Saturday, September 25, 2010

Week 1: Entry 2: Costumes and Props

Tilly No-Body deals with the premise of identity: who are we as actors? What lies beneath the mask? How do we peel away our social, professional, personal, domestic masks to prepare a blank canvas for creating a role? In fact, once we do peel away the masks, does anything lie beneath?

One of the recurring images in the play is the sloughing of skins, like a snake. To take the audience through this narrative, I wanted to have layers of costumes that are literally peeled away to reveal another disguise underneath, until finally we get to the 'real' Tilly underneath.

It would be impossible to start finding the stage pictures in rehearsal without - from the very early days - having some rehearsal costumes. UC Davis is blessed to have the most terrific costume department - and the most wonderful Professor of Costume, Maggie Morgan. Maggie, Miles and I talked a good deal about costumes back in March when I was writing the piece. Circus is a recurring image, and Frank Wedekind loved trapeze artists and circus animals. His plays are riddled with animal references, and one of his most famous plays - Earth Spirit - begins with a ringmaster in a circus. Between us we have devised a peeling away of layers of costume that take us through various circus characters, until we reach the 'skin' of Tilly.

Maggie's designs are fantastic, and with Wardrobe Mistress Roxanne Femling and master-tailor Abel Mercado, they provided me with some excellent rehearsal mock-up costumes as well as some of the actual performance costumes. Because all the clothes come off or are put on on stage, it's vital that every zip, popper, button is part of the stage choreography, and their contribution in early rehearsals has been invaluable.

Props are equally important. Miles Anderson, the director, has a passion in the theatre for 'moments of magic', and the circus lends itself wonderfully to this. He has sprinkled lots of moments of unexpected 'magic' throughout the show, and this has been a huge surprise and challenge to me. The material of Tilly No-Body is quite dark - hey, it starts with a suicide attempt. Miles's aesthetic is so colourful and playful, that he has found a contrapuntal style to the show that I never would have imagined. As an actor, I love it! So the early rehearsals have been littered with props - silk handkerchiefs, sponge balls, masks, feathers, whips and a walking globe. These too are part of the choreography of the staging, and we've not even talked about actually building a character yet!

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