Elizabeth Whiting and Adrian Hailwood on Actors and Costume
Auckland Theatre Company costume designers Elizabeth Whiting and Adrian Hailwood talk about designing costumes for the stage and how they work with actors to create the image of the character.
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As costume budgets (indeed, all budgets) tighten in theatre, costume designers have to tighten their belts/corsets accordingly. Ingenuity is essential.
Whiting is adept at re-working pieces to move them from one period to another, one character to another. A beaded corset first made for Danielle Cormack in 2004’s Caligula was recycled several times, in its most recent incarnation it has modest sleeves added for a children’s show character.
Hera Dunleavy in Caligula
"That was experimental from the beginning," Whiting says. "I kept going into the rehearsal and thinking that it was the movement of their bodies that you wanted to see. You didn't actually want to see costumes on them."
Ross McCormack as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in Amadeus
With the dismantling of the New Zealand garment industry through the 1980s and 90s, costume designers are challenged to find the fabrics, trims and supplies needed to create their period costumes. Luckily designers can fall back on the still-thriving furnishing sector: rich figured upholstery velvets have the ideal volume and movement for Elizabethan and Restoration-period gowns and coats. Designer Adrian Hailwood spotted a classic floral chintz in cheery yellow and blue hydrangeas, perfectly in character for Mozart’s wife Constance in Amadeus.
“Modern fabrics give a look and feel that is still traditional, but it’s changed it up, a bit more sexy,” he says.
Do You Want a Hat with That?
Specialist corseteers and wig-makers are a dying breed, so costumiers Hailwood and Whiting have learned to turn their hands to making their own.
Ellie Smith as Mrs. Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer
Elizabeth Hawthorne as Elizabeth in Mary Stuart
Digging into the Past
For a period drama Whiting says designers would have researched historical pattern making, creating a toile (muslin) version of the costume and then modifying it to make it more fashionable. Through the 2000s she has turned more to fashion, where designers like Alexander McQueen and John Gallinano for Dior created much more current versions of historical wear, with triggers that are much more relatable for a younger, more modern audience.
This is perhaps most evident in the costumes Elizabeth designed in 2005 for Equus (a play about a boy pathologically obsessed by horses), in which she had the six actors who played the horses wearing nothing but tight leather pants and enormous platformed hooves. The hooves had a horseshoe fitted to the base, so that when the actors scraped them across the stage, they created the sinister sound effect of unhappy horses.
The fit of the leather pants showcased the actors butts and thighs or, if you're into the spirit of things, haunches and hinds. "That was experimental from the beginning," Whiting says. "I kept going into the rehearsal and thinking that it was the movement of their bodies that you wanted to see. You didn't actually want to see costumes on them. That's where the leather chaps came in ... and as they went up onto those heels, you were very aware of the muscle and the tension in their bodies.”
"Why would you perform Shakespeare in the 21st century in breeches and doublets? "It's important that the audience sees enough dress-up to see this is a dress-up production, but not so much that it's a distancing experience."