Lights, camera and sewing?

Jenna Gerling

A behind-the-scenes look at the designing of the upcoming play, ‘Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead’

Grace Cochran, junior technical theatre major, measures costume fabric for the School of Theatre and Dance’s production of “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead,” which runs Oct. 6-15. PHOTO BY LESLIE CUSANO | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: Jason Hall

The costume shop’s walls are surrounded with mirrors. Colorful garments hang snugly on racks lined against the walls.

Mannequin heads litter one of the room’s makeup tables. They look like poorly disguised robbers with tan stockings over their heads; feathery mustaches and beards are pinned to them.

Students are preparing for the Oct. 6 opening of “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead” by designing costumes and rehearsing in the Music and Speech Building.

The play is directed by Terry Burgler, an associate professor in the department of theater and dance.

“Oh! This is a keeper – somebody can wear this!” said Anna-Jeannine Kemper, assistant costume designer of “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead.” “Who will it be though? I think it might be Hanna . Hanna Brady!”

Kemper tried on more than six human-hair wigs from a box marked “short, brown, curly,” making faces as she decided whether it would be just right for a certain character.

In this case, it was designated for the role of Alfred, played by freshman English major Hanna Brady.

“We have a character (Brady) who is a woman playing a man playing a woman,” Kemper said. She said the bluntly cut chin-length wig was “a pretty standard hairdo for a young pageboy.”

Bridget Quinn, sophomore production stage manager, said “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern” is intertwined with Hamlet.

Kemper said in “Hamlet,” the king and the queen are major characters. But in “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” all of the major characters in “Hamlet” become minor, and the two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, “become the stars – they take the stage.”

“Even though they’re small parts, we’re building their costumes because they need to be grand,” she said.

Cast as the role of Rosencrantz, graduate student Laura Cook said costumes help actors get into character.

She said for this play, actors will be wearing capes and shoes designed from the Elizabethan period, and they have to think about how to work the capes and what the shoes will feel like.

“It puts you in the period more, and it affects the way you move,” Cook said.

Sarah Bird, co-designer and graduate student in fine art, agreed with Cook.

“A lot of actors say, ‘I really didn’t get my character until I put on that cloak,'” Bird said. “I think that’s one of the most important moments that a costume designer really has to appreciate, because you do spend so much time on doing things.”

She said to design a costume from start to finish, for certain garments, it takes at least 100 hours of construction.

“After you get your idea about the script,” Bird said. “It’s important to meet with the director and the other designers so that everybody’s ideas come into one big conglomeration.”

Kemper said that not communicating with others is a bad idea.

“If a scenic designer is thinking, ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in Space,’ and not, ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern set in an authentic Elizabethan environment,’ and you don’t talk until the show goes up, you’ll end up with something that no one understands, let alone enjoys,” she said.

Bird said once the basic ideas are clear with everyone, the designers research the period from which the clothes came and start sketching.

Once the sketches are approved by the director, and the designers have an idea of shape, they can begin to think about color.

“In this show, more than others, we have the opportunity to explore color as really being the symbol of something,” Kemper said. “(We’ll have) these two people wearing the same color because they’re married, or these two people wearing colors that contrast because they’re going to get into a sword fight later.”

Kemper said the designers may not have neither the time nor the financial means to make some of the costumes for this play and will rent articles of clothing from a costume rental shop.

Designers first see what costumes they have in stock from past shows, and if there isn’t anything useable, they’ll turn to a rental store.

For costumes the designers do create, they begin building with muslin (a cheap and plain piece of fabric).

“We’ll do a really loose fitting on (the actors), and then we’ll pin it on places . (to) find out where we want to put our seams and actually make a pattern,” Kemper said.

She said it’s fulfilling to see the final product when the show debuts.

“It’s really rewarding – what makes me the happiest is seeing how a costume I made helps them understand their character in a new way that they couldn’t before they put the clothes on.”

Contact performing arts reporter Jenna Gerling at [email protected].