Friday, March 20, 2009
Costume Delays on the Western Line
Just a quick note to say: I haven't forgotten the blog. I've just been off on a costume binge.
Years ago, when I was sixteen or seventeen and just beginning college, my desire in life was to be a costume designer. I loved costume, and still do. However, when I took classes in the subject there were two things that deterred me:
1. The emphasis seemed to be on sewing, to the detriment of anything else (mask-making, fabric painting, etc.). The people in costume seemed to be people obsessed with extremely perfect and detailed reproductions of ancient seam techniques. I'm much more of a make-something-that-looks-good type, using whatever materials come to hand.
2. In order to do costume design as a college course of study, you had to major in theater. This meant acting. If there is anything I hate more than performing in front of people, I can't imagine what it could be, so I dropped the idea. Later, I went on to design school and learned clothes patternmaking and design (thus my sojourn in the garment industry... and I wanted to get away from sewing??).
Now, of course, with the advent of people like Julie Taymor (director and costume designer of the Broadway production of The Lion King), this has all changed. Ms. Taymor has a background in mask and puppet design and studied in Japan, where puppetry and the use of masks are an integral part of traditional theater. So costume isn't just sewing anymore, and I look back on my easily-intimidated younger self and wish I had pushed a little harder for my own vision. Perhaps the acting part could have been easier; perhaps I could have got by with working backstage most of the time.
To be honest, I was too easily swayed by the kind of people I found in the different groups working in the theater department. I liked the work the stage techs did: hands-on building, painting, and hanging things. I didn't particularly like the girly-ness of the costume people, either the older, harder ones or the younger, more obsessive ones; and I was too inexperienced and shy to know that this was only a sampling of people, that this might be the product of a small town's college theater department. Lacking in social skills, I didn't know how to make myself liked by the tough stage hands or the hardened costume designers. I think I probably came across as too quiet, too young and blonde, and possibly helpless in my naivete. In any case, I gave up and went into a slightly less flamboyant career - the garment industry, which was dull and repetitive and very hard to get a leg up in. Which only proves that the choices we make out of anxiety aren't always the best ones: I have regretted the loss of the costume design, but never regretted leaving the garment industry.
In any case, to bring a long-winded and roundabout monologue to the actual point: I have had a chance to be the costume designer for the local elementary school's production of The Lion King. So that's where I've been: following my early dream on a small scale, and immersing myself totally in the Making of Wonderful Illusions. Julie Taymor's book on the production, its planning and implementation, is so luscious, so incredibly beautiful, that I've gotten carried away. I've hardly slept in the last few weeks, and I've been so insanely focused that things like grocery shopping, laundry, writing, and loved ones have kind of gone by the wayside. It's been interesting, because it's making me re-examine some of the choices I've made about my life. If I love the making of things so much, why aren't I doing more of it?
It's been fascinating figuring out how to do a high-quality production for under a hundred dollars. I've built lioness masks from plaster, papier mache, and plastic gallon milk jugs, and hyena masks from milk jugs, old burlap sacks, and newspaper. I found a roll of jute twine somewhere and made all the lion's manes out of that. And so on. It's amazing what you can do with found stuff and a little ingenuity (and hot glue). I'm thinking of doing a couple of Youtube demos on some of the stuff I've discovered.
So my apologies for ignoring the blog. I'll be posting more in the next week or so. And I'll post pictures soon, I promise.