Putting it Together: Costume Fittings, Scenic Designs, and Set Construction

October 27, 2014 / by Lavina Jadhwani, Classical Directing Fellow


We just wrapped Week 6 of Fall Festival rehearsals at Shakespeare & Company! We’re two weeks out from tech at our respective schools – we’ll perform there the weekend of November 14/15 and then all ten high schools will move their shows to S&Co’s mainstage, the Tina Packer Playhouse. We’ll then perform ten different Shakespeare productions in four days; it’s a complex machine with a lot of moving pieces! As a former designer, I have a lot of respect for the work that happens behind the scenes, and this crew is no joke. Mount Greylock’s costume designer for The Winter’s Tale, Kate Washington, started her first round of fittings with our students this week. 

If you’re familiar with The Winter’s Tale, you’re probably curious about some of those names -- you won’t find Aurora, Dumaine, Valentine, Jessica, Silvius or Launce in most cast lists. Part of the Fall Festival aesthetic is that 1) gender blind casting is encouraged 2) sometimes roles are divided between multiple actors and 3) every actor in the company has a character name. In our company, the “Old Shepherd” is now a shepherdess named Aurora. She has not one but two sons, called Silvius and Launce. Instead of “First Lord,” “Second Lord,” and “Lady to Hermione,” my co-director Josh McCabe and I came up with Dumaine (a character from Love’s Labour’s Lost, one of our favorite plays), Valentine (the actor is a real sweetheart), and Jessica (it just seemed right somehow). 

Last week our production coordinator, Kevin Harvell, did a master class with our set and props crew, where they came up with some potential design ideas. The Winter’s Tale is a designer’s dream – it spans sixteen years, two different countries, and contains Shakespeare’s most infamous stage direction, “exit, pursued by a bear.” Our crack crew had a blast coming up with creative solutions to these design challenges! The current plan is to paint four brown marble columns on muslin to represent Sicilian court, which will then get tied together and transform into a tree to create the forests of Bohemia. The bear (I’m so excited about this!) is modeled after a Chinese dragon puppet – one person will manipulate the top of the bear’s head, another the jaw, one person each on the two front paws, and two people in the body/tunnel of fabric in which the actor playing Antigonus will get swallowed.
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​Left: A Student Sketch of the 
Sicilian Columns
Below: Da Bear.
Mount Greylock’s set construction takes place next week, so this weekend I stopped by Lee Middle and High School to help with their set for Richard III. As with all things Fall Festival related, the majority of my job involved sitting back and watching our brilliant students take over. My favorite things about directing are that I get to create learning opportunities for people (ideally both artists and audiences), encourage community building, and set folks up for success. My time at Lee allowed me to do all of those things! I mostly hung out with the talented team of ladies painting a banner for Richard III (top right photo). They’d originally created the boar head design for their poster, but it was so successful that they decided to incorporate it into the set as well. 

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Other members of the company had designed banners for their characters (bottom right photo), which will be pulled down over the course of the play as those characters are murdered. (… spoiler?) The Fall Festival experience is driven by student input, and it was incredibly heartening to see the actors-turned-technicians take ownership over the construction of their set pieces. “Hey Rachel, what color do you think your chair should be?” one student called to another across the theater. It was a simple gesture that captured the core of the festival’s teaching aesthetic: we ask questions, create experiences, and make our partners look good.