20th July 2011

Our blog begins with a post from Sarah Bowern, Costume Supervisor.

My job is to realise the designs that the designer, in this case Jonathan Fensom, has drawn, to make them real and put them on stage. Depending on the show we will either make the costumes from scratch or source them from elsewhere. What we make and what we source is affected by budget and the period of costumes. If we’re doing a traditional show, such as this season’s Doctor Faustus, it’s a big ‘make’ show. For The Globe Mysteries we’re doing a mixture of modern, period and really period, 17th-21st century costumes. So we’re hiring as well as making and buying from the high street.

Costume styles range from17th-21st century

Costume styles range from17th-21st century

Jonathan and I got together before rehearsals to go through basic ideas, drawings of the costumes, and visual references. We talked through the basic synopsis and discussed people’s journeys in the play, costume-wise. Now we are at the stage of choosing fabric and sending samples to freelance costume makers, along with the designs and the measurements of the cast.

Paul Hunter as Herod

Paul Hunter as Herod

In terms of inspiration and feel of the design, it’s a bit like a guild of actors are putting on a show, so it’s got a homespun feel about it. It’s almost like dressing up, but then the designer in Jonathan has made that a more controlled and stylish look. For example the costumes we are making for Herod and his son are structured, tailored cloaks, but they are made out of dressing gown fabric.

The play starts with the creation, so the costumes reflect that. Then they move through the stories in the Bible through the 17th Century, the 1930s and into the modern day for the crucifixion.

My favourite costumes are the angels as they go through quite a lot of processes. They are going to be hooded gowns with wings printed on the back in gold leave. It involves a lot of work, and a lot of people to make them look just right.

Phil Cumbus as Angel Gabriel

Phil Cumbus as Angel Gabriel

This show has a lot of characters; we counted 115 costumes, which will be divided between 14 actors and 4 supernumeraries so it’s a challenge, both financially and logistically. Part of my job is working out the logistics of the actor’s journey- How do we make someone appear as an angel one minute and John the Baptist the next. But we have an amazing team of dressers and production wardrobe who run it like a military operation. They have been doing a fantastic job on Doctor Faustus.

The Globe Theatre itself holds unique challenges for a costume supervisor.  The costumes are exposed to the elements so there are the implications of rain, bad weather, but also the heat can be problematic too. You do have to think of the practicalities of what you’re doing to your cast members.

The lack of lighting also affects how the costumes need to be made or treated, especially if they need to look distressed or dirty. In other theatres, such as the Almeida Theatre or National Theatre you can do clever things with lighting. But here, when your audience are so close you have to actually distress the costumes. The costumes created for Original Practices productions at the Globe were completely hand sewn, and washed in a mangle. We try to have an element of that still when we’re doing the period stuff by using certain techniques and types and styles which are specific to the Globe. We try to keep it as it would have been in Shakespeare’s time.