It was back in May of this year when Abra Berman of Novato began her designs for two of Marin Shakespeare Company's 2012 summer productions.
An award-winning costumer designer, Berman designed and built several original costumes for the theater company's lavish outdoor productions of "King John," (which closed on Aug. 12) and for "The Liar," which continues with performance through Sept. 23.
Berman shares details below about her "Historically Historic" assignments for Marin Shakespeare Company's 2012 summer season:
If you could give nickname to your 2012 Marin Shakespeare costume design assignment what would it be and why? "Historically Historic." This is the first time in the history of my designing for Marin Shakespeare that we have produced costumes in High Elizabethan fashion, the types of costumes that Shakespeare himself would have seen and possibly worn.
Talk about your costume design support team: I had one assistant for this show, Dallas Coulter, who is a graduated former student of mine. She also works at Dark Garden, the corset company that also costumes Lady Gaga, Dita Von Teese, Marilyn Manson and Christina Aguilera.
Talk about the atmosphere at your workshop in Novato: In the summer, we set up outside on my lanai, with a table for sewing with machines and a table for cutting and patterning. It allows us to spread out, enjoy the weather, and not mess up the inside of my house. Music is playing dependent upon our mood and as each costume is produced, labeled and hung on a garment rack and prepared for a fitting later in the week.
Talk about your costume designs for "King John" When did you start working on designing and building these costumes? We began designing the costumes in May and began the builds in mid-June.
How many costumes do you have to build / create for this production? We built entire ensembles for about fifteen characters.
What about wigs, head pieces, hats, accessories? We built headpieces, crowns and hats for about eight characters.
Comment about the research needed to build and design the "King John" costumes: I did a lot of research on High Elizabethan costume that transitioned to the rule of King James, who ascended the throne upon Elizabeth's death. I have a large collection of costume and art books in my library, which include the patterns and fabrics for the garments. The French or Drum Farthingale was one of the primary identifying silhouettes for women during this time period.
Comment about the little details that make the costumes authentic: All the royal ladies wore what are called bum rolls under their gowns in addition to the Farthingales. These bum rolls would assist in the support of the farthingale, giving it the right pitch high in the back, lower in the front. The gowns all fastened up with hand pounded eyelets, which needed to laced up for every show.
Talk about your costume designs for "The Liar" When did you start working on designing these costumes? We began designing the costumes in mid-June and started building them in mid-July.
Comment about the research needed to build and design "The Liar" costumes: Because "The Liar" takes place only a decade or so after the costume period of "King John," I wanted to make sure there were no redundancies to the silhouettes so that the audiences wouldn't be looking at the same styles in two different shows. I have wanted to design costumes from the era of the Restoration for a while now and so was able to do a lot of historical research from that time period as well as late Cavalier and Early Baroque. The colors are quite different from King John as well. Since "The Liar" is a light comedy, I wanted the colors to reflect that. The palette is one of muted candy colors with a lot of pattern and "frou."
Comment about the little details that make the costumes authentic: All the ladies are wearing corsets authentic to the time period under their costumes, as well as the later version of the bum roll, without any farthingales. Their hair is parted and in ringlets as was the fashion as well. The gents all have a lot of ribbon details punctuating their costumes, as well as a lot of lace, full bottomed wigs and plumed hats. There were garment inventories in the 17th century that recorded the application of 250 yards of ribbon applied to one gentleman's suit. We tried meet that on at least a few of the costumes.
How many costumes do you have to build / create for this production? We built all the costume pieces for all of the characters.It sounds ambitious but there are only eight players, so it is a relatively small show for me.
What about wigs, head pieces, hats, accessories? We worked with a professional hair and makeup stylist to assist with the wigs for the gents and the makeup lessons for everyone. The hats for the men were built and designed to match the rest of their costumes.
See more photos featuring Abra Bermans costumes for "King John" and "The Liar" at Marin Shakespeare Company's Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/MarinShakes
For more information about Abra Berman visit www.abraberman.com
For tickets or more information about the Marin Shakespeare Company 2012 summer season visit www.marinshakespeare.org