Fumiko Bielefeldt has designed costumes for over sixty TheatreWorks shows since 1983, and her eye for period costumes is unrivaled on our stage. She and Director Robert Kelley have collaborated on many projects over the years, and Cyrano, their latest collaboration, will feature a mixture of period and modern pieces, in a carefully cultivated look for the ages.
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley: How did you and Kelley decide on the aesthetic for Cyrano: mixing period and non-period costumes? Would you say it’s a 50/50 split between the two? Or is it more heavily skewed to one side or the other?
Fumiko Bielefeldt: I’d say that I didn’t set out to design the costumes with any particular mixing ratio of period and non-period. The starting point for me was, as stated in the script, “The play is designed for a kind of austere and transparent theatricality. The audience knows it is witnessing a story being told by an ensemble of actors, led by the actor playing Le Bret…It could be done in fully detailed 17th century garb or in barebones costumes…” Keeping with Joe Ragey’s theatrically austere set, Kelley and I imagined a troupe of actors in their street clothes changing in full view on stage into period costumes, but not entirely. I’d say some Brechtian theatricality might have seeped into our concept. Basically, the actors change mostly the upper parts of their clothes, keeping their bottoms mostly modern.
TWSV: Is there any one character who you chose to costume more period than the others? Why?
FB: Comte de Guiche and Vicomte de Valvert, two aristocrats, are more period than, say, the Gascony Guards (Cyrano, Le Bret, Christian, and the rest of the cadets), and the female characters (Roxane, Desiree, etc) tend to be more period. The aristocrats’ clothes require embellishments—ribbons, buttons, etc.—in contrast to the soldiers’ muscular leather doublets, which are paired with modern cargo pants. I brought modern elements into Roxane’s costumes, mostly in her hairstyles when she’s in dresses; but in her Act 2.2 disguise outfit, I used the same pairing (a leather jerkin and cargo pants) that I used for the cadets.
TWSV: What are the benefits of using some non-period pieces to help tell this story that is so classical?
FB: The playwrights intended that “however it is set, lit, and costumed, the audience should be very aware that they are at a theatrical event,” and I think using some non-period pieces in the costumes serves this purpose well.
TWSV: Many of the actors have quickchanges, including onstage changes. How are you dealing with this challenge? How are you working with props regarding the costumes that are onstage as part of the show?
FB: You said it! The quick changes in this play are a huge challenge for all involved in the costume department: the designer, the shop and the dressers.
As a rule in the costume shop, when we mount a show with multiple casting of roles and quick changes, we start with a costume breakdown spreadsheet to see the flow of the show. It gives us insight into what we can achieve within any given time and how to go about it. The majority of quick changes happen in Act 1.1, and my plan is to achieve different looks with partial, rather than complete, changes, relying on things like hats, cuffs and collars, and capes. In some other cases like the Siege of Arras, the Guard’s costumes are distressed to show their dire situation. And in the final scene, 15 years after the Siege, some characters wear costumes from a later period to show the passing of time.
In the end, I’m keeping the playwrights’ notes as my guide—”stark simplicity and elegance seem to be a good start”—and that’s what I’ve been hearing from Kelley as well.
All photos by Kevin Berne- http://www.kevinberne.com