Friday, September 30, 2011

Making hats for "In the Next Room", part 3

by Rachel Pollock, Crafts Artisan

Today, the trimming of the final two hats from In the Next Room!

Recall from prior posts on this topic that the hat trim is intended to be a physical representation of the metamorphosis of the character of Mrs. Daldry over the course of the play, and that the first two hats progressed in decoration from a reserved veiled hat to a more adventurous hat with a single upright "wing."

But what about the third and fourth hats?

Hat #3 features a rainbow ombre-dyed length of embroidered silk, sprays of coq feathers, taffeta ribbon bows, and velvet roses.

Front oblique view.

Rear oblique view.

Hat #3 worn onstage! Wow, how flamboyant and fabulous it looks! Katie Paxton as Mrs. Daldry, Matt Garner as Leo Irving, Kelsey Didion as Mrs. Givings. (Photo by Jon Gardiner.)

In the fourth hat, the theme of metamorphosis becomes encoded in a fairly literal symbol: the butterfly. Designer Anne Kennedy wanted to expand the adornment of the hats from the fairly traditional realm of fabrics, ribbons, flowers, birds and bows, to encompass what would appear to be actual butterflies (which are really made from painted and dyed feathers)! What fun!

We purchased the butterflies from a floral supplier, but they were too bright (top row). You can see how we sprayed down the brightness with a mist of black paint (bottom row).

Millinery assistant Leah Pelz then assembled some of them into these ornamental sprays.

Whoa. Now that's Hat #4.

In addition to the butterflies, some of the adornments include 9" wide satin ribbon, taffeta ribbons, faux grasses, feathered sprays, faux rosehips, and a red raffia thistle.

Oblique view.

Rear view.

This image shows the hats ready to go into the dressing rooms. I always pin these detailed hat care documents onto each head for the wardrobe crew, so they know how the hats are to be worn and stored safely.

Unfortunately, I don't yet have a stage shot of the fourth hat, but i'm sure you can tell from the other three onstage, how fun it looked!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Making hats for "In the Next Room", part 2

by Rachel Pollock, Crafts Artisan

I initially thought this was a two-part post but I've realized that I'm going to need to split this into three, I think. At the end of the prior post on the topic, all four multiples had been blocked into the desired shape, using a terra cotta flowerpot as a crown block and a brim block I made a couple years ago for The Importance of Being Earnest.

The next step for all the hats was to wire and bind the brim edges and line them.

For some felt styles (say, a fedora), you might choose not to wire the brim edge, but I chose to on these for a couple of reasons. First, the wire and binding will go a long way in helping to maintain the upward curl of the brim in places, since it offers a strong reinforcement to the shape which was initially created in the blocking and sizing process.

Second, these hats are taken off and put back on multiple times an evening, by both the actress herself and her dressers. They need to be as sturdy as possible to withstand that much handling (consider that in "real life," you might wear this hat once a week, tops, if it were your favorite hat, whereas this hat is being worn every night of the week and twice on matinee days).

And third, the designer wanted them finished with this super-cute pinked-edge burgundy suede binding from Mokuba, so we had a perfect means to hide the wiring built into the look itself.

I also tend to line my hats for stage before trimming them out. For a streetwear/fashion hat, you would wait til after trimming to line it to hide the interior stitches securing the trim, but because hats for stage go through SO much aesthetic change in the tech process (on these we have changed the trim on three of the styles twice now, and we aren't even through previews yet), I line before trimming. On felt hats like this one, the lining serves as a stabilizer, too, so that the felt of the hat doesn't bear all the stress of the stitches attaching the trim, so that's a nice secondary benefit to this decision.

My primary assistants at this point were first year graduate Leah Pelz and PRC's staff Costume Technician, Adam Lukas Land, though on at least one occasion I had five undergraduates all at some stage of some craft process working in my room as well. It was fun, all of us working on hats in various stages of completion a taste of what it must have been like to work in the production room of a 19th century milliner's studio when these types of hats were originally made.

Here's a shot of the hats with their brims wired and bound.

Each hat is lined in a crossweave taffeta, with the label set into the crown. These have not only the actress/role name in them, but also the hat number.

The next step was to begin trimming them out, and since the hat trim was intended to be a physical representation of the metamorphosis of the character of Mrs. Daldry over the course of the play, this involved a lot of discussion with costume designer Anne Kennedy about how that was to manifest in the decor.

The first time Mrs. Daldry is introduced to the audience, she and her husband have arrived for an appointment with Dr. Givings, who treats patients for "hysteria," which in Mrs. Daldry's case seems to denote what we would call depression today. She doesn't leave the house or open the curtains in her room, and she shuns light by wearing a veil on her hat. We also learn that she isn't happy with her marriage, and that their childlessness is causing both the Daldrys grief.

First hat, with rust net veil edged in narrow brown ribbon shot with a single iridescent strand. The veil attaches to the hat with a brown embossed-stripe velvet ribbon bow.

The hat itself is trimmed in a ruched band of crossweave silk taffeta with a topstitched plaid pattern.

Katie Paxton as Mrs. Daldry
Jeffrey Blair Cornell as Mr. Daldry
(Photo by Jon Gardiner.)

For the second hat, Mrs. Daldry is returning to the doctor's for further "treatment" of her hysteria. She has begun to play the piano again, something her depression (or "hysteria") had previously prevented her from doing. She is far from happy, but she is taking her first steps toward a better frame of mind.

In millinery terms, the idea is that she's taken her hat to the local milliner and asked that it be made over to a bit more daring and (for 1880) modern style. Ladies magazines of the time were showing styles that featured a lot of verticality in trims--towering loops of ribbon and feather sprays, and even bird wings (some mock, some real). The veil has been abandoned, as she no longer needs a physical barrier between herself and the world in order to cope with leaving her house, and she has begun to rediscover an appreciation for sunlight and gardens.

The decor of Hat #2 features a confection of ribbons as a hatband and ornaments, scattered silk flowers and leaves, and an actual antique millinery "wing" (not a taxidermized actual bird's wing, but a piece of decoration made from dyed feathers to resemble one).

Front view
The trim on the crown of this hat is where ribbon candy gets its name!

Side front

Profile view

Side back

Katie Paxton as Mrs. Daldry
(Photo by Jon Gardiner.)

I'll stop there, and follow up in a third post on the third and fourth hats, which evolve even further into the realm of elaborate and symbolic trimmings!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Photos from In the Next Room!

We had our final dress rehearsal for In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) last night, and our production photographer Jon Gardiner was in the house to shoot our publicity photos. They look fantastic! The show is a lot of fun with brilliant actors, elaborate period costumes and a beautiful set, so we have a great album of outstanding photos to share with you.

(Click any image to see a full size version.)

Julie Fishell, Matthew Greer and Katie Paxton (lying down)

Matthew Greer, Katie Paxton, Jeffrey Blair Cornell and Julie Fishell

Kelsey Didion, Katie Paxton and Matthew Greer

Katie Paxton and Kelsey Didion

Dee Dee Batteast and Kelsey Didion

Katie Paxton, Matthew Greer and Kelsey Didion

Photos by Jon Gardiner.

These are just a selection of pics from the full album. Click here to see the rest on our website.

In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) runs from September 21 to October 9, 2011. Click here for more details.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Making Hats for "In the Next Room"

by Rachel Pollock, Crafts Artisan

We're working on a really fun set of hats for the next show at work, Sarah Ruhl's In the Next Room (or the vibrator play). The script is set in the 1880s, which means some great bustle costumes and of course hats!

The action of the play takes place over a couple of months, and the character for whom I've got the most craftwork is Mrs. Daldry, who undergoes a process of self-discovery. Our costume designer, Anne Kennedy, came up with a great way of expressing this through Mrs. Daldry's hat. Riffing off the idea that women would have a favorite hat retrimmed in whatever the new fashion was, Mrs. Daldry is to appear in each scene with the same basic hat style, but trimmed ever more frivolously and exuberantly. Fun!

We initially discussed whether this would be a single hat with interchangeable decor "appliances" that the wardrobe crew would change out between scenes, but I decided instead to do four identical hats trimmed differently, to instead create the illusion of the same hat being retrimmed.

Not the right period, but a great illustration of how the basic hat shape itself is only part of the final look!
Same face, same dress, same hat base, but such different personalities!

There were several reasons for this decision, most of which had to do with making the wardrobe crew's job easier. PlayMakers is a professional regional theatre, but we reside on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and as such everyone on the theatre's staff is essentially doing double duty as artists and as teachers in practicum--UNC's students in the department of dramatic art have the invaluable opportunity to work alongside us to produce PlayMakers' shows, and among those opportunities is in a wardrobe crew capacity. Our Wardrobe Supervisor, Whitney Vaughan, leads a team of undergraduates who (for class credit) learn the ins and outs of backstage costume support for the run of each show.

I figured, our crew is already going to be learning SO much new information and unusual costume rigging (like how to help actresses put on corsetry and bustle cages and wigs and hats), that to keep the hats as straightforward as possible would only be a help. It is much easier to keep track of four separate hats backstage in the dark than to keep track of four batches of fiddly hat trim that snap or hook on and off of a piece. It's easy to accidentally drop or crush a feather spray attached to a pouf of fabric, but a hat is a more tangible item less easily damaged or lost. And, if the basic hat style was one we could block in felt, making multiples is actually (for me) less work, all told, than retrimming the same single hat four ways and then troubleshooting how to stabilize each "edition" into single quickly-removable units.

Ms. Kennedy sent us a large research packet of historical images showing hat styles she liked for the character of Mrs. Daldry. Then, I looked into options of block shapes for brim and crown styles, among blocks we own or could makeshift.

Research example of the "flowerpot" hat crown shape Ms. Kennedy wanted.
No joke, they don't call that shape a flowerpot for nothing!

$3 terra cotta flowerpot of the proper scale, getting sealed with polyurethane.

First i blocked an old hat crown onto it, to look at with our desired brim block.
(Read about how I made this brim block from esparterie here.)

First stab at blocking the first crown on the flowerpot...

It worked! Look what a cute conic-section crown it produced!

My assistant, first year grad Leah Pelz, blocked the remaining three hats.
Here they are in various stages of processing.

I'll stop there for now, because we're about to start tech on the show, but a second post is yet to come to show you the four different means of trimming these hats out!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vivienne Benesch on "In the Next Room"

Its title is titillating. Its subject matter, unusual. So what exactly is going on with In the Next Room (or the vibrator play), the Playmakers' first mainstage production of the season?

"It's a combination of sex farce and a Chekhov play with a little bit of Ibsen," says director Vivienne Benesch. "But from a female voice."

Vivienne Benesch
Ms. Benesch, an actress and director who also serves as the artistic director of the Chautauqua Theater Company in New York, calls the show "one of the funniest and most moving contemporary plays which deals with contemporary issues, many of which continue to go unspoken today." She explains that though the show is set in the 1880s, she hopes that audiences will "laugh and recognize themselves in both the humor and the struggles of the characters."

"It's about human connection," she says of the show's theme. "It doesn't matter how much electricity you have in technological form if you don't have that connection in human form."

In the Next Room (or the vibrator play) runs from September 21 to October 9, 2011. Click here for more details.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Design of "A Number"

What was the inspiration for the haunting set design for A Number, the first PRC² production of the season? Costume and set designer Jan Chambers reveals that her design process began upon discovering the backstory actor Ray Dooley created for his character.

After learning that Dooley decided that his character's emotional problems arose from a traumatic experience in Vietnam, Chambers happened to encounter a painting that she said spoke to her of the character's "haunted stated of mind."

"The resemblance to Ray is uncanny, and the painting emotionally cemented his character for both of us," Chambers said. "The play, of course, takes place some 35-40 years after that moment, but his past and present state of mind definitely played a part in the design of the space - a small, confined, claustropobic world where something massive is slowly closing in."

Josh Barrett and Ray Dooley in A Number by Caryl Churchill.
(Photo by Andrea Akin.)
Chambers incorporated that tension into the space. She said of her design, "Skewing the angles of the room and pulling the space into the audience's lap further helped create a visceral environment that played as a counterpoint to the measured and suppressed dialogue of denial and avoidance."

A Number is now playing through Sunday, September 11. Click here for more details.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Some (fun) historical context for "In the Next Room"

Here's a little historical background on the vibrator, to get you in the mood for our upcoming production of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)...

1913 ad for White Cross vibrator

A vibrator for every home!

As electricity became an in-home convenience, the vibrator became the fifth domestic appliance to be electrified and available for retail sale, after the sewing machine, fan, tea kettle and toaster.*

That's the category they were placed in: domestic appliance.

They had many suggested uses, none sexual. The White Cross Electric Vibrator (photo above) was marketed as a tool to cure "Acne, Alopecia, Asthma, Bladder, Bust Development, Change of Life, Cold, Colic, Constipation, Cramps, Deafness, Diabetes, Gout, Obesity" and more.

Can you imagine opening the pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog and seeing a full-page ad for a vibrator?

It clearly illustrates the different context for use in the early 1900's, as you can learn more about in our upcoming production of In the Next Room (or the vibrator play)!

* Want to learn more? Check out The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction by Rachel Maines for the full story.