friend Katryna are planning a couples cosplay for Halloween this year. Since all the cons and Renfaires got cancelled this year I'm indulging their every wish.
Katara from Avatar
Sarah wants to be this character from Avatar: The Last Airbender with her friend Katryna. Here's what I bought from Amazon in the gallery below.
Total cost: $115.85
Everything fit except the skirt was about 3" too big in the waist. I'm going to remove the waist band and then take off about 5" from the top to shorten the length without sacrificing the fullness at the hem. Then I have to make the three tabs that hang down from the waist and do the trim on the skirt. The sew it all back together with a smaller waistband. Also I have to make the red choker for the pendant to be sewn on. And she wants me to dye her hair brown.
I made the tabs on Thursday and bought some brown satin blanket binding for the trim. I got that sewn on Friday and then did the skirt trim out of bias binding I made from a darker brown fabric. I reused the old waistband that I'd cut off, cut it down three inches and gathered the skirt and put the waistband back on. I did a fitting Friday night and will attach the tabs Saturday. I also made her a belt out of an old brown strap that was missing its buckle and the new alligator buckle I wasn't using for Sylvan's costume.
Katryna wants to be this character from the spin-off show. Here's everthing I bought from Amazon in the gallery below.
Total cost: $84.81
Everything fit very well except the pants were about 3" to big in the waist. I'm going to dye the shirt a darker blue and make the brown fur thing around her waist. Also we need to cut the fingers off of the gloves. So when I dyed the shirt, it came out great, but two of the metal frog closures came off and a third was about to come off. I resewed the loose one, then reattached one of them but when I turned around to get the other one it had disappeared. I looked for an hour and still couldn't find it so I gave up and ordered more in silver which will match her belt. so now I'm going to have to remove all 5 of them and then sew the new ones on. The silver ones showed up Friday night. I had bought some white piping and silver elastic Friday morning and sewed that on too, and Friday night I sewed the silver frogs on. It is all done and looks great.
Plague Knight from Shovel Knight
Sylvan wants to be this character from his favorite video game, Shovel Knight. I bought everything from Amazon in the gallery below.
Total cost: $170.63
The shirt, pants, and robe fit perfectly and didn't need to be altered at all. After the first fitting I realized that he needed a hood to cover his head so that we couldn't see any bare skin.
Most of the accessories were the wrong color. I had to paint the plague doctor mask green as well as the belt and the pauldrons so that they would match the gloves. I used green Kryolan spray paint for plastic and did two coats. Once all the items were dry, I used black acrylic paint to add more dimension by painting in the areas that would be shadowed like the cracks in the belt (it's an alligator texture) and the edges of the paldrons, and around the eyes and beak of the mask. Then used gold acrylic to sponge over the green. With the beak of the mask I brushed the gold on fairly heavily.
I didn't like the matching black buckle on the belt, so I bought a gold buckle that I like better. The belt is a ratchet belt, so the buckle was easy to replace.
The pauldron straps were not long enough, so I'm going to have to replace them with longer black elastic. In the end I ordered two more belts that had gold buckles but were really just black elastic and used those for straps. I'm also attaching velcro with E6000 to the inside of the pauldrons and sewing velcro to the robe so that they will stay in place better on his shoulders.
Then I had to paint the staff black. I did two coats of black acyrlic and then two coats of Kryolan black gloss spray paint and a final two coats of clear to protect the paint job.
We're making the bomb out of a water bottle and adding a crazy stray inside for the fuse. I'm going to use RIT dye to tint the plastic bottle. The bottom half needs to be green and the top half needs to be purple. Plus he needs a purple pouch to add to his belt, so I'm getting him a Crown Royal bag that will do the trick. He'll wear his combat boots for shoes.
I tried dyeing the plastic bottles Friday with Rit synthetic dye but it just wasn't working so today I'm going to paint the inside of the bottles with mod podge and food coloring. I glued snaps to the inside of the new belt buckles and the outside of the pauldrons to attach it.
Directed by Rufus Norris
Set Designed by Rae Smith
Costumes Designed by Katrina Lindsey
Projections by 59 Productions
Obviously this production was based on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. It has been quite cleverly adapted into a musical in which Wonderland is a video game. Ally, the black, female, teenaged heroine, is the child of recently divorced parents who has had to move with her mom to a new flat, in a new neighborhood, go to a new school, and make new friends, and it's not going well. She misses her dad, who has an online gambling addiction and lost all the family's money. Ally is being bullied at school, and doesn't want to leave her room or talk to her mum about her problems. She wants to be anyone other than herself. Her phone is her only friend. She searches the internet for "be someone else" and finds Wonder.land where there are no rules other than "No Malice" toward yourself or anyone else. She creates her avatar Alice to be completely different--a white girl with blonde hair--who's everything she's not: smart, pretty, thin, and brave. She plays in Quest Mode and encounters others' avatars that she befriends: Dee and Dum, Humpty, Mock Turtle, Dodo, Caterpillar, and Mouse, each person having his/her own set of problems with their parents. The gang discovers each other's weaknesses and insecurities and accept each other regardless of their lack of self esteem. They have leveled up and go on to the garden. Ally's teacher takes up Ally's phone because she's playing Wonder.land in class. Ally doesn't lock her screen, and Mrs. Manxsome starts playing as Alice. She changes Alices' hair and clothes (to red), buys in-game accessories, and proceeds to conquer the online world as The Red Queen. Ally discovers Mrs. Manxsome has her phone and sneaks into the school to try and steal it back. Meanwhile, Red Alice alienates all her friends, and starts beheading them. Alice is going to be deleted from the game for breaking the one rule: No Malice. Ally pleads with the game to save her avatar Alice, since it wasn't her fault, to no avail. Alice apologizes to her friends before she disappears. Ally learns to be happy in the real world with her family and spends less time online.
Photo Credit: Brinkoff and Mogenburg, National Theatre
The set was amazing. The National stage has a revolve but it wasn't utilized. Instead, all the set pieces and furniture were on wheels and either rolled by remote control or by actors wheeling things around. Most of the set was done by projections, which is getting more and more popular these days. It worked equally well for the video game animations as it did for the backgrounds of the real world. The floor is painted with a Cheshire Cat image that gives a spirally, off kilter effect to all the scenes. These photos are of the "real world" of Ally's new neighborhood, flat, and school. All of the actual set pieces were painted in grayscale, iwith the only color being in the costumes and the projections of Wonder.land. As the show goes on the colors and characters of Wonder.land invade the grey of the real world more and more. The whole video game aesthetic was heightened with the sound and lights making all the familiar beeps and boops and bings with the lights adding to the pixelated quality of things on the screen.
This is the sequence of Ally making her avatar, Alice, which she wants to be completely different from herself. The whole time, the narrator's chair is running around Ally's bed like it's a remote controlled car, doing complicated circles and spins.
Photo Credit: Brinkhoff and Mogenburg, National Theatre
Katrina Lindsay's costume design sketches
As I said before, all the real world costumes are in greyscale. Ally and her friends were black and white school uniforms with exaggerated stripes and piping accenting the collar and lapels. Alice's costume is quite ingenious. Her skirt is an enlarged Elizabethan ruff, which gives it a tutu like effect. She's wearing ruffled lacy bloomers underneath, and the blue bodice is cut like a Tudor bodice worn over a chemise with puffed sleeves. In an interview with Vogue, designer Katrina Lindsay points out the English fashion designers whose collections inspired her design of the costumes--Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Burberry Prorsum, and Christopher Raeburn. When Alice becomes the Red Queen, she gets the same costume, just in red leather. The Caterpillar is played by one actor and six chorus members, all of whom are individually costumed in a large oval shape to represent each segment of the caterpillar body, so each segment can spin and dance independently of each other. Dee and Dum are also in an overlarge dryer hose like silhouette using black and gold in opposite locations. Alice's teacher, Mrs. Manxsome, looks a lot like Cruella DeVille in her black and white houndstooth suit, that later on opens to reveal red lining and a red dress underneath. The Mock Turtle was so unhappy with her avatar, that she "trashed" it and appears wearing the trash can a la Oscar the Grouch. The Doormouse is giant and flat in a sad Spongebob Squarepants way. Humpty is in schoolboy clothes with shorts and long socks holding a giant white balloon that represents her head. The White Rabbit is in all white with giant cylindrical ears (that look more like tampons than ears honestly) and a fencing mask type helmet for a face. He wears black and white two tone oxfords and jodpur inspired pants to create the bunny haunches and a tiny Elizabethan ruff for a collar.
My overall impression is, Wow look at all that awesome tech and design! And then, I didn't really like any of the music. Meh. Would I watch it again? Probably not. I'd rather just look at photos. I already live in a house where there are video games going all the time and I'm just not into the whole scene. It's a great adaptation and a great message and would certainly be more meaningful to kids who do stay online all the time to escape the real world, but to this Gen Xer, it's just too much sensory overload.
Written by Shahid Nadeem
Adapted by Tanya Ronder
Scenery and Costumes by Katrina Lindsay
Taken from The National Theatre's Learning Guide to Dara:
"The play's action begins in 1659, in Mughal India. The imperial court is a place of opulence and excess, with music, drugs, eunuchs and harems. Two brothers, Dara and Aurangzeb, whose mother’s death inspired the Taj Mahal, are heirs to this Muslim empire. Now they fight ferociously for succession. Dara, the crown prince, has the love of the people, and of his emperor father; but the younger Aurangzeb holds a different vision for India’s future. Islam inspires poetry in Dara, puritanical rigour in Aurangzeb. Can Jahanara, their beloved sister, assuage Aurangzeb’s resolve to seize the Peacock Throne and purge the empire?
In an author's note in the published script, Ronder writes: 'My brief was to take Shahid Nadeem’s play and adapt it for a National Theatre audience. We set out, myself and director Nadia Fall, to unpack the events cited in the original play, to educate ourselves, and to recreate the story in a way that didn’t put our audience at arm’s length, able to write the drama off as a story that was not theirs. The tale of Dara and Aurangzeb is one which a Pakistani or an Indian audience would have preexisting knowledge and some ownership of. A story, albeit differently told across borders, which children all over the Indian subcontinent will have heard at school or at home, (perhaps akin to our connection in Britain to Henry VIII or Elizabeth I), but that very few of us in the West know about. ... The result is a more recognisable shape of play; it has expanded to five acts, it starts before the original begins and ends several decades later. I have added in a trial scene to give Dara the voice I think we need to hear, and added various characters and storylines, all taken from or inspired by historical facts – Itbar and Afia, Murad, Mian Mir, Hira Bai and Aurangzeb’s relationship with her – and also incorporated a childhood for the brothers and sisters of this Mughal court. All in an attempt to round the story out, to make it a fairer fight between the brothers and to hopefully give our audience the psychological and emotional complexity they are used to.'"
Katrina Lindsay, Designer
Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz and National Theatre
The beauty of the set is its openness and the cleverness of using the decorative screens to transition between scenes while also changing time and place. The steps provide levels while the lighting and gobos provide patterns on the floor. Musicians are kept both on stage and on the balcony above stage left.
Photo credit: Ellie Kurttz and National Theatre
The costumes are opulent, saturated, and many layered. The fabrics are both rich and delicate with embroidered and bejeweled details.
As I am continuing to work my way through the National Theatre Live archive, I've discovered that not all their offerings are to my taste. I know, it surprised me too. Also, there are many productions where the acting/directing are superb, but the design isn't much to write about. Not that it's bad, just that it takes a huge backseat to the performances. I've watched 15 of the 30 so far and I am realizing that I'm not going to be blogging about all of them. So here's a short summation of what you won't be hearing about and why.
Devised Productions at the Old Vic
Jan Eyre and Peter Pan were "devised productions" directed by Sally Cookson and staged at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre. They are experimental pieces that use the same acting company with minimal set and costume pieces. I didn't like these productions for the odd staging, but especially for the low tech approach, especially when the work you are adapting is a period or fantasy piece, there should be spectacle. And honestly, Jane Eyre was waaay too serious and Peter Pan was waaay too silly for me. Also, the actor playing Peter Pan looks to be a man in his mid to late 50's and is costumed like Rik Mayal in Drop Dead Fred, which just makes the whole thing really creepy to me, even with the actress playing Wendy looking to be in her mid to late 30's. She's the same actress who plays Jane Eyre, so again with the age problem of being entirely too old for the character. Reading the reviews, the critics loved it, but I couldn't get past the whole panto-esque quality to it. Perhaps it's just that I'm American and don't understand English Panto.
Tennessee Williams at the Young Vic
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and A Streetcar Named Desire were both staged at the Young Vic and directed by Benedict Andrews.
The first problem with both productions is the modernization. There are no streetcars or tin roofs in this modern world. The longing for the genteel Southern way of life that is slipping away in the world of the play doesn't translate when the time of the play is the twenty-first century and that way of life is no longer slipping away, it's dead and buried. Also,
I just think the English performers don't understand the Southern US aesthetic of cotton plantations, college football, and former beauty queens or they would realize that modernizing these plays doesn't work. And although UK training is famous for voice work, to someone who was born and raised in the South, their accents were not convincing, especially the men. Also, both Paul Newman and Marlon Brando are manly men, and although they cast well-muscled men in those roles, no amount of tattoos will turn you into Stanley or Brick. It's an attitude, a confidence, an arrogance that maybe just doesn't translate to English men. I don't know.
Specifically, I love Gillian Anderson, so I hate to say this about her acting, but her Blanche DuBois' accent is the worst of the lot. And I know that Vivien Leigh was also English, but her voice work was perfection, maybe because she did Gone with the Wind first. Also, I love Colm Meaney, but he is sooo not Big Daddy. And Maggie the Cat is supposed to be a sex kitten--duh!-- that any heterosexual man could not resist. The actress that plays Maggie in this production needs to eat a sandwich. I know our current ideal of feminine beauty is basically a heroin junkie super model, but that doesn't work for this play. I normally think British actors way out-class American actors, but in conclusion, I think these British actors should leave Tennessee Williams' to the Americans and Vivien Leigh.
Must See Performances
KIng Lear, 2011
Directed by Michael Grandage
Scenery and Costumes by Christopher Oram
Derek Jacobi as King Lear
King Lear was staged at the Donmar Warehouse.
This was not a modernized version per se, but was costumed in simple, dark robes on everyone, making it very difficult to tell the characters apart. The scenery was just whitewashed walls and floor. There were no other set pieces. The best tech in the show is the storm in Act 3 scene 2. The thing that set Derek Jacobi's Lear apart from all other Lears, is that it was clear that Lear was suffering from dementia. Now, maybe this is just my interpretation clouded by my mother's death from Fronto-temporal Dementia recently, but that's how I read it. I suppose if I went back to 1988 and watched Jeffrey Dench (brother of Judi Dench) in our Aggie Player version of King Lear, I might feel the same way about his performance.
Jacobi's Lear was a man who after making one very stupid pronouncement, was suddenly changed in personality so much so that his children and oldest friends are surprised by it and don't understand that in this state he can't be reasoned with. Once he leaves his palace and moves his retinue to his daughter's, his dementia only gets worse. He's strange and prone to angry fits, he's violent and childish, and he doesn't know himself or his servants anymore. The most interesting choice for me was the "Storm" scene which he chose to whisper his speech as an inner monologue but was amplified and echoed through the sound system while the "storm" levels receded into the background and only "raged" while Jacobi paused in his speech, until both storm and speech rose to thunderous levels by the end.
Adapted by Don Taylor
Directed by Polly Findlay
Scenery and Costume Designed by Soutra Gilmour
Jodie Whitaker as Antigone
Christopher Eccleston as Creon
There was more to the design elements in this production than the other two, but still not much to speak of, compared to the acting. Antigone was a modernized adaptation, turning the Trojan civil war to the Cold War. Reading the rehearsal notes, I learned that the inspiration for the setting was Churchill's War room, which the cast got to go and visit for research. The chorus no longer speaks in unison as in the original, but has become the essential workers in the war room, each with their own jobs and viewpoints. That was perhaps the most impressive piece of the puzzle, the constant movement and stage business with all the chorus running around doing all their very important jobs and handling so many props. Together with the lighting and sound, the buzz of the war room really came alive.
Jodie Whitaker vs Christopher Eccleston is the Doctor Who grudge match of the century and Jodie wins. Also, kudos to Luke Newberry as Haemon, Creon's son. You might remember Luke from the British TV show In the Flesh, where he played the lead, Kieren Walker, a rehabilitated zombie.
Directed by Nicholas Hynter
Scenery and Costuming by Vicki Mortimer
Rory Kinnear (Penny Dreadful) as Hamlet.
After reading the rehearsal notes, I learned that the inspiration for the setting was a fictionalized former Soviet republic, specifically the Eastern European Christian ones, where the populace is subjected to routine surveillance, human rights are ignored, and freedoms are restricted, and the secret police make dissidents disappear. Basically, spying is standard procedure here. It's a modern dress version with minimal scenery consisting of white walls that reconfigure to create different acting spaces. However, with acting this good, you don't need tech at all. Just lights to see by. That doesn't mean that more lavish period sets and costumes wouldn't have made it better. It would have. Especially since in this version all the costumes were in the navy/black/grey range. Having Hamlet still in mourning dress among courtiers who've had to transition to a wedding rather quickly and would have therefore worn colors, would have made Hamlet's "melancholy" stand out much more severely, as it should have done. But honestly, the tech isn't the reason I'm writing about this show, so the tiny criticisms I have are NOTHING compared to the acting genius that is Rory Kinnear.
I have seen many Hamlets and Rory Kinnear is the best one. Fight me. And as much as I love David Tennant in everything he does, Rory Kinnear's Hamlet is better. He's better than all the "modern" Hamlets--Mel Gibson, Kenneth Branagh, David Tennant, Benedict Cumberbatch, Ethan Hawke--and he's also better than Olivier, there I said it. If you don't believe me, watch it for yourself. Even his ugly blue sweat pants and OD army shirt can not diminish the power of his passionate performance.
I had several thoughts while watching him, things that never occurred to me while watching any other Hamlet actor. First and foremost that he's "acting" like he's crazy and not actually crazy when he's with a character he decides he cannot trust and that is the "method in his madness". So simple and yet so brilliant. You can see this especially in the scene where R&G show up unannounced. At first he's glad to see them and is behaving appropriately, but as soon as he find out that they were sent for, he immediately distrusts them and starts "acting crazy". No second chances, no explanations, he's just written them off as allies. Second, that he was actually in love with Ophelia until he decided he couldn't trust her so he pushes her away. Third, that Horatio is with him all the way right up until Hamlet reveals that he has rewritten Claudius' edict, condemning R&G to death. Horatio is horrified to find out that Hamlet would feel justified in punishing his friends with death for being Claudius' pawns. Fourth that Hamlet truly regrets both his treatment of Ophelia and his "accidental" murder of Polonius upon learning that it was entirely his actions that let to her suicide, and because of this, he is truly trying to reconcile with Laertes before the fencing match.
And fifth, the problematic scene with Gertrude that everyone else seems to want to make sexual or weird isn't problematic in Rory Kinnear's hands. Part of the reason this works is because in this version, Claudius is played by an actor who looks weak and snively, rather than sexy, heroic Patrick Stewart or even sexier, younger Kyle MacLauchlin, or friendly grandpa Alan Bates or Derek Jacobi. The audience should be able to see the difference themselves in the two portraits that Hamlet shoves under Gertrude's nose. Old Hamlet should be kingly and heroic and in comparison, Claudius should look weak and sinister. Lion King is the only production that got this right. So when Rory Kinnear was upset with his mother for marrying too quickly, we see that it's not only that it was too soon (everybody gets that part right) but that it also should have been obvious to her that Claudius' wooing of her was an outright power grab, that she was being used, and not only is she being unfaithful to her dead husband by neglecting her duties to be in mourning for at least a year, that she has been an idiot not to see through Claudius' motivation and allowed him to rob her own son of his succession to the throne. And moreover, to Clare Higgins (Gertrude) who was the first actor that I believed finally saw the light and was in fact promising Hamlet that she would not sleep with Claudius again. After Hamlet leaves her bedroom, we see Claudius go in for some neck nuzzling and Gertrude firmly pushes him away.
Based on the book by Andrea Levy
Adapted by Helen Edmundson
Directed by Rufus Norris
Scenery and Costumes by Katrina Lindsay
Projections by Jon Driscoll
Music by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell
Small Island is a 2004 novel by British author Andrea Levy, that deals with the intersecting lives of four people after WW II. Hortense and Gilbert are Jamaican immigrants who came to England looking for a better life, but instead find racism and less economic opportunity than they were promised. They find lodgings with Queenie, a white middle class woman who doesn't mind that her lodgers are black. Her RAF husband, Bernard, is MIA since the war ended and she has to make ends meet any way she can. When Bernard comes home unexpectedly to find Queenie pregnant, his racism makes all their lives impossible.
The author Andrea Levy died of liver cancer just a few months before this adaptation opened. I highly recommend watching this production while you still can.
The cast of the show visited the Black Cultural Archives to learn more about the experience of Jamaicans that came over on the SS Windrush.
Alford Gardner, 93, talks about his experiences coming over on the SS Windrush.
The design concept for the scenery seemed to be suggestive rather than literal. There was very little actual scenery: a table, some chairs, a bench, a bed, a counter, some windows that fly in, a staircase. The real hero here was the projections, designed by Jon Driscoll, that made this show come to life. The cyclorama had backgrounds for each scene rear-projected onto it. The backgrounds enhanced the scenery with mountains, the ocean, a hurricane, the SS Windrush, a shop, a factory, and some gorgeous sunsets. At several points, it seemed like giant doors opened in the middle of the cyc for entrances and exits. When passengers were boarding the ship, we saw their shadows climbing the staircase and then actually disappearing into the ship. I'm not sure how they did that, but it was a first class bit of theatre magic. Twice, a smaller sheet flew in to become a movie theatre screen that had movies projected onto it. In conjunction with the lighting and sound, the projections of island life and city life become sensually real, that is real to all the senses: the heat, the smell of the ocean breeze, the sound of the waves, the scent of the flowers, and the birdsong, contrast with the bustling London life: the cold and damp, the never-ending rain, the sounds and smells of traffic, congestion, people, smoke, bombed out buildings, poverty, racism.
This was a cast of 40 in which almost everyone plays more than one character and has many costume changes. The costumes were appropriately 1940's. In Jamaica, the clothes were much more colorful, and of course, lighter for the heat. The clothes in London were drabber, grayer, and warmer with more layers for the cold and damp. Hortense and Queenie got more costumes than anyone else naturally. Hortense began in a solid blue dress that she stayed in until she changed it for a white dress when she's made up her mind to get out of Jamaica any way she can. For the trip, she added a hat, coat, and gloves. Her costumes reinforce her determined nature and her respect for cleanliness and class, being a teacher. Queenie started off on the family pig farm in Lincolnshire, wearing a work dress complete with bloody apron. She then moved to London to help her Aunt out in her shop, when she finally got to go shopping for new clothes. She added a hat, coat and gloves for her dates with Bernard. When he didn't come home from the war, she switched to a frumpy house dress to hide her pregnancy from everyone. Queenie's costumes reflected her outgoing nature and her love of adventure and acceptance of the people around her. She took in strays of all kinds and cared for them equally. Of course there's RAF uniforms aplenty on Michael and his squadron, and Gilbert and his comrades. The costumes were beautiful to look at in their simple elegance and oh, so many of them to look at.
A 7 minute video about the composition of the music for the show, by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell.
Directed by Nicholas Hytner
Costumes and Scenery by Mark Thompson
All photos credit: National Theatre and Mark Thompson.
The first performance of Dion Boucicault's most well known play was in 1841 at Covent Garden. The plot involves an arrangement between Sir Harcourt, an old rich fop, and his best friend Squire Maxwell Harkaway. Harkaway's daughter Grace must marry Harcourt or lose her estate in the country. Sir Harcourt is a vile, preening fool, and she quickly falls in love with his son, Charles instead. The only problem is getting Sir Harcourt to lose interest in Grace, so Charles can get on with his courting. A willing neighbor, Lady Gay, is up for the challenge, so she throws herself at Harcourt and leads him on a merry chase. Everyone and everything is made fun of along the way and by the end, the two young lovers are allowed to marry.
The crux of the play is the differences between town (London) and country (Gloucestershire). To show us the differences, Thompson designed two sets which rotate for four different looks for the five acts. The first look was the exterior of Sir Harcourt Courtly's home, it rotates to reveal the interior. The second set was the exterior of Squire Max Harkaway's home which also rotates to reveal the interior. The Olivier's revolve made easy work of the set changes. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a photo of Sir Harcourt's interior. If you look at the costume photo of Sir Harcourt in his dressing gown, he is in the interior of his home in that costume.
You may know Mark Thompson's costume designs from The Madness of King George. He was nominated for a Tony for his costumes for Arcadia in 1995. And most recently, he designed costumes and scenery for One Man, Two Guvnors.
The time period of the costumes seems to be 1820's and squarely in the Romantic period. Mark Addy (The Full Monty and Game of Thrones' Robert Baratheon) plays Squire Max, Fiona Shaw (Petunia Dursley from the Harry Potter movies) plays Lady Gay and Simon Russell Beale (Mr. Lyle in Penny Dreadful). Beale's performance as Sir Harcourt is both the most delightful and astonishing thing in the play. As a man of considerable size and weight, he prances across the stage with the skill of a Baryshnikov. He gets the most costume changes of all the other actors and he wears his costumes with the confidence of Lord Byron. His over the top farce is equally matched by Fiona Shaw's performance as Lady Gay. No dainty, shrinking violet, she. She drinks like fish, swears like a sailor, and smokes cigars with relish. Her brashness cuts through all of Harcourt's lyrical advances. She gets the next most costume changes, three, and wears them like a general inspecting his troops. These two are the reason to watch this performance.
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Costumes and Scenery by Mark Thompson
She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith, is a Restoration comedy. I've only ever designed this play as a project in grad school, but I would love to do it for real. The only Restoration comedy I've designed for MCC so far has been Beaux Stratagem. If you're not familiar with the plot, the story revolves around Mr. Hardcastle trying to get his daughter Kate married off to his friend's son, Mr. Marlow. Mr. Marlow is exceedingly shy and awkward around upper class "ladies", but exceedingly talkative and flirty with lower class "tarts". Kate tricks Marlow into thinking she's a house maid in order to get on with the courtship. Only once he's ensnared by her charming banter and good looks, is the trick revealed. There's two subplots involving Kate and Marlow's best friends, Constance and Hastings, who are also in love but do not have permission to marry, and Kate's step-brother, Tony Lumpkin, who wants his inheritance so he can spend it at the pub and date the buxom tavern wench Bet Bouncer, rather than marry Constance to keep her inheritance in the family like his mother Mrs. Hardcastle (the widow of Mr. Lumpkin) wants him to do. Of course everything works out and the three couples end up together, after five acts of scheming, sneaking, and running away, not to mention a jewel heist.
All photos credit: National Theatre and Marc Brenner.
The scenery changes for each act with the major advantage of having a revolve in the Olivier stage.
Act 1, 3, and 5 are set in the drawing room of the Hardcastle's home, Liberty Hall. There are comfy arm chairs and a roaring fire. It's exactly how I pictured the Gryffindor common room of the Harry Potter series would look like. Act 2 takes place in the Three Pigeons Tavern where Tony Lumpkin hangs out with his drunken friends and Bet Bouncer. Act 4 is in the grounds outside the Hardcastle's home near the horse pond. Mrs. Hardcastle falls into the horse pond and enters stage wet, muddy, and looking like she tramped through a swamp to get there.
The costumes are all appropriately mid-18th Century. Kate is kept in pink, while Constance is kept in yellow. Marlow is also in yellow, while Hastings is in blue and pink. Tony and his mother are both kept in green, while Mr. Hardcastle is in dark browns tending toward the burgundy in Act I, then changes his dressing gown and cap, for his powdered wig and green frock coat in Act 3. Mr. Hardcastle dresses a bit plainer than the young lovers, while Mrs. Hardcastle is more extravagant. Tony Lumpkin's clothes are shabby and rough, like they've had a few too many, survived a bar fight, then were slept in for a few days afterwards. Indeed, at one point, he sloshes a mug of ale all down his shirt front. He's a mess. The aristocrats are obviously more colorful and fashionable than the servants. The servants costumes tend toward the earth color spectrum, while at the same time being faded and of plainer fabrics. Every character has only one costume with the exception of Kate, who changes into her plainer dress as her maid disguise, complete with white mob cap and apron. The only problem I had with that costume was the very large zig zag print on the fabric. It felt a little too modern and stood out from the rest of the fabrics that were used in the show.
Adapted by Byrony Lavery
Directed by Polly Findlay
Scenery and Costumes by Lizzie Clachan
Clicking on the link will take you to her website.
MCC also produced this play (different adaptation) back in 2007. It's a challenging show for the scenic designer what with having to build a ship onstage. We did it outside at the Bosque River Stage, which gave it the benefit of having water in the background. As our Waco springs usually bring a lot of rain and sometimes flooding, this year the Bosque had flooded a lot so that the first six rows of seats were underwater and had washed away the beginnings of the set we had previously been working so hard to build. After a delay of a couple of weeks for the water to recede, we were able to rebuild the set fortunately. Unfortunately, the receding waters left behind an amazing amount of dead fish. So, the stage absorbed the stench of an 18th C pier. We told ourselves it added to the verisimilitude.
Robert Louis Stevenson famously said Treasure Island was a book for boys. In this female led production, (both the adapter and the director are female) the creatives were aware that there were in actuality many female pirates and that they were infamous for being more sadistic than the men. Their research led them to re-imagine the roles of Jim Hawkins, Dr. Livesay, and several of the sailors/pirates, as female. We find out Jim's given name is Jemima early on. In fact, Jim's gender is remarked upon often by everyone she meets, but it makes little difference to the plot. Patsy Ferran, a Spanish actress raised in England, plays Jim. She is an amazing talent. She had just graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when she was cast.
Another unusual casting choice is Arthur Darvill (Rory from Doctor Who) as Long John Silver. Not that he didn't do an excellent job as LJS, but "Rory" is seemingly too young and pretty to be a scary pirate. Indeed, even with the missing leg, grimy clothes, and dirty, bearded face, he still manages to be a sexy bad boy. Clearly this is what the director was going for, it's just LJS is normally a big bear of a man and not a Johnny Depp-esque Captain Jack Sparrow.
The acting (and singing) is excellent. It's a stunningly good ensemble show, but the real star of the production is design/tech of the ship, The Hispaniola, the storm it sails through, and the stars that guide it. I have included several videos where you can see the raising of the ship out of the stage floor, the lighting and sound effects of the storm, and the lighting for the astronomy lesson.
The costumes are wonderful as well. As with any ensemble show, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. All the pirates and sailors are costumed in motley of colorful, tattered garments that combine like pieces in a patchwork quilt to create a most interesting and unusual design.
All photos credit: National Theatre and Marc Brenner.
Here's a video of the stage transforming into the Hispaniola: all three stories of it.
Here's a clip of the awesome storm sound and lighting effects.
Here's a clip of the awesome lighting effects in the astronomy lesson.
Directed by Nicholas Hynter
Scenery and Costumes designed by Mark Thompson
All photos credit: The National Theatre and Marc Brenner.
One Man, Two Guvnors, by Richard Bean, is an adaptation of the Italian commedia play Servant of Two Masters by Goldoni. MCC just did that show to open our season in the fall of 2019. I had never seen or read this adaptation before so I was really excited to see a production of it. All I knew about it before I saw it, is that it stars James Corden as the Truffaldino character and is set in the early 1960's in England. Here's a plot summary from the National Theatre's website:
Fired from his skiffle band, Francis Henshall becomes minder to Roscoe Crabbe, a small time East End hood, now in Brighton to collect £6,000 from his fiancée’s dad. But Roscoe is really his sister Rachel posing as her own dead brother, who’s been killed by her boyfriend Stanley Stubbers. Holed up at The Cricketers’ Arms, the permanently ravenous Francis spots the chance of an extra meal ticket and takes a second job with one Stanley Stubbers, who is hiding from the police and waiting to be re-united with Rachel. To prevent discovery, Francis must keep his two guvnors apart. Simple.
Here's the Official Trailer:
Act I takes place in the home of Charlie "the Duck" Clench and his daughter Paulina-- the Pantalone and Clarice characters in the original version--where we are introduced to all the characters. It's mostly a one costume per character kind of show. Clench is wearing a dark pinstripe suit, Pauline is wearing a pink floral late 1950's dress with a net petticoat and white heels. Her hair is worn in a bouffant. Her fiance, Alan Dangle (the Silvio character) wears all black (he's an actor) with hair that's too long, black leather jacket, black ribbed turtle neck, black chinos and black Beetle boots. Alan's dad, Harry Dangle (Doctor Lombardi), is also wearing a pin-stripe suit (he's a criminal defense lawyer for the Mafia) but looking much more like Uncle Vernon Dursley than anything else. Clarice's maid, Smeraldina, in this play is Dolly, Clench's secretary/accountant. She knows where all the money is and where all the bodies are buried. Dolly is sporting a ginger beehive hairdo, a tight tweed skirt, and sweater set. Francis (Trufaldino) shows up to put a stop to the engagement party with his first guvnor, Roscoe Crabbe, the small time East End hood. But of course it's really Rachel his sister, in disguise. Rachel is of course the Beatrice character whose brother was killed by her boyfriend, Florindo, or in this version, Stanley. "Roscoe" is wearing another dark pin striped suit with a hat. Francis is wearing a three piece suit in brown plaid with a vest that's a bit too short and pants that are hemmed a bit too high for fashion.
Act II moves to the street in front of Lloyd Boateng's inn, The Cricketers' Arms. Lloyd is the Brighella character. Lloyd is a Jamaican national and is the only character who changes costumes every time we see him. We meet Stanley too, who is staying there. Stanley is wearing a blue blazer and a tie.
Act III goes inside the Cricketers' Arms for the hilarious dinner scene. Gareth and Alfie are the waiters who are helping Francis keep his two guvnors in food. Alfie is particularly good, performing perfect pratfalls and other physical gags. The slapstick has been traded for a cricket bat in this scene, and Alfie gets hit with it several times, as well as falling down the stairs.
Act IV is back out on the street, but we've moved closer to the end of it where the pier is, for the climactic lovers' suicide attempts and discovery of their true identities. We see Stanley jump of the pier into the water before Rachel can get there. While Rachel is contemplating jumping, Stanley miraculously appears on the pier soaking wet. The reunion is particularly silly and ends with them stripping out of their wet clothes and embracing with their pants down, revealing two pairs of white boxers, black socks and sock garters. Lloyd shows up to tell them to get a room.
Act V is back to the Clench's house for the happy resolution of all three couples. At this point, "Roscoe" has shed his suit to become Rachel in a dress. All of the scene changes are covered by Charlie's old skiffle band performing original songs with various members of the cast. The music was written and performed by a real-life skiffle band, Grant Olding and The Craze.
Directed by Simon Godwin
Costumes and Scenery by Soutra Gilmour
If you click on the link it will take you to her website.
All Photos Credit: Marc Brenner for The National Theatre and Soutra Gilmour.
Twelfth Night is a favorite of mine. I've done it twice before--once at UTEP back in the early 1990's when I was a student and was the wardrobe mistress, dresser, and hair stylist. And again last spring for MCC. Both times we did it with period appropriate costumes. My favorite production that I've seen was Texas Shakespeare Festival's in 2015. It was set in a later period (1810's) and had the most wonderful original music. The National Theatre's version is set in the present day and it does not disappoint.
Soutra Gilmour designed both scenery and costumes (as is so often done in the UK) for this production. The set steals the show as it usually does in the Olivier space due to its stage that both revolves and is on a corkscrew lift that enables the scenery to both appear from and disappear into the floor. This set doesn't take advantage of the lift, but makes excellent use of the revolve. The set is a huge step pyramid (with functional stairs where many scenes are played) that provides four different playing spaces and the surprise element of opening and closing like pages of a book which provides another two playing spaces after intermission. On one side is the interior of Olivia's house, the opposite side is the exterior of Orsino's. As the set rotates around, we get the exterior of Olivia's house which becomes both a courtyard with a fountain, and a garden with a jacuzzi. Orsino's exterior walls open up into the interior of The Elephant (the pub where Antonio is supposed to meet Sebastian). Olivia's exterior walls open up like windows into the interior of a church featuring a giant neon cross where Olivia marries Sebastian.
Pictures credit: Marc Brenner for The National Theatre
D Radley-Bennett Vimeo of the Storyboard animation for the scenery. It's amazing. You must click on this link to see it in action. Words fail to describe how awesome it is.
As with many of Shakespeare's comedies, a girl disguises herself as a boy so that she can function in society. This production took gendered roles to a whole new level with their casting choices. The roles of Feste, Fabian, and Malvolio were all played as women. Tamsin Greig playing Malvolia. I loved her as Fran in Black Books. Terry Pratchett fans will remember her as the reporter Miss Crisplock Going Postal. Neil Gaiman fans will remember her as Lamia in the Neverwhere mini-series. She's a wonderful actress and is both perfectly pompous and pity-able as Malvolia. Another interesting casting choice is that Viola and Sebastian were played by Actors of Color, adding a lovely diversity to the romances. Another modernization included the street fight between Viola and Andrew where Antonio rescues her, was moved into The Elephant which was now a neon lit nightclub with a Drag Queen entertainer, singing the "To Be or Not to Be" speech from Hamlet as a torch song. I laughed so hard I snorted!
Malvolio's yellow stocking with cross-garters is always good for a laugh, but Malvolia gets the BEST costume in the whole show and is possibly the best Malvolio costume in the world, because it's not just one costume, but THREE! She comes out in a Periot sad clown costume over her yellow stockings and black cross garters and then strips that off to reveal a Playboy bunny-esque cone-boobed leotard with propellers on her nipples, covered by a skirt (unfortunately no photo of her wearing it in its second incarnation, although you can see where it's laying on the steps behind her in the second photo) and then strips off the skirt and turns on the propellers and they actually spin! OMG this was the most hilarious thing I've ever seen! I'm so glad that the National Theatre decided this was clip-worthy!
The next best costume was that of Andrew Aguecheek, who is dressed as a hipster with a man bun! So funny. Sir Toby is not padded out to be obese nor is he played by an already fat actor. In this production he becomes more of a scummy Leisure Suit Larry-esque character with more of a 1960's Brat Pack vibe. This is also the first time I've seen all of Olivia's ladies in waiting, as well as Maria all dressed in black. It makes so much more sense to do it that way, so that the first scene where "Cesario" meets Olivia and doesn't know which is the lady of the house, actually seems plausible.
The second time that Cesario visits Olivia to woo her, Olivia invites "him" back to her jacuzzi where Toby and company are having a pool party and everyone is in swim wear. Olivia hands Cesario a beach towel and a tiny gold Speedo to put on (which never happens) and then ends up pulling "him" into the pool fully dressed. Cesario is in a white men's shirt at the time which has now gone all see-thru in an unexpected and horrifyingly Wet T-shirt contest way. "He" is then forced to face away from Olivia while she is desperately trying to woo "him". Eventually Cesario is forced to get out, grabbing the towel, and clutching it in front of "his" chest.
It's been a long time since my last blog. Normally by now I'd have written about Dallas Fan Expo, the newly revived HOT Con, our last two shows: The Tinker of Tivoli and Silent Sky, Sherwood, and Scarborough Faire. I'd be looking forward to writing about EGX (formerly Geekfest) and our annual trip to Kilgore for the Texas Shakespeare Festival. But here were are in the middle of a global pandemic and for the first time since the Spanish Flu of 1918, the theatres have closed. It's our own modern day plague. Any day I expect we'll have a ginormous fire that will burn most of London down, yes it's really that bad.
So far I've had one former student catch it. I don't know anyone else personally who has it, but even so, most of my theatre friends are out of work as are Rob's musician friends. I have two nurse friends on the front lines dealing with Covid patients every single day. Most of my sewing friends are making masks, which is great and I applaud them. Sarah was at her grandma's and they made masks for the whole family. Sarah broke five needles doing it, but hey! we have masks to wear to HEB. The rest of school is worse than cancelled, it's still going on but all online, which means I'm teaching my students and homeschooling my three children at the same time. None of what I'm doing is great, but it's something.
The only thing keeping me sane is theatre. I'm going through Netflix series like Fig Newtons and Chai, which is rapidy. I've finally gotten to watch all of last year's Oscar winners and am waiting for this year's winners to stream. Fortunately, there's been a huge outpouring of love from the theatre community and some theatres have been streaming their past shows. TSF is streaming a new (old) play every Saturday through May and The National Theatre in London is streaming one every Thursday from now till May. Even better, Bloomsbury has made all of its theatre offerings available as a free trial to colleges which includes all 30 of The National's productions. Which means I have till May 31 to watch the 29 I hadn't seen yet. We saw Frankenstein in the cinema for Rob's birthday two years ago. So to keep myself from going crazy and to keep my mind sharp, I've decided to write blogs on the shows that I'm watching.
Here's a list of upcoming National Theatre productions that I will blog about next week:
One Man, Two Guvners with James Corden
Twelfth Night with Tamsin Greig as Malvolio
She Stoops to Conquer
My friend and fellow Aggie Player Christie Vela, recently became Theatre 3's new Associate Artistic Director. For their first show of the season, a brand new adaptation of Dracula was created with her friend and fellow Terror and Tacos podcast host, Michael Federico. They are also currently producing a horror film together entitled Final Dress. If you are interested in checking out any of those things there are links below:
My History with Dracula
My husband and I are huge fans of the novel. My favorite interpretation is the Copolla film with Gary Oldman and costumes by Eiko. My husband loves the original Universal picture with Bela Lugosi. Between us we have seen dozens, maybe even a hundred interpretations on stage and film and even the bad, cheesy ones are enjoyable in their own way. In fact when I was in college, I was in a terrible adaptation of Dracula in which we simply didn't have enough men to cast all the roles, so our Van Helsing was a woman, Ginny Green. Our director, Robert "Coach" Wenck welcomed the cheese so much so that the climactic staking of Dracula scene was underscored with "Chariots of Fire" music as everyone moved in slo-mo. Our curtain call music was "Ghostbusters". Christie saw this version but swears that Van Helsing being a woman was entirely Michael's idea. So believe me when I tell you that the Theatre 3 version may be the best thing to have happened to Stoker's novel since it was first published.
Notes on the script and Casting
I saw Dracula on Saturday night and was completely blown away by the production. Vela and Federico's feminist adaptation focuses on Mina as having agency rather than being a helpless victim who needs to be saved from an evil monster by all the men in her life. Federico's dialogue makes reference to the many historical female vampires like Lilith and Lamashtu, to the new law allowing women to own property. Lucy even asks if Mina is now a suffragette. In this version both Dracula and Van Helsing are played by women-- the sultry Allison Pistorius as Dracula and the sassy Gloria Vivica Benavides as Van Helsing. Another interesting casting choice is that all three of Lucy's suitors--Dr. Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and Quincey--are played by a single actor, Josh Bangle. I'm including both the dramaturgical notes as well as the director's notes so you can read them for yourself. All three photos are enlargeable so hopefully you can make them big enough on your device to read the tiny text.
I was lucky enough to be granted an interview with the creative team (it helps having gone to school with half of them). Here are their thoughts.
From the director, Christie Vela:
"As far as directing the piece, we really wanted to stick to the original story as closely as possible, but focusing on Mina's arc way more than the novel; Michael and I talked a lot about what would be the Legacy of Dracula if Mina really had agency; we both felt that Dracula just offered her a better deal. As we delved deeper into that, it was just a no-brainer that some things about how Dracula is traditionally portrayed would have to change, namely, that Dracula would so obviously be played by a man. We didn't want to straight up change it and make Dracula a woman, but we did want stay in line with the notion in the book about Dracula being whatever he needed to be in order to survive--a mist, a fog, a swarm of beasts, and so on. However in Victorian England, what's the best way to navigate the world without drawing attention? Well, that would be a rich man. It was never mine and Michael's intention to define Dracula's gender, that's the audiences' business. And to us, Allison was the best actor in town to do it, Michael wrote the role [Dracula] for her. Also, honestly, we really wanted to have a super sexy Dracula, violent and scary sometimes, but we weren't interested in watching a male actor do that to a female actor. For me context is important, so it would not have mattered in Dracula, because we're talking about a monster, but to many people I think it would have been uncomfortable and we wanted it to be fun."
The playwright, Michael Federico:
"The only thing I’d throw in is that in researching vampire folklore, most of the oldest stories surrounding them (Lilith, Lamashtu) are about women. For me, in this adaptation, Dracula’s true form is female. It’s why she couldn’t be a “proper heir” for her family. Like Christie said, she has chosen to move through the world as a man, because it affords her a level of ease. I think the last time we see Dracula (in the Dragon dress), we’re seeing her in her true form."
Christie Vela: "It’s super interesting to me that as much as we’ve talked about it, and as much as it was important to Michael [for] Dracula to be revealed as female, as a director, I didn’t focus on that as much. It wasn’t important to me as much I guess, also the text and the costume took care of that for me, but it’s not like we disagreed about it either. I think it’s just a meta example of gender being important and arbitrary at the same time. It’s important to be seen, but it also shouldn’t define."
Michael Federico: "To me, the important thing is that in the end, Mina doesn’t have to hide who she is, regardless of gender. She doesn’t have to do the things Dracula did in the past. She can just be the thing she is."
Notes from the Designers
Scenic Designer Jeffrey Schmidt
Costume Designer Holly Hill
Lighting Designer Aaron Johansen
Sound Designer John Flores
Here's my not very good photos of the set pieces that I took from our seats before the show started.
Here's what it looked like under lights with no audience in the seats.
"From a lighting aspect the goal was sexy and spooky! Also, I needed to help tell location as much as possible. I tried to stay dark and shadowy during Dracula’s scenes and bright and full in the scenes that didn’t involve Dracula. I also used color to try and reference back to a location that we had been to before. Some of my favorite moments are the Renfield scenes because he was confined to that little space. Also, Dracula bites Lucy and his Brides attack Harker because both of those moments were done with a single red light. Simple lighting tends to be the most beautiful lighting in my opinion!
"Christie and I had many discussions [about the sound design]--our old school love of Hammer Films, the style and feel of the wild vampire shows back during the Day of the Dead shows of Teatro Dallas, very melodramatic, highly stylized, cinematic, moody, playful and fun. "Sexy Nightmares" began to form as the signature aesthetic. But what was more important as the sound developed was to also find the right balance, while spirited, spooky and fun, it was important to not "send up" the story but rather the idea was to become more lost and awash in the dreamy beautifully dark 'revelation' of who and what Dracula IS. Melodically, we were drawn to many avant-garde modern Romanian, Polish and other European musicians [and] composers such as Iancu Dumitrescu, Zbigniew Karkowski, and the collective Art Zoyd, as well as traditional Romanian music composers such as Lelita Saftita, just to name a few. Also we had a moment of last minute inspiration: After the 1st read of the script, after the very last line is spoken the stage direction calls for "electric modern music begins to play into the Blackout". I leaned over to Jeffrey Schmidt [the Scenic Designer] who was sitting next to me and said, "and cue: cover of "Bela Lugosi’s Dead" by JIM/JOHN MAKE NOISE. JIM/JOHN MAKE NOISE Is an experimental electronics outfit made up of myself and my friend Jim Kuenzer, and we've been composing all sorts of crazy strange music for ourselves and theater productions for the last several years. For this rendition we reached out and collaborated with a celebrated new wave artist in town, Sammy “RAT” Rios, and her vocal stylings and artistry were not only incredibly resonant on their own, but also symbolically potent--the vibrant, wickedly haunting female voice wailing out "Bela Lugosi's Dead" heralding the death of the traditional iconic male representation of Dracula, ushering in a new voice, a new spirit, a new power, this new Dracula.
This is our 5th year in a row to make it to Kilgore. This is hands down our favorite summer vacation and we look forward to it every year. I made our reservations extra early this year, so we got to stay at our favorite hotel, The Holiday Inn and Suites in Kilgore. This year the hotel gave us a discount for going to TSF, and Downtown D'Lites Cafe gave us a discount on our food for being Guild Members. We're still the only Guild Members from Waco.
The Design/Tech Staff
This year there was only costume designer for the four mainstage shows, every other year that we've been coming, there have been two. They brought back Angelina Herin again this year. She designed for them last year and the year before.
I was disappointed to find that the costumes weren't labeled this year and there was only one set model, the children's show The Girl Who Cried Throgmonster, on display. I asked why there were no set models of any of the mainstage shows on display this year and was told that because Othello and Born Yesterday had such immense sets that the scenic designer, Jason Jamerson, didn't build any set models in order to concentrate more of his effort on those two enormous builds.
Into The Woods
Directed and Choreographed by Daniel Haley
Costumes Designed by Angelina Herin
Scenery Designed by Jason Jamerson
Lighting Designed by Alice Trent
Wig Master Byron Batista
I'd seen Into the Woods before, back when I lived in El Paso, before I was a parent. Act I is great and then Act II is a downer. No one is happy with the wish that came true. The characters all learn lessons the hard way, just like in real life. On the surface it's an escapist fantasy that turns out to be a lesson in real life. The characters are all flawed and they all quickly turn to blaming each other for the mess they are in rather than working together to find a solution or even admitting their part in creating the mess. Everyone is in pain, everyone is punished. I thought that I might feel differently after I became a parent, but no, Act II is more of a downer now that I've experienced loss. Loss of a parent, loss of a child, either through estrangement or death, or even the hell that is hormones, puberty, and the search for independence, is real and visceral to me now and only seemed to make my experience of Act II worse than it was before when I was a seemingly carefree twenty-something. The play brings up many themes like "be careful what you wish for" because you might get it and when you do it probably won't be what you thought. The theme of "Children listen" to what you do, not what you say, so model behaviors that you want to teach them. Also, children are smart enough to notice when what you say and what you do do not match, so don't do anything that you don't want "printed on the cover of the New York Times" to steal a quote from Born Yesterday. The theme of "do the ends justify the means?" is answered with no, they don't, not if you hurt other people in the process.
In terms of the costume design, it looks just the way any fairy tale should. It's a mix of periods with lots of bright colors, textures, and patterns. There's a clear difference between the classes with the Royal Family in more expensive fabrics, bigger wigs, brighter colors, and the poor peasants in more homespun garments and even bare feet. I was very impressed with the Witch's quick change from old ugly hag, into young and beautiful sorceress. My one critique is that I felt her Act II costume looked like it had been borrowed from Lady Macbeth's "out damn spot" scene. I wanted her gown to be more colorful and less "I've drowned in the river because Hamlet rejected me." I was so sure this was a Lady Macbeth gown that my husband looked up Macbeth on the TSF page and found that although Meaghan Simpson did play Lady Macbeth back in 2014, it was neither the same costume nor the same wig. Regardless, her performance was great as the Witch. I was especially fond of the Stepmother and Stepsister's costumes and wigs. The stepmother was played by a man, Evan Hart, and at first we thought it was Matt Simpson, only at intermission did we discover our mistake. Another favorite was Little Red Riding Hood's costume. Her red cape was made not with just any old hood, but a medieval liripipe that was stuffed and then curled up at the end. You can't see it from the front view, but in the profile picture with the wolf it's quite visible although not as curly as it was when we saw it. The rendering for Rapunzel's gown is clearly inspired by Daenerys Targaryen's costume from the second season of Game of Thrones, but this gown did not materialize in the show. I felt that the dark blue gown Rapunzel ended up in (which was far less spectacular) was something that was pulled and not built and that decision was probably based on the lack of time or money.
Costume Renderings by Angelina Herin.
All photography by TSF.
As You Like IT
Directed by Matthew Simpson
Choreographed by Daniel Haley
Costumes Designed by Angelina Herin
Scenery Designed by Jason Jamerson
Lighting Designed by Alice Trent
Sound Designed by Richard L. Sprecker
Wig Master Byron Batista
I had read As You Like It in college at least once but had never worked on a production of it before. This production had a very similar feel to Twelfth Night from their 2015 season. The scenery featured a raised platform with steps leading down from the center that was made to look like a veranda during the court scenes with columns and railings. You could see the trees in the background with a netting of fall colored leaves. Once the action moves to the Forest of Arden, the veranda elements were struck leaving just the platform and steps. There was lots of live music in the show with the musicians singing and playing onstage. My only complaint about the music (or possibly the mics) is that the washboard was entirely too loud and I couldn't hear the singer over the washboard.
The show was set in the crinoline period, judging by the ladies' court costumes. Celia was in pink with a gold diagonal stripe running through the fabric, and longer sleeves. Celia's costume was more elaborate than Rosalind's was, as the poor relation living off her Uncle's generosity. Rosalind's court costume was blue but done up in a plain fabric with a tacked on white ruffle and matching center front panel in the bodice, like it was a hand-me-down from Celia that they'd had to add fabric to so that it would fit her.
Rick Higgenbotham played both Duke Frederick and Duke Senior, the former with a beard and the latter without. You'll notice in the photos that he's not wearing any facial hair for Duke Frederick. I'm imagining that the photos were taken at a dress rehearsal and the director and costume designer felt that Rick needed more than a change of coat to signify his changing of characters and the bad guy, Duke Frederick, got the facial hair tacked on at the last minute. Rick was wearing a white shirt, creme vest, and white pants with black boots as his base costume. Duke Frederick also wore a red cutaway tail coat, like a ringmaster, and carried a walking stick, while Duke Senior wore a light green frock coat with a straw hat. I was fretful for his dressers, he had to make so many quick changes, plus the facial hair. But he always came on in the right costume with the right facial hair. Touchstone wore a three piece suit of purple coat and pants with a brocade vest, which felt very similar to the costume he wore for his role in Love's Labour's Lost, as the girls' valet. No motley in this show. The rest of the men at court were dressed in a similar fashion. Orlando was dressed much more poorly than his brother Oliver, in brown pants, shoes, leather suspenders, blue faded shirt, white undershirt.
Once the action moves to the forest, those characters were dressed less formally, in just pants and vests, no jackets, from their rough living. Celia changes her pink and gold gown for a much subtler dress of pale green calico, but with the same amount of rich detail like pleating around the neckline and ruffles on the sleeves. Rosalind's Ganymede costume consisted of creme pants, white shirt, silver brocade vest, white frock coat, tall buff boots, and straw hat. Phoebe was in an orange and brown plaid V-necked cotton dress worn over a tan blouse with a brown leather belt and brown buttons. The only other female character, Audrey, was dressed even more plainly than Phoebe, in a greyish plaid dress unbuttoned over a very low cut white blouse and her apron on sideways. The sleeves were very large and she wore them with the cuffs rolled way up. The costume was a bit large and saggy for her, making her seem even more simple-minded.
Costume Renderings by Angelina Herin.
All photography by TSF.
As YOu Like It Panel
Our favorite part of the festival, besides watching the plays, is being able to attend the panels the morning after the play. This year our trip was planned so that we could see the As You Like It panel. The director, Matt Simpson, led the panel. The panelists were Lucas Iverson who played Orlando, Lea DeMarchi who played Rosalind, Rick Higginbotham who played both Duke Senior and Duke Fredrick, and the Stage Manager, Darielle Shandler Matt began by asking questions and letting each panelist answer them to start off our discussion.
The first question was, "Have you done this play before?" None of the actors had ever done it before being cast in this production and in fact it was Lea's first ever Shakespearean comedy. Matt had been in numerous previous productions, as had his wife Meaghan, so between the two of them they'd played most of the roles. I feel that that's a great boon for a director, to be very familiar with the play.
"What research or preparation did you do for your role?" Rick never watches another production when he's preparing for a role. He explained that he's too imitative as an actor and if he watches someone else performing his role he'll start imitating that actor and won't be able to stop himself, a thing he figured out while still in college, when he used to listen to recordings of great actors performing famous speeches and had a teacher tell him at an audition that he'd done a great Olivier, for example, but now please do it like yourself. Instead of watching productions, he will look up photos of productions to see costumes and hair and makeup ideas to get a feel for how the character might look. Lucas says he's a huge "thief" and will watch all the productions he can get his hands on. He watched the RSC production twice before he came to Kilgore and wished he'd taken more notes during his study abroad course in London where he got to study with an actor who played Orlando and did a scene for the class with Rosalind. Lucas likes to try bits of others' performances in rehearsal to see which of those things fits his interpretation of the character. Rosalind makes what she calls a "mental scrapbook" by listening to others' performances like Vanessa Redgrave's as Rosalind where she's tricking Orlando in the forest. She never watches the entire production, just scenes. Matthew makes a huge effort to do an amazing amount of research before he begins work on a show. He watches every production he can get his hands on, pictures, recordings, he'll even search out director's notes in the library. He loves to get overwhelmed with research before he starts. This is also my approach to a show.
In terms of choosing the 1840's as the setting for the play, Matt said that ecause much of the action is set in the Forest of Arden, he began thinking of Robin Hood, but then quickly moved beyond that setting. Matt prefers to update Shakespeare's comedies by moving them forward in time. He feels this makes them easier to relate to: falling in love, being betrayed by your family, running away from home. Matt stated that he was heavily influenced by O Brother, Where Art There?, as well as the Hatfield/McCoy feud, 12 Years a Slave, and the Civil War in general. He felt that Rosalind had a lot in common with Scarlet O'Hara in terms of being cast out of a position of wealth and power and into being dirt poor and having to take control of your situation in a way you never did before. Matt chose to set the play on a Southern plantation in the 1840's. A question that the production team had was whether or not to include Civil War uniforms. Although there are many Shakespearean plays where men in uniform appear, i.e. Much Ado About Nothing, there were no textual references to war, soldiers, or uniforms of any kind, so they avoided using those visual references.
There is so much music in Shakespeare, in fact this play has the most music. Matt wanted to have live music as much as possible, and because of O Brother, Where Art There? they wanted guitar, banjo, washboard, and harmonica. The sound designer, Richard L. Sprecker, composed all the music in AYLI and Othello. The budget for the show was $13,000, they spent $10,000 on costumes, and scenery and sound less than $5,000. 70% of the show was pulled from stock pieces. They do very little renting because they see it as a waste of money. I wholeheartedly agree.
The trees were built on wooden frames and then wrapped in burlap, stapled, and painted. The designer used the same trees for both Into the Woods and AYLI, they were just placed onstage in a different configuration. The multi colored leaves completely changed the palette. All the leaves were individually stapled to netting by the guild members as part of their volunteer work. The lighting made all the difference, between the spooky claustrophobic forest of Into the Woods and the bright, open, airy, and colorful Forest of Arden.
Directed by Leda Hoffman
Costumes Designed by Angelina Herin
Scenery Designed by Jason Jamerson
Lighting Designed by Alice Trent
Wig Master Byron Batista
Born Yesterday was written in 1946 by Garson Kanin. I'd never even heard of this play before, and assumed it would be a musty old period piece. I was so wrong. At this point in our history, it's suddenly very timely and a sadly accurate snapshot of our government and its leaders. A corrupt junk dealer, Harry, brings his show business girlfriend Billie Dawn, to DC with him in order to buy a Senator to get some laws changed so he can profit off the WWII scrap metal left all over Europe. Billie's lack of an education makes her stick out among the DC socialites, so Harry hires journalist Paul, to educate her. Once Billie starts reading books and newspapers, she figures out what kind of person Harry is and she has a problem with how he does business. She and Paul conspire to foil his plans. Their scheme works, and it seems that she and Paul will get married, having developed a true fondness for each other over the course of the play.
Ostensibly this play is a comedy and we do laugh at Billie's ignorance. However, I was surprised to discover that Harry is a complete villain, no better or worse than Iago. He orders everyone around, he demeans his employees, he shoves people out of his way, he's gruff, basically he's an overgrown bully. He treats Billie like a object, like he owns her; he yells at her. Later we find out he's a con artist at best and a war-profiteer at worst. He slaps Billie around, forcing her to sign some business papers. In Act III, he threatens her life. He is a nasty piece of work and it's not funny. We are genuinely afraid for Billie's life even though Billie isn't. We're glad when Harry gets his comeuppance and Billie leaves him for Paul.
The set was designed to resemble an expensive hotel suite, lavishly decorated in the Rococo style. We are told that Harry wanted only the best and this suite is costing him $235.00 a week. In comparison we are told that the maid who cleans it only makes $18.00 a week, whereas the Senator he's trying to buy makes $200.00 a week. The living area had white doors and crown molding, picture rail molding, chair molding, and baseboards all with gold trim and filigree, wood inlay floor inside a marble floor, with an Oriental rug underneath the lovely gold Queen Anne settee and matching chair, marble topped end tables and fireplace with brass screen and tools. There are gold sconces, gold door handles, gold picture frames, and green and gold draperies and even a gold telephone. The painting over the fireplace was Fragonard's "The Swing". Outside the window you could see a view of the dome of the Capitol building in the distance.
The costumes were typical 1940's clothes. Suits for the men, dresses for the ladies, nothing out of the ordinary. There were three acts, so everyone had at least three changes, Billie and Harry had three changes each in Act I alone. Although there's not a photo of it, Billie, played by Angie Atkinson (who also played Emilia in Othello), started off Act I in a gorgeous hot pink satin dress with matching shoes, white purse, gloves, and coat, and fancy pink hat trimmed in feathers and net. She immediately goes upstairs and changes into her dinner dress of a dark green satin for meeting the Senator and his wife. I found out later that the green dress had originally been made out of gold fabric because the furniture was supposed to have been blue. The gold dress was finished before the furniture had been purchased and because the scenic designer got such an amazing deal on the gold couch, that was the one that made it onstage. The minute she sat on the couch, she disappeared, so the gold dress was scratched and made up again in green. After the dinner party, Billie changes into her pale pink peignoir set for a late night game of gin rummy complete with marabou trimmed slippers. In Act II we saw her studying her books in a black blouse printed with yellow daisies with green piping trim, worn with green pants, a la Katherine Hepburn. She also wore horn-rimmed reading glasses. In Act III, she wore a smart blue suit. The ladies' wigs were perfectly styled and very elegant.
Harry, played by Walter Jacob (who also played Jacques in AYLI) had a lot of changes as well. In Act I he starts off in a two piece, subtle plaid, chocolate brown suit with a button down tan sweater vest and brown tie, then immediately changes into a double-breasted, dark charcoal grey pinstripe suit with a red tie and carnation. He changes into dark red silk pajamas and a striped brown robe with velvet collar, cuffs, and belt with leather slippers for the gin rummy game, that he continually loses. In Act II he wears tan trousers with a mauve suit coat, brown print tie, and brown shoes. It's an odd choice. In Act III, which is just a few hours later, he lost the mauve suit coat, taken off the tie, and exchanged it for the bathrobe and slippers. I took an immediate dislike to Harry's character, which made me admire Walter's acting even more. I imagine that he had a difficult time in rehearsals working up to being as nasty as the part required, especially after seeing him be sensitive Jacques the night before.
Paul, played by DJ Canaday (who also played the Baker in Into The Woods) is in some variation of a blue suit the entire show. In Act I, he wore blue/grey plaid slacks and a bright blue blazer with a brown tie with blue print. In Act II he wore his argyle brown and blue sweater vest with a more conservative blue suit. In Act III he's in a navy blue suit with yellow print tie.
Harry's lawyer, Ed Devery, played fabulously by Micah Gooding, wears the same brown slacks and lighter brown coat with a mustard yellow tie throughout the entire play almost like he never goes home to sleep or change. His costume gets more and more slapdash, wrinkled, and slept-in looking as the play goes on and he gets drunker and drunker. Rick Higgenbotham plays Senator Hedges and wears a grey three piece suit with a grey bowtie.
Mrs. Hedges, played by Lea Dimarchi who played Rosalind in AYLI, wears a lovely charcoal grey floral print dress with three quarter sleeves and a collar. Although Lea is half Rick's age, she carried off her part with the grace and dignity of Eleanor Roosevelt, even quoting her at one point. With her elegant wig having just the right amount of grey in it, I totally believed she was the right age to be an old senator's wife, when just the night before she'd played Rick's daughter.
There's a bevy of hotel employees/servants running through the show that no one seemed to get a photo of, all in their matching red and black, black and white, or grey uniforms: Two bellhops, a maid, a manicurist, a barber, a shoe-shine boy, and a waiter, all of varying degrees of fanciness.
Costume Renderings by Angelina Herin.
All photography by TSF.
Born Yesterday and Othello were the two biggest sets this year and Danny recommended that we stay to watch the changeover. Luckily TSF filmed it so you can see it as well. Thanks to Amber Goebel for doing that.
Directed by Donald Carrier
Costumes Designed by Angelina Herin
Scenery Designed by Jason Jamerson
Lighting Designed by Alice Trent
Sound Designed by Richard L. Sprecker
Wig Master Byron Batista
Never was there a story of more woe than that of Desdemona and her Othello.
The director, Donald Carrier, chose to set his production in the Italian Renaissance as Shakespeare intended. The scenery was grey Gothic stone buildings with archways and rose windows. The grey stone was dressed up with wrought iron railings on the balcony and wrought iron door handles. In the stage right corner the steps and walls were painted to resemble tile with geometric patterns. I noticed that the floor was spattered in several different colors of paint so that it would appear to be a different color under light. The light behind the rose windows made them glow a warm golden amber. There was a fog machine making the atmosphere a bit hazy. The sound design was amazing. Every time Iago would monologue about his evil plans, there would be the sound of eerie bells in a minor key, then just piano and drums, while a storm was beginning to brew and rage in the distance. At various times there were alarm bells, musicians playing a viol and a flute, and later, organ music. The sound designer, Richard L. Sprecker, did a magnificent job of manufacturing the dark and moody aural atmosphere of the play.
There was a prologue a la Romeo and Juliet where a masked singer sang about Jealousy, foreshadowing the plot. It seemed like it was in the script at the time, only later did I look up the text to find that Othello does not begin with a prologue, so whether it was written specifically for this production or was lines borrowed from within the play itself, it felt like it belonged there. As always the acting was magnificent. Cordell Cole played Othello to Tim Sailor's Iago. They were the only two men in the company not forced to wear inappropriately frizzy and very unnecessary wigs. Othello was published in 1604 and by that point men had given up their long hair due to the lace ruffs that were in fashion at the time. If any false hair was going to be onstage it should have been on their faces and not their heads. Most men in this period had facial hair that came to be known as the Van Dyke, named after the Flemish portrait painter of the same name. A Van Dyke consisted of a moustache and goatee with the cheeks shaved. The men in Othello all looked like they'd stepped out of an 1980's hair band video. That is partly why I couldn't take any of them seriously except Othello and Iago. And even then Othello needed some more facial hair to help him look less baby-faced and more manly. Or conversely, if everyone else had had Van Dykes, and Othello didn't, that would have been OK too. Of all the characters to not have any facial hair at all, Iago definitely needed some to make him look more wicked. But that's just my opinion and doesn't diminish the success of this production. Perhaps because I came of age in the 1980's, that's all I could see.
The women wore the typical Tudor high-waisted gowns of sumptuous silks and satins, while the men paraded around in Venetians (fitted breeches that ended below the knee) or slops (very loose breeches that ended below the knee), and doublets. The soldiers' Venetians had colored trim sewn to them, in alternating red and gold on the bottom half, and either red, blue, or gold trim on the top half. I was very confused by this. My first instinct was that the vertical placement of the trim was meant to fake panes and my second instinct was the varying colors indicated rank. Either way, it was a nice addition to the plain black Venetians, but the blue trim was very distracting on Cassio as it was WAY too bright; when he was on stage it made me look at his crotch rather than his face. Plus it bothered me that it was a clear attempt to make all the black pants look like part of a uniform, which being all black they were doing just find by themselves, yet none of their doublets matched. If the blue stripe was supposed to tell me that Cassio was the Lieutenant and the red stripe that Iago was an Ensign, then maybe Cassio should have had a blue doublet and Iago a red one, and all the other nameless, rankless soldiers should have been gold. Instead each man had a different colored doublet: Cassio's was black, Iago's grey, nameless faceless soldiers wore various shades of brown, red, or no doublet at all.
Othello also wore black pants like his men but were devoid of any colored trim whatsoever. With his black Venetians he wore a lavender kimono over a purple shirt with silver trim on the neckline, all held together with a blue sash around his waist. It looks way more regal in the rendering than it did under the lights. There was no ornate gold trim at neck and sleeves, as indicated in the rendering, the kimono hung too lightly on him and should have been made from heavier fabric. He puts a black leather breastplate and bracers on over this costume to get ready to go to war, but then takes them off when the threat passes. He eventually takes off the sash and the kimono, strangling Desdemona in just his lavender shirt which gets completely washed out under the lights. Cordell Cole completely out-performed his costume in this role, which was disappointing for me, especially after I saw the rendering and realized what Angelina Herin had intended it to look like. I'm not sure what the disconnect was there but it was unfortunate.
There are only three women in this play--the men get most of the stage time. Both Desdemona and Emilia had two courtly gowns, with Desdemona wearing her white shift that she gets strangled in, underneath the other gowns as was normal practice then. Bianca only gets one gown that she wears in both her scenes. Desdemona's first gown was a brown, creme, and gold striped satin gown with the seams making chevrons at the center front of the bodice and on the short sleeves. Her shift covers all her cleavage coming up quite high on her chest. The gown she is pictured in on the rendering below may have been designed for her but was worn by Emilia instead in the same scene where Desdemona is in brown. Emilia's shift only barely conceals her cleavage. I don't understand why Emilia, the Ensign's wife and servant of Desdemona wore a much more colorful, elegant, and costly looking gown than her mistress, the General's wife. Why was this beautiful sumptuous blue and gold creation designed for Desdemona and then made up for Emilia when Emilia should have been the one in brown without all the gold trim? And to add insult to injury, Emilia wore a headdress through the entire play, like her own little crown. If you were watching the show with the sound off you would believe that Emilia was Desdemona and vice versa. It's a mystery. It was so distracting I almost couldn't concentrate on what they were saying...almost. Fortunately (for me) when they changed into their second costumes, Emilia was in a cheaper, plainer, browner fabric that looked very similar to what Desdemona had been wearing in the beginning, but stilll with a matching headdress, while Desdemona changed into a creme satin gown with no shift underneath and a cleavage revealing square neckline. At least the colors and textures were correct for the characters' social status this time. For Desdemona's final change, she appears in another shift, this time one that is made up in the filmiest cotton gauze with an overabundance of gold embroidery and beadwork around the neckline and the cuffs, not practical for sleeping in, I would think all those beads would make for a lumpy, restless night a la Princess and the Pea. But the weirdest costume of all is Bianca's. The character whose only function in the play is to be Cassio's whore that wants more out of their relationship, wears a virginal, white, frothy confection with double puffed sleeves and three tiers of ruffled skirt with a pink satin robe thrown over the whole thing. She looks more than anything like a child playing dress up in her mother's nighty. This effect was perhaps more enhanced because the actress playing her was significantly shorter than everyone else in the play.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed the production but was left confounded by the costumes.
Costume Renderings by Angelina Herin.
All photography by TSF.
The Kilgore Rangerette Museum
Ever since we've been coming to TSF, I've wanted to see the Rangerette Museum. A friend of mine from high school made the team back in 1986. She was sort of famous in our hometown because of that. So I've always had a soft spot in my heart for the team. The website has always proclaimed that they are open on Wednesday through Friday 10 am till 3 pm. The first year we didn't get there till Saturday, so we missed it. The next year I was smart and we got there on Friday at lunch so that we could see the museum before the matinee started. Sadly, the neon sign was off and no one was home. Every year since then I kept going by there at different times on Friday to visit it and it's NEVER been open. This year, finally, we drove by and the neon OPEN sign was ON! There were people walking in the door. I figured it was my lucky day and we immediately pulled over and parked so we could go in. As it turned out, the only reason it was open was because they were having a summer orientation for the brand new Rangerettes and their parents. We had followed in a girl and her family just like we were related to them and the staff let us go right on in. I took some photos, checked out the display, and we ducked out before anyone was the wiser.
From the website:
KICKIN' SINCE 1940
"In 1939, Kilgore College Dean, Dr. B.E. Masters, decided that the college needed an organization that would attract young women to the college and keep people in their seats during football game halftimes. His goal of equalizing the male/female student ratio had a secondary benefit - the folks would stay in the stands during halftime instead of sipping improper beverages under them. Dr. Masters brought Miss Gussie Nell Davis to Kilgore College to create something special. Her creation and gift to the world were the Kilgore College Rangerettes! The first group of its kind in the world, the Rangerettes brought "show business" to the football gridiron. Miss Davis' team took to the field during the 1940 football season, pioneering the field of dancing drill teams now seen across the nation. Miss Davis retired in 1979, and passed away on December 21, 1993."
If you haven't heard of the world-famous Kilgore Rangerettes, here's a National Geographic article that will get you up to speed.
Here's a video of their last home game half-time performance.
There was a documentary made in 1972 called Beauty Knows No Pain of the Kilgore Rangerettes. I saw this documentary on TV in the 1980's. I wish someone would put it up on You Tube, but you can see it at the museum. For the 75th Anniversary, Chuck Hale was asked to make another documentary, but instead he made a feature length film, called Sweethearts of the Gridiron, which you can also see at the museum. Here's a trailer.
Christian Dior's family had a fertilizer business before the war. His father wanted him to be a diplomat, but instead Christian went to art school in Paris and then opened his own gallery where he sold paintings by the likes of Picasso, Braque, Matisse, and Miro. During the Great Depression, his family lost the fertilizer business, Dior had to close his art gallery, and he was called up for military service when WW II started. After his two years of service, Dior became a designer for one of France's biggest fashion houses, Lucien Lelong. Unfortunately, Paris was still suffering under the Nazi occupation, and Dior had to design dresses for Nazi officer's wives as well as the wives of French collaborators. During this time his sister Catherine, was working with the French Resistance and had been captured and sent to a concentration camp where she remained until the end of the war.
Once the war ended, the fashion industry in Paris was ready to renew its status as the Fashion Center of the World. Dior struck out on his own because he wanted to put the war behind him and he especially did not want his new line to be associated with the Lelong House which had been forced to clothe Nazis. His first line Corolle (which means circlet of flower petals in English) was presented in 1947 and was both vehemently protested and wildly successful. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack 10 years later at the height of his career.
Before we go any further, let's back up a bit.
To understand why Dior's New Look was such a fashion revolution, and caused riots in the streets, you have to understand that it was a reaction to World War II and specifically, wartime clothes rationing. Europe and North America's economies had been co-opted to produce goods for the war effort, which lasted from 1939-1945. Clothes purchasing was strictly rationed just like food and all other goods. The clothing industry was desperate to meet the demand for uniforms and civilian clothing was in a severe shortage. Women went to work in factories to replace the men who went to the battlefield. Women wore pants for the first time, as part of their work uniform.
Coupons for clothes were given out and families were only allowed three coupons a month, yet a new dress cost eleven coupons in England, a pair of shoes cost five coupons, and a pair of stockings cost two coupons. Early on women had been forced to wear nylon stockings because the silk was being used for parachutes. Later, even that was taken away and women went bare-legged, sometimes using cosmetics to fake stockings, including drawing a line up the back of the leg to simulate the seam. As you can see, buying new clothes was almost impossible for most people and everyone was encouraged to "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without".
Most wartime weddings were quickly thrown together before the groom was shipped out, and together with clothes rationing, there was not enough time, money, or fabric available to make an extravagant dress. Most women got married in a dark suit. White was not worn because it was felt to be in bad taste. My maternal grandmother Charlotte, got married in a beige suit before her TAMU Army husband got shipped out. My paternal grandmother Mildred, got married in a brown suit, even though her husband was 4F and not going to war because of his asthma. Unfortunately, I don't have any wedding photos of either of my grandmothers.
My husband's grandmother Mary, got married on 11-17-1941, just three weeks before Pearl Harbor. Her husband was immediately called up and enlisted in the Army. Mary got married in a knee-length dress with 3/4 sleeves and a round embroidered neckline. Both the bodice and the skirt have a yoke and two pleats in the front.
This is an English couple: Hugh Verity and Audrey Stoke's 1941 wedding portrait. Like everything in this period, Audrey's clothing for her special day was austere. Women's clothes were boxy like men's uniforms. Dresses used very little fabric and there were no decorative details. Audrey's suit is blue to match Hugh's RAF uniform. The skirt is knee length and slim. The matching jacket has 3/4 sleeves, a high neckline and Peter Pan collar.
Now that we have the appropriate historical context, let's get back to Dior's 1947 Corelle line. This is a photograph of a model wearing Dior's famous Bar suit, which American fashion editor Carmel Snow, dubbed "The New Look" in Harper's Bazaar. It was only one of eighteen pieces in his Corolle Collection for Spring and Summer, but it's the one that changed fashion forever. The Bar suit is made up in white silk shantung for the jacket and black wool for the skirt. There is a total of 17 yards of fabric in this ensemble. The jacket and skirt had padding in the bust and hips to round out the silhouette of the skinny, war-starved Parisian woman's body. The jacket's peplum created a very nipped in waist especially in contrast to the very full skirt. Gone is the boxy skirt, replaced by an outrageous amount of fabric pleated down to a narrow waist. The skirt hem is much longer than previous fashions, going all the way down to the mid-calf. It was shown with accessories of a black hat, pearl stud earrings, black gloves, and black heels.
There were two reasons this dress caused rioting in the streets of Paris when it premiered. First, it used an incredible amount of fabric, 17 yards, which to the woman who was used to wartime rationing, seemed obscene and wasteful. Second, women who had gone to work and therefore worn the pants in their families, were angry that they had lost those jobs in favor of the men who had come back from war. Their skirt hemlines had gotten higher and higher over the course of the war, showing off their legs more and more. They saw the full skirts and mid-calf hemline as Dior telling them to cover up their legs again. They saw it as a lessening of the rights they had gained during war-time. So when this dress first appeared at a 1948 photoshoot that was held outside, crowds of women ripped it off the model's body and tore it to shreds. Regardless of the immediate push-back, American and European socialites, as well as the British royalty, were ready for the change and embraced it as being soft and feminine and a welcome change from wartime austerity.
I got a guidebook that had a map of the exhibit on the back page. Here it is, so you can follow along. The layout was in chronological order so that's the order I'll be going by as well. The entrance is marked by the red box and we followed the arrows through the exhibit, until we got back to the beginning. Blog Sections are labeled the same as on the map.
Revolutionary New Look
The dress on the bottom left is the Bar. Actually, it's not. It's a reproduction of the original that was made in 1987 for Dior's Fortieth Anniversary. The lighting in this room, as well as in the rest of the exhibit, made it difficult to get good photos. This is the only dress from the original Corolle line in the exhibit. The other seventeen pieces in this room were designed to be callbacks to this original line by other designers across the years up to the present day. As you can see all but two of the ensembles are black. I overheard many people wondering, "Why all the black?". Although there was nothing in the exhibit or in the guide book about it, my guess would be that many women were still in mourning over lost husbands, sons, brothers, and fathers. Although Paris had been saved, England was still rebuilding from the Blitzkrieg, as was much of Europe. Black was probably chosen as a practical color for that reason. Don't worry, there's more color coming soon.
Office of Dreams
This was the second room of the exhibit which documents Dior's process. The House of Dior still follows these steps today.
This is a caricature of Dior working at his desk.
These are sketches done by Dior himself and given to Madame Carre, head of the ateliers (workshop) where she would interpret the sketches by using fabric to make prototypes of each design, called toiles.
Dior in conference with Mdm. Carrere preparing the 1957 Spring Collection at the atelier.
These are toiles (or mock-ups). Toiles are half sized sample mannequins that are used to show designs before they are cut out and stitched together at full size. Each one of Dior's sketches was made up at half size in white cotton muslin and sent to him for approval before colors, fabrics, and trims were chosen. As she showed each toiles to Dior, Madame Carre would ask him, "Have I expressed you correctly?" Once each toile was approved, it was taken apart and used to create the full sized patterns for each garment. These particular toiles are from a much later period: 2007-2018.
Seamstresses in the Dior atelier c. 1950.
These are embroidery samples made by the atelier based on sketches by Dior.
The third room showcased dresses made in the first period of The House of Dior and encompasses not only Christian Dior's designs, 1947-57, but also his subsequent artistic directors:
Yves Saint Laurent, 1958-60,
Marc Bohan, 1961-89,
Gianfranco Ferre 1989-96.
From here on out I have tried to label the photos in the gallery with the relevant information from the guide book, but as will become much clearer later, the person in charge of numbering the dresses in the exhibit, didn't care much for order. So, because I was told upfront that everything was labeled and described in the guide book and all I had to do was appreciate the dresses, I didn't pay that much attention to which number belonged to what dress because I was sure that I could figure it out later. All I had to do was note one number in each room and the rest should surely follow suit. Well, they didn't. The numbering was all over the place. So I have done my best to correctly identify these gowns but gave it up for a bad job rather quickly after these first two sections. Sorry.
John Galliano 1997-2011
Raf Simons 2012-2015
Maria Grazia Chiuri 2016-present
Ladies in Dior
The numbering system for the Center Back display was posted on the wall as you left this area. Fortunately, the museum employee who was stationed in this area told us all to take a photo of the legend first and then go through the exhibit. IMO, the numbering system was unnecessarily arbitrary. Also, the display was way above our eye level, so none of these photos are really in focus because they were too far away from the back where you could see them, but once you got up close, you couldn't see the upper levels at all.
The photo below was taken from the back of the room.
These photos were taken from midway in the room and are still too small and out of focus.
From Paris to the World
As you can see the dresses were arranged in tiers going up three levels. My eye level was at the feet of the first level of dresses. The dresses were lit from underneath, so again, the photos are not great. At this point I'm not even trying to identify each gown or this blog would never get published.
From the guidebook:
"From hats and shoes to makeup and perfume, Christian Dior offered women a "total look". He expanded his business to an unprecedented level, licensing specialized companies to manufacture products under the fashion house's control. Dior wanted "a woman to be able to leave the boutique dressed [by Dior] from head to toe, even carrying a present for her husband in her hand.
A selection of lipsticks provided matching lip color for every dress. Shoes and jewelry were created in collaboration with the very best designers and artisans. The same spirit extended to Dior's packaging and display. These items all mirrored the house's iconic palette, dominated by pink, the color of youth and happiness, and red, the color of life, as exemplified by the show-stopping dresses known as "Trafalgars," made to astonish audiences halfway through a presentation. With his total look, Dior pioneered the globalization and branding that still characterize the world of fashion today."
Splendors of the 18th Century
After WWII it was very important to Dior to bring back France's splendor and he felt that the Rococo period's elegance was just the right thing to do that. He had He had his headquarters decorated in the Rococo style to match the building's facade. He went so far as to photograph his collections in the Palace of Versailles. His subsequent artistic directors have also hearkened back to this time for inspiration.
Fields of Flowers
Like Monet, Dior drew inspiration from gardening and believed that, "After women, flowers are the most divine creations". Also like Monet he spent a lot of time and money turning his personal gardens into wondrously fanciful places for his inspiration.
Sketches, Research, and Inspiration boards
Many of the rooms contained photos of the process of his creation as well as original sketches by the designers. I took photographs of everything I was allowed to so these are all from different eras, but I've put them together in this section for ease of categorization.
The Dior exhibit will only be at the DMA until September 1, 2019. You need to get there ASAP so you can see it. The tickets for all the rest of the dates went on sale July 15th, so the sooner you go online to buy yours the better chance you have to actually see it. Tickets are $20 for a weekday, and $25 for a weekend. There are discounts for Seniors, Military, and Students with valid ID.
Here are things you need to know before you go online to purchase tickets. If you want to go with friends, you can only purchase four tickets together at a time with one credit card. If I had wanted to take my family of 5, we would have had to go in two different time slots. Kids 15 and under must be accompanied by an adult. Kids 11 and under are free, as are DMA members. However, EVERYONE, EVEN DMA MEMBERS, EVEN CHILDREN 11 AND UNDER, EVERYONE! must still go online and reserve/buy tickets because they are timed entry tickets, which as we all know, is a pain in the butt and means long lines, but just get over that now if you really want to see this. Entrances are timed for every 15 minutes in groups of 30. As of this writing, there are still a few tickets left in most of the weekday time slots for next week, (July 23-28) but almost none for the weekend time slots. August still has 15-20 tickets left for most time slots every day.
So you're a teacher, like me, and you want to take your school group. You think you'll get a discount because you're with a school. HA! You are so wrong. You cannot take a big school group to this because those prices START at $2,000.00 for groups up to 20 people (unless your school has a lot of money they are willing to give you and if so, congratulations! I want to teach with you). I've thought a lot about this and your best bet to get a school group in is to get some other parents/teachers to help you out and buy groups of four tickets in consecutive time slots until all the students are taken care of. Now, that will only work as long as all your kiddos are older than 15 and don't need to be accompanied by an adult. Or you could put all your underage freshman/ sophomores individually in with your groups of three juniors/seniors and maybe the museum staff won't notice that one kid out of every four looks a bit on the young side. Otherwise you'll have to take more teachers/parents to accompany the underage kids. FYI, the day that I went, there were zero children in the exhibit. Most of the attendees were middle-aged women like myself. I didn't even notice any teenage girls with their moms. There were only a few likely looking college fashion students that were studiously documenting everything just like I was.
Now that you have the 411, congratulations!
Here's the link to buy your tickets!
Once you have your tickets, be prepared to arrive at the museum 15-30 minutes before your time slot begins to start queuing with the 26-29 other people in your group. DO NOT BE LATE! YOU WILL NOT GET IN! YOU WILL HAVE TO BUY ANOTHER TICKET FOR A LATER DAY/TIME. However, once you are in, you can spend as much time as you want in there. No one will hurry you along, except in the "Paris to the World/Ladies in Dior" room where they slow down the process even more by allowing only smaller family groups, couples, or individuals in, one tiny group at a time. I spent about 75 minutes in there, and that was mostly waiting for people to move out of the way so I could get a clear shot for the photograph I was desperately trying to take of every single item.
Photographs were allowed throughout the exhibit, except for in the "Legendary Photographs" Room, where you cannot take any photographs of the actual photographs. There are both warning signs posted as well as staff telling you as soon as you approach the room. Also, in the "From Paris to the World/Ladies in Dior" room the staff member will only allow one person per family group to take photos, so be prepared to fight for the right to be that person. I was alone, so this was not a problem for me.
The Dallas Museum of Art is fairly easy to find and has a lovely underground parking garage where your car will stay nice and cool, out of the summer sun. You can take an elevator up to the lobby entrance and save your knees. There are plenty of stairs inside if you choose to see the rest of the museum after your Dior experience. There are elevators too, but it's confusing and you might miss some collections entirely. For example, the Japanese Woodblock Print exhibit is hiding in a secret hallway that connects the staff library to the staff offices. We found it looking for bathrooms/water fountains. FYI, there are none down that hallway. And, we've been to the DMA at least once a year, and we still get turned around and can't find what we're looking for half the time. Also, the second floor was completely closed when we were there and elevators wouldn't even stop on it. Apparently they are renovating it. No word on when it is reopening.
But you're tired and hungry and need some food. Don't settle for expensive museum cafe food. Walk straight out of the museum, across the street and turn left. Right down the little hill in front of you is a great Mexican restaurant called El Fenix. You can see the sign from the entrance. Go eat there and either go home afterward, or go back to the museum refreshed and see the rest of the collection.
Today we were all excited to go see the Mayborn Museum exhibit "Be The Astronaut". After the amazing Titanic exhibit last summer we were super excited and didn't take any children just so that we could take as much time as we wanted without the constant, "I'm bored, when are we leaving?" We chose today because the Mayborn has for YEARS had a first Sunday is free program. So we got there only to find out that first Sundays are no longer free as of this summer. We paid $8.00 per ticket to see it anyway. When we got in, we quickly realized that whoever put this exhibit together left half of it at home, probably because it wouldn't all fit into the gallery space. There were a dozen or so computer simulations allowing you to either launch a rocket, land on the moon, or drive the Mars rover. There was supposed to be a rocket, a moon lander and a Mars rover vehicle in the exhibit according to all the signage around the gallery. The only "objects" to look at were some moon landing Lego sets and these two space suits.
The first one is the Apollo A7-LB Lunar Spacesuit which was used in Apollo 15, 16, and 17 missions in the early 1970's. Here's the wikipedia article where you can read more in depth details about the history of the suit and all its design features. Neil Armstrong described his suit a "tough, reliable, and almost cuddly".
The second suit is actually from the movie, Deep Impact, made in 1998. Gerry Griffin, the former director of the LBJ Space Center in Houston was a consultant on the film as well as former astronaut, David Walker. The actors in the suits were very uncomfortable during filming and, according to Jon Favreau, were "hung on racks" still in their suits and rolled outside to get some fresh air while on breaks.
As you can see the closer we came to the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo mission, the more things have been published on the space suits. CBS did a story on the seamstresses who made the Apollo suit that I will summarize here.
The Apollo 11 spacesuits had to be flexible, compact, and light-weight. International Latex, the company that manufactured Playtex bras and girdles, made a mock up, filmed an employee playing football in it, and won the government contract. The suits were made from 21 layers of very thin fabric and sewn to a "precise tolerance of 1/64" on what looks to be old heavy duty treadle machines. The goal was accuracy rather than speed. This is Lillie Elliott cutting out the patterns for the Apollo suits. After a fiery explosion that killed three astronauts during testing, the suits were revamped to remove anything that might burn.
Here is the entire video segment, for your enjoyment. It includes much more information such as interviews with the NASA engineers, as well as the last man to walk on the moon, Jack Schmitt.
Here is a Wall Street Journal article on Neil Armstrong's moon suit detailing the conservation efforts made to get it back on public display by July 16 for the 50th anniversary of the launch, which I will summarize for you here.
After the moon landing, NASA decontaminated the suit and sent it out on a tour of the US. Afterwards it was put on display at the Air and Space Museum for 30+ years. It was removed from the display in 2006 for conservation when it started showing signs of deterioration. The rubber layer in the interior of the suit had become brittle and was flaking, the zippers had begun to rust, and the suit was off-gassing vapors. The suit had also collected quite the amount of dust just from the thousands of visitors to pass by every day.
Lisa Young and her team of conservators at the Smithsonian interviewed the seamstresses who originally made the suit to learn more about how it was made, in order to help conserve it. Obviously with such a one of a kind object, they couldn't take it apart to clean and/or replace worn out components. They did however x-ray the suit as well as use a CT scanner on it. Spectrometric analysis showed that some of the dust on the suit was actually moon dust, so that was left alone. The suit now has a be-spoke mannequin and a new display case with filtered air ventilation system to keep the moon dust in and the public's dust out, as well as to remove the off-gassing vapors which would further deteriorate the suit if left behind.
Mary Robinette Kowal's NY Times article "To Make it to the Moon, Women Have to Escape Earth's Gender Bias", was published on July 17, 2019 and immediately caused quite the stir on Twitter. But before I can tell you about the Twitter controversy which I'm saving for the end, I'm going to give you some more information on the history of the Mercury 13 program, that Kowal only summarizes for you in her article. You should really read her whole article, but if you've already read your quota of free NYT articles for the month and don't already have a subscription, never fear, I will summarize it for you later. Back to The Mercury 13.
In the 1950's before anyone had gone to space, Dr. Randolph Lovelace discovered that women might be better suited for space travel than men. Women were "smaller, which would reduce the weight of payloads. They had better cardiovascular health and lower oxygen consumption. And they tolerated higher G-forces and outperformed men on isolation and stress tests." So, he found some likely female candidates and put them through the same rigorous testing as the male candidates for the Mercury program and thus the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLAT) program was born. Thirteen women passed the tests and one of them, Jerrie Cobb, ranked in the top 2% of all astronaut candidates of both genders. However, none of the Mercury 13, as they came to be known years later, ever made it to space. The program was cancelled despite the women lobbying Congress to fight the ruling. In 1995, all of the eleven surviving women were invited to Cape Canaveral to attend the launch of the Discovery shuttle, but only seven of them could make it due to health reasons. The first ever group photo of them was shot there. The other six women were Jane Hart, Janet Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Irene Leverton, Rhea Woltman, and Janey Briggs.
Currently, 537 men have been in space, but only 61 women have made the same journey. The reason the numbers are so unequal is nothing less than gender bias, which Kowal's article does a magnificent job of detailing, and now I will summarize that for you as well.
Originally, the biggest reason that women were excluded was that all candidates had to be a pilot with a minimum of 1,500 hours flying time AND that had graduated from a certified test pilot school. The only test pilot schools were military and did not accept female students until 1976. Of course there were many women in our history who were pilots and had more than enough hours of flying time. The WASPS were a whole division of women who were test pilots during WWII. However, none of them had the official piece of paper. This is the reason that the Mercury 13 program was devised in the first place, to get around that requirement.
In 1979, just three short years after women were finally admitted to test pilot schools, these were the next group of females who were trained for space flight. Every single one of them made it to space eventually. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983 aboard the Challenger space shuttle. In 1986, Judith Resnick was the second American women in space for a brief 73 seconds when the Challenger exploded on takeoff, killing everyone aboard. Sullivan and Fisher both went into space in 1984, Seddon went a year later in 1985, and last but not least, Shannon Lucid finally made it there in 1996 going aboard the Mir space station.
Even so, women in the military were specifically banned from combat duty and not allowed to fly in combat missions until that ban was lifted in 2013. Case in point, Marine Corps Capt. Katie Higgins became the very first female Blue Angel pilot in 2014. But back to the astronauts.
Due to the NASA gender bias that preferred male astronauts, all things space-related were then designed and engineered for men's bodies from the L and XL sizes of the space suits, the space between ladder rungs, to the hand tools sized for a larger grip. The cooling system in the suits were designed for men's sweat patterns and optimized for men's average body temperature. Once peeing in space became a concern, the suits and toilets were designed to fit men's external genitalia. And despite all this, 61 women compensated for these biases and went to space anyway.
Now back to the Twitter controversy. FYI, Mary Robinette Kowal is a Nebula and Hugo-award winning SF author. I'm just going to quote the relevant parts from a rather long and still evolving thread on Kowal's Twitter Feed:
"Let's talk about peeing in space. Several people, in response to my NY Times essay, have said that women couldn't go into space because we lacked the technology for them to pee in space. When the Mercury program was proposed, doctors were worried that people would not be able to urinate or even swallow without the aid of gravity. And yet, they still made plans to send a man into space. When Alan Shepherd became the first American man to go into space, it was scheduled to be a fifteen-minute mission. Up. Hello space! Back down. They made no plans for peeing. Launchpad delays meant that Shepherd hit a point where he needed to go. Badly. He asked Mission Control for permission to go in his suit. After consultation with flight surgeons & suit technicians, they gave him permission to do so. So he wet himself & still went into space. Later, they solved this problem by developing a sheath, that looked much like a condom. It worked great in testing, but when the actual astronauts used it, the sheath kept blowing off and leaving them with pee in their suits. Was this about extended time in the spacesuit? [No.] The sheaths came in small, medium, and large. It turns out, the men were all saying that they needed a Large sheath. They did not. Subsequently, the sheaths were called "Extra-large," "Immense," and "Unbelievable." They had to tape a bag to their ass to poop. That worked well for Gemini and Mercury. And by well, I mean there was still urine in the capsule and it stank of feces. Apollo needed a different solution. Alas, they still had to poop into a bag, but for peeing, they could slip on a condom attached to a valve, turn the valve and have their urine sucked into the vacuum of space. If you timed it right. Open the valve a fraction too late, and urine escaped to float around the cabin. Open it too early and the vacuum of space reached through the valve to grab your manhood. Apparently, the venting of pee into space is very pretty. It catches the sunlight and sparkles. For the spacewalks, the Apollo astronauts were back to condoms that collected the pee in a bag in the suit. Buzz Aldrin was the second man on the moon, but the first to pee there. During Apollo 13, everyone who has seen the movie knows that Fred Haise got sick. Do you know why, though? After the accident, they couldn't use the regular vent, because it needed to be heated to keep the pee from freezing. The alternate system caused droplets to float around the ship. Mission Control told them to stop dumping pee. It wasn't meant to be a permanent ban, but the crew didn't understand that. So they were stashing pee in every bag or container possible. The fastest option was to store it in the collection bags they wore in their suits. Haise kept his on for hours and hours, basically bathing in pee. He got a UTI and then a kidney infection.
Finally, a decade later, NASA decides to send women into space. NOW they have a reason to come up with how to handle peeing in space if you don't have a penis. To launch and for a spacewalk, they developed the MAG Maximum Absorbency Garment. It's a diaper. The men switched over to using those because it was more comfortable and less prone to leave pee floating around the cabin than the condom sheath. They also developed a zero-G toilet so that astronauts no longer had to tape a bag to their ass....All of which is to say that the reason women didn't go into space had nothing to do with lacking the technology to pee. We didn't have the technology for men to pee in space when they started either. And some days, the best solution is still a diaper or a bag taped to the ass.
What about periods in space? - According to women who have been there, "It's just like a period on Earth." It turns out menstrual blood moves via a wicking action. Gravity can speed that up, but is unnecessary. Also, tampons exist. Fun fact: When Sally Ride was preparing to go into space, NASA engineers asked her if 100 tampons would be the right number for a week. She said, "No. That would not be the right number." They cut it back to 50."
Congratulations! Now you know more than you probably ever wish you did about bodily functions in space. If you want to read about farting, erections, or vomiting in space, you can go look up her Twitter page yourself.
A brief History
Captain Marvel was created by Fawcett Comics in 1939, the year after Superman, and holds the distinction of being the first superhero character to be made into a film-- The Adventures of Captain Marvel, released in 1940. Captain Marvel was Fawcett's biggest moneymaker and in fact was the nation's most popular superhero and the highest circulated comic book. This ruffled a lot of feathers over at DC (Superman's publisher). In a desperate attempt to stop the release of the movie as well as the title, DC sued the publishers on the grounds of copyright violation citing that Captain Marvel was too similar to Superman. To make the "longest legal battle in comic book history" story short, over the course of the next twelve years DC sued Fawcett, lost, appealed, and then won their appeal. Fawcett ceased and desisted making Captain Marvel comics in 1953. Fawcett had to pay DC a large sum of money and subsequently folded. Captain Marvel remained out of print for the next fourteen years. In 1967, Marvel Comics trademarked the name Captain Marvel and started up a new series where he is a Kree alien. In the intervening time, DC had bought out the defunct Fawcett Comics and now owned both Superman and the character it had once said was a Superman infringement. DC owned the character, but not the name and that's why DC had to call their 1974 TV show Shazam!
DC's Captain Marvel: AKA Shazam!
Captain Marvel is the secret identity of teenager Billy Batson. When Billy says the magic word Shazam! he becomes an adult superhero who wears an costume that is clearly influenced by WWII soldier uniforms. The tunic top is asymmetrical with a button on the right shoulder. The sleeves have shoulder pads and are loosely fitted like a men's suit jacket. The white cape has gold military braid trim down the front and at the hem. His gold belt and bracers, yellow lightning bolt on the chest, boots complete his outfit. CC Beck who drew Captain Marvel based his look on Fred MacMurray who was the #1 box office star at the time.
By 1941, Fawcett had given Captain Marvel some friends: Mary Marvel, Billy's twin sister, and Captain Marvel Jr., Billy's friend Freddy who stayed a teenager when he transformed. Mary Marvel's look was based on Judy Garland, and Junior, believe it or not, inspired Elvis Presley's look as he was a big fan of the character and designed his later stage costumes with capes based on Junior's supersuit.
At this point, Captain Marvel has done away with the militaristic asymmetrical tunic bib, shoulder pads, and loose sleeves that he was in before. Instead, his supersuit is much more similar to Superman's unitard now, sleek and aerodynamic. He still has the white cape, but the gold braid frogs are gone, only the gold trim on the hem remains. Lastly, the lightning bolt has gotten much wider. Mary wears the girl version of the Marvel supersuit, short puff sleeves and a full skirt. Junior wears the same suit as Marvel, just in blue instead of red with a red cape instead of white.
Then it just got ridiculous. Fawcett added three boys who went by the names of Tall Billy, Fat Billy and Hill Billy. There was a rabbit called Hoppy the Marvel Bunny, and an old man called Uncle Dudley. They all wore the same suit as Captain Marvel.
Once the lawsuit was finally settled and DC owned the character, they rebooted the series calling it Shazam! with just Mary and Junior. Mary's neckline is a little lower and her skirt hem is a lot higher, but basically they are in the same costumes from 1941.
When DC published Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, the Marvel family got a reboot. They cut out both Mary and Junior, just leaving Captain Marvel.
Later, in 2012 Geoff Johns and Gary Frank gave Captain Marvel a new family for the New 52, bringing back Mary and Freddy, and adding Darla Dudley, Pedro Pena, and Eugene Choi, Billy's adopted siblings. Finally we get more colors. Darla is in purple, Pedro is in green, and Eugene is in grey. Billy is still in blue, but with a white cape. Mary is still in red, although she's no longer Billy's twin sister. Mary still has short sleeves, Darla has no sleeves. Notice how all the lightning bolts are glowing and seem to be emanating electricity.
Shazam! on screen
This is the original 1941 film, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. The actor was Tom Tyler. There was no designer listed on its IMDB page. This first iteration of the Captain Marvel supersuit was an exact copy of the original Golden Age comic: The militaristic asymetrical tunic bib that buttoned on the right shoulder, the skinny lightning bolt logo high on the chest, and the sleeves loosely fitted with shoulder pads like a men's suit jacket of the period. The cape had the gold braided frogs down the front and the gold ribbon on the hem.
The Shazam! TV series was on between 1974-77. The
costume designer was Thalia Phillips and
the actor was Jackson Bostwick, although he was replaced in Season 2 with John Davey, after sustaining a stunt related injury. I watched this show every Saturday morning. In this version Billy was no longer a teenager (the actor Michael Gray, was 23 at the time). Billy worked for a radio station, WHIZ and was on a roving assignment with Mentor (a character loosely based on a combination of Uncle Dudley and the Wizard Shazam). Together they drove around in an RV while Billy got sent on missions by the Immortal Elders. At the end of each episode, Captain Marvel would tell us kids what we were supposed to have learned from the episode.
The Secrets of Isis was a spin-off TV Show that ran on the same network for two seasons in 1975-76. Thalia Phillips did the costumes for Isis as well Shazam. Isis appeared on Shazam during Season 1 in 1974 and then got her own show the next year. Captain Marvel appeared as a guest star on Secrets of Isis in both seasons. John Davey played Captain Marvel in three episodes. The costume is the same one that Jackson Bostwick wore.
Legends of the Superheroes, 1978.
Costume Designed by Warden Neil.
The actor was Garrett Craig. This was a very cheaply made Hanna-Barbera made for TV special.
The current iteration of Shazam! came out in 2019 with costumes designed by Leah Butler. Zachary Levi was 6'3" and 180 lbs before he started training for the role. Although he did bulk up to 215 and trained with four different gurus, not all those abs were his. The suit did augment his body shape, they all do. However, for the doubters who can't get over how Chuck became Shazam!, here's the before and after photos.
The Hollywood Reporter stated that the costume budget alone was $10 million. The suit budget was between 600,000-$700,000 just for Zachary Levi and his stunt double's 10 suits. Based on the after photo of Zachary Levi's chest, my guess is that the underlayer had extra padding on the deltoids, lats, and pecs, to make his chest bigger and wider in order to make his waist seem smaller. Here's a photo of Zachary with his stunt double, Ryan Handley. Ryan had motion capture dots on his face so the CGI department could replace his face with Zachary's. Ryan also played the faceless Superman at the end of the movie.
Here's a Screen Rant interview with the costume designer Leah Butler where she revealed all the insider information on how the suit was made, what secrets the underlayer was hiding, and all the relevant design details, which I will summarize here.
The red fabric has a Greek key pattern printed into it. It's very difficult to see from far away, but the close up photo shows the texture that the pattern creates on the surface of the fabric, as well as the design lines that are also printed onto the fabric to accentuate Shazam's musculature. The lighting bolt and gauntlets light up and can be controlled for both temperature (color) and brightness.
The cape is made from a very light weight wool and has a Greek key pattern embroidered on the hem. The knee-length cape is actually much longer than it is in both the very short golden age comics, as well as the longer butt-length capes from the New 52 comics.
The cape screws into the underlayer with gold buttons so that it stays put during all the superhero-ing. A nice detail about the buttons is that they are embossed with tigers as a nod to Mr. Tawny, a talking tiger, who was Shazam's golden age friend.
Shazam has a foster family in this movie, so here's the whole gang-- Pedro, Mary, Billy, Freddy, Eugene, and Darla--child and adult versions.
The adult actors are: DJ Cotrona as Pedro, Michelle Borth as Mary, Adam Brody as Freddy, Ross Butler as Eugene, and Meagan Good as Darla. The Marvel family costumes were designed to look just like the New 52 comics. They are made the same way as Shazam's costume with the Greek key pattern printed on the fabric, the printed on seam lines emphasizing the musculature, the light-up lightning bolts and gauntlets, the gold belts and boots. It's easier to see the printed texture of the fabrics in the next few close up photos under natural light rather than the camera lighting used in the movie stills.
Pedro, DJ Cotrona, and his stunt double, Alex Albuster.
Darla, played by Meagan Good.
Freddy Freeman played by Adam Brody.
Eugene Choi played by Ross Butler. Eugene's suit is grey, which you can clearly see in the lighting in his trailer. It looks purple in the camera lighting on set for the scene in the throne room that was deleted from the final cut.
Mary played by Michelle Borth.
Marvel's Captain Marvel
The first Captain Marvel published by Marvel Comics was created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan in December, 1967. This Captain Mar-Vell was an alien officer in the Kree military. He allied himself with Earth and was branded a traitor. He wore his Kree military uniform, which is a white unitard with black trunks and green accessories of gloves, mask and cowl, boots, belt, and planet symbol on his chest.
Once he became Earth's advocate, he changed his Kree military uniform for a new supersuit of red unitard with blue accessories of trunks, gloves, boots, mask, and half cowl. He had golden blonde hair and a gold star on his chest, with gold wristbands.
Later, Ms. Marvel (Carol Danvers) was created by Roy Thomas and Gene Colan in March, 1968 as an officer in the USAF, so that Mar-Vell would have a love interest. Her DNA was fused with Mar-Vell's during an explosion that gave her super powers, creating the first human-Kree hybrid. The title "Ms." was chosen in tribute to Gloria Steinem and her Ms. Magazine, to associate her with the new feminist movement, which you can read all about here in this Washington Post article. Carol got a job at the Daily Bugle with Peter Parker, and became the fashion editor. While there she fought for equal pay for equal work. She later joined the Avengers.
Her costume was similar to Captain Mar-Vell's, although much more revealing. She wore a red, long- sleeved leotard with a cowl neckline and a tummy cut out. Her trunks were black, as were her boots, gloves, and mask. She had the same golden blonde hair and star on her leotard. She had something resembling a cape, but it seems to be a scarf that trails out behind her, perhaps attached to the cowl neckline.
Later, they got rid of the tummy cut out. There's a better view of the scarf in this one.
Ms. Marvel in 2006 by Brian Reed, Paul Renaud, Ben Oliver, and Sana Takeda. She was still being written and drawn by men and was wearing even less clothes than before. She looked less like a superhero and more like a dominatrix.
In 2012, Carol Danvers assumed the name Captain Marvel in honor of the original, now deceased Mar-Vell, written by Kelly Sue DeConnick and drawn by Jaime McKelvie. For the first time in her history, a woman was writing her story and making decisions on how she was going to look. Her costume was completely redesigned and was no longer the sexy, skimpy, completely impractical thing it was before. She was completely covered up just like male Captain Marvel, looking like she's ready to fight. Her boots did't even have high heels and her helmet scooped up her hair into a mohawk.
Unlike DC and their Shazam! TV series and movies, Marvel never made any Captain Marvel movies or TV shows until this year. Captain Marvel's costumes were designed by Sanja Milkovic Hays. The actress was Brie Larson. Here is a Fashionista article where you can read all about the supersuit. And here's a Popsugar interview with Hays about the rest of Brie's 1990's costumes. And here's a Vogue article on the costumes.
Brie Larson did some serious training to get in shape for this role. Here's an article about her training and her stunt doubles, Renae Moneymaker and Joanna Bennett. Because Brie kept training and learning her stunts, as the costume team would do her fittings, her body kept changing, so the suit was continually undergoing tweaking to make it fit better and be more comfortable for all the physicality and action sequences. By the end of her training, she could deadlift 225 lbs and push a jeep up a hill. This is Brie with Renae Moneymaker.
This Captain Marvel started out in her Kree Starforce military uniform, which had green trim on a black utility jumpsuit, with a star on her chest. The fabric chosen for the jumpsuit was "a mix of leather backed by four-way stretch and panels of spandex-like specialty fabric." The black panels on the Kree suit were printed with a slight teal undertone and shimmered under certain lighting conditions to match the gleaming armor parts. Her boots were actual combat boots and not high heel wedges like most other female superheroes including Leia's grey Hoth boots. The entire suit was made up of independent units to make bathroom breaks easier and faster, but still required six dressers to get Brie out of and back into the suit each time.
Her signature mohawk helmet required a lot of trial and error to design and was a team effort between Brie Larson and costume designer Hays, 3D modeller Adam Ross, Fabricator Russ Shinkle, and hair stylist Camille Friend and their respective teams. The helmet was actually two main pieces that clamshelled together around the mohawk which was a wig, and a separate chin strap. Her own hair was actually held inside the helmet with a balaclava.
My favorite part of the movie was when she redesigned her Kree uniform. Here's the clip with all the different versions that could have been. My favorite is the neon rainbow version. It reminded me of the Wonder Woman 1984 poster art which I have included for comparison below.
Here's the Americanized version of the Kree suit. This is Brie with her other stunt double Joanna Bennett. You can sorta see how the suit is made in pieces, with the top half of the suit separate from the bottom half. Her belt hides the juncture. The top half is a lycra/spandex blend in the appropriate colors that has zip front closure. Most of that gets covered by the leather breastplate that zips up the back with an overlap that hides the zipper and velcros over it. All the pieces either velcro or snap to the underlayer so that everything stays in place while she's moving.
Brie won the MTV People's Choice Award for Best Fight Scene and she brought up her stunt doubles to accept the award with her.
This is the second year of GACC. Last year we cosplayed Flash Gordon to meet Sam Jones and Melody Anderson. We also met the adorably huggable Doug Jones. This year we cosplayed Justice League Dark, and our goal was to meet James C. Leary "Clem" from Buffy and see The Cybertronic Spree in concert. We were not disappointed. As a bonus, we got to meet Michael Biehn from Terminator and attend a Ray Park "Darth Maul" session and watch him teach Wushu fighting style to a bunch of super excited fans. And, as always, there were lots of awesome cosplayers in attendance.
Buffy's "Clem" JAMES C. Leary
The interesting thing about meeting James Leary is that we actually went to the same university (Gig 'Em Aggies), were in theatre there, and have lots of friends in common, we just weren't there at the same time. I took two years off to teach high school in El Paso James' freshman year, and then came back to graduate while James was still taking Engineering courses and hadn't found the theatre deptartment yet. I actually saw James at Comicpalooza five years ago with the other Buffy guests but had no idea at the time that he was an Aggie Player. I was so stoked to find out that I had so much in common with a guy who was on my favorite ever TV show. He was super nice and chatted with us for awhile. We were dressed as Justice League Dark and people kept coming up to us and asking for photos (a guy cosplaying Captain Marvel actually recognized my character--this is only the second time that someone has known who Nightmare Nurse was other than the DC artists at Fan Expo who drew the comic) Long story short, I got so distracted posing for other people's photos, and didn't get a selfie with him or get a group photo of all of us. Anyway, next time James, I'll remember to ask for that photo. Clem was my favorite of all the demons on that show.
Rob is the biggest Michael Biehn fan, so of course we had to see him too. Fortunately our good friend Jennifer Dunham was wrangling both him and his wife Jennifer. They were so nice and we chatted for the longest time. We got to hear all kinds of stories about their little boy and his exploits at school. When it was finally time to take the picture I was so excited. I told him that he was the best thing about Terminator and that I didn't like the others nearly as much because his character wasn't in them.
Face off's Matt Valentine
I watched all 13 seasons of Face Off and was sad when I learned that it was cancelled. Matt Valentine is the third Face Off contestant that I have met on the con circuit. He is teaching FX makeup courses in Austin. Here's the link mattvalentinefx.com to sign up for them. He was doing demos all day of three of the characters he'd created for Face Off. I got to watch the "Ice Cream Clown" application and he signed a photo for me.
The Cybertronic Spree
The Cybertronic Spree is a self-described rock band of former enemies who perform the soundtrack from their 1986 documentary, Transformers: The Movie. It's the kind of show that will take you back to your childhood and you'll find you're singing along to all your favorite shows' theme songs. They performed two original songs as well. In my opinion, their best song was "Immigrant Song" which will forever be associated with Thor Ragnorak (at least for me). If nothing else, it's amazing to me that they can perform in their costumes at all, much less kick ass the way they did. Check out the video below to hear their awesomeness!
As usual, many awesome cosplayers were strutting their stuff. I ran into my friend and former student Jordan, who was cosplaying Princess Bubblegum. I also ran into my EGX friends Lauren and David who were in their usual Hawkgirl and Captain Jack Sparrow cosplays. They both entered the costume contest here last year and won awards, and have been busy judging the Kids' Costume Contest at EGX (formerly Geekfest) for the second year in a row.
This year we had to pay for 4/5 of our tickets @ $23.00 each and $5.00 for parking. Sarah's child ticket was comped, thanks Vo! Food was pretty expensive at the con, Sarah, Seth, and I got pizzas for $11 each. After we left we ate supper at Chuy's right around the corner and got a super huge discount for having been to the con. Our meal for 5 people was only $35.00. We had the best waiter ever! He loved our costumes and showed us photos of the Batcave he'd turned his daughter's bedroom into for her birthday.
Look who's in the Local Paper! US!
To participate in the costume contest, the first thing you have to do is sign up, here at our registration table, manned by Jason and William as Dale and Hank from King of the Hill.
Here's our awesome new Cosplayer trophies for this year.
Starting last year, we invited the top winners to be guest judges for the costume contest. Last year's first guest judge was Brice Garcia. This year's guest judges are Valerie Marten- Ellis and Kayla Robertson-Jones.
Cosplayer Rhiannon as Newt Scamander during the Pre-judging portion of the contest. Contestants are asked to talk about their process and explain their methods, challenges, basically giving the judges and run through of how they designed and built their costume.
Contestants are asked to provide documentation of their process. This is the handout done by Marissa Forest, for her Padme's handmaiden cosplay.
These are the Handmade and Props and Armour contestants modeling their costumes during the Pre-judging portion of the contest.
Here are the costume contest winners with Miss Cynthia Lee Fontaine, our celebrity guest MC for the night. We modified our categories slightly from last year's. This years categories were Costume Casual, Semi-Hand Made, Hand-Made, Groups and Duos, and Props and Armour. We awarded trophies for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each division, as well as a Judge's Choice Award, and a Best in Show Award.
Costume Casual 1st Place Nadia Ramadan, 2nd Place Jasmine Guerra, 3rd Place Erik White.
Duos/Groups 1st Place Nicole Waterman, Erin Lee, & Ana Nevorez, 2nd Place Izabel Weaver & Kori Camp, 3rd Place Mia & London.
SemiHandmade 1st Place Rhiannon Schlickeisen, 2nd Place Megan Viney, 3rd Place Nicole Tierney.
Props/Armor 1st Place Catt Victory 2nd Place Aaron (no last name given)
Handmade 1st Place Jeffrey Rusco, 2nd Place Marissa Forrest, 3rd Place Alyssa King.
Judges’ Award Kayla Freeman
Best in Show Alyssa Garcia del Solar
EGX FActor Talent contest
Winners: 1st Place Izabel Weaver, 2nd Place Alyssa Garcia del Solar, 3rd Place Mei Davis
This year we had a wide variety of talents: singers, dancers, musicians, comics.