Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Seven Ages: Costumes

Costumes by Esther Montgomery Haberlen

Double Heart (The Courtship of Beatrice and Benedick) was written to be a prequel to Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. It was my intent that it be reasonably and justifiably be considered an explanation of events which preceded Shakespeare's work, that nothing contradicts what comes later (unlike, say, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.)

With Seven Ages, we harbor no such pretensions. In devising a premise - time, place, characters - I told our playwrights that our scene rests somewhere in Act II of As You Like It, between scenes six and seven. I provided a general sense of who the four characters are who will be telling these tales, and that we would choose as time period the date in which the Bard's play was written, Fifteen Ninety-Nine.

But don't search too hard for continuity. Later in As You Like It, Jacques and Rosalind (as Ganymede) appear to be meeting for the first time, and unfamiliar with each other. It doesn't matter, we are not trying to expand upon the narrative of Shakespeare's play. It is a device through which four people tell stories inspired by the seven ages of man.

Set as it is, in one place, at one time, our costume designer Esther decided upon a period look, which is to say, the period in which it is set. Pretty novel, right? For Double Heart she took inspiration from Branagh's film version of Much Ado, or at least the time period, eighteenth century, rather than sixteenth, and there was a very good reason for that. They were colorful. If she had gone with sixteenth century Italian military wear and women's attire, things would have been very brown, and the ladies outfits restricting, which was not conducive to our youthful, racy love story.

The Tempest

Time and again a vocal minority of audience members lament that this company or that company (nearly every company, really) never performs Shakespeare "the way it is meant to be performed" meaning in Elizabethan dress. Time and again this does happen, however, though I do not know if they actually notice it (Great Lakes Theater's 2007 production of The Tempest was period, though I don't think that had any impact on ticket sales) but should all Shakespearean productions be in period costumes? Wouldn't that get a little boring? Besides, it is also very expensive to create and keep costumes from that period. The dresses are HUGE.

Having said that, Esther has designed and her company have built beautiful Elizabethan costumes for Seven Ages. I love what I get to wear, with a marvelous fur-collared cape and matching doublet, and I am even more taken with our Ganymede and his/her stylish green doublet and pants with golden slashes and accents.

Then there is a codpiece, which, once you have seen it ... you cannot stop seeing.

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