Letters from the Rehearsal Room Part Three

March 5, 2014
A Few Inspirations from Three Sisters Costume Designer Olivera Gajic

A Few Inspirations from Three Sisters Costume Designer Olivera Gajic

Dear Audience—

Designs for the physical life of the production are moving ahead. We’ve begun “loading in” (building the set, adjusting the light grid, etc). Costumes are also underway. Much like the way having a character stand instead of sitting can say a lot about a person, costuming also impacts character, so small choices at this stage in the rehearsal process can really make a difference in how a character is perceived.

As a case study, I sat in on Becky Gibel’s costume fitting for Natasha with Olivera Gajic, the costume designer, and Alison Roberts, the Arden’s costume supervisor. The first act of our production starts in a contemporary rehearsal room before shifting to more traditional looks. For this act, Olivera brought some shiny maroon pants and killer suede boots for Becky. Pulling on the boots, Becky commented “I love that she [Natasha] is a little more contemporary because she’s the one moving forward.” From what I saw, even when in more nineteenth century inspired looks, Natasha’s costumes are all bold, inspired in part, I’ve been told, by a Serbian pop star.

Then Olivera pulled out a couple of robes options for Natasha. The question comes up: does Natasha put on the robe for the first time in Act II or III? In Act II, Natasha wants to cancel a party due to start soon. Is she the kind of person who is in a robe when she raises the possibility of canceling the party or is she already all dolled up in party-wear? A small difference, but an important one as it indicates the amount of control Natasha perceives herself to have. Ultimately, Terry will make this decision with the collaboration of Becky and Olivera, but these are the kinds of questions the costume designer grapples with while designing. Chekhov himself understood the power of costuming to tell a story, writing extensively detailed letters about costuming to members of the Moscow Art: “You wear the tailcoat only in Act I; as to the bandolier, you are quite right. At least until Act IV you should wear the uniform such as it was before 1900” (Chekhov to Aleksandr Vishnevsky who originated the role of Tuzenbach). Olivera carefully takes pictures of each costume piece, encouraging Becky to strike a “Natasha pose.”

GRACE GONGLEWSKI in 'A Little Night Music' in a robe designed by ROSEMARIE E. MCKELVEY

GRACE GONGLEWSKI in ‘A Little Night Music’ in a robe designed by ROSEMARIE E. MCKELVEY

One of the robes Olivera is considering as an option for Natasha was the vintage silk flowered robe that Grace Gonglewski wore as Desiree in the dressing room scene in A Little Night Music. Olivera pinned and played with tightening the sleeves and maybe adding detail for Natasha. Meanwhile, an Act IV look for Natasha might incorporate Desiree’s red dress, with a different shape to the sleeves. Along with props, we often repurpose costume pieces from one show to another—what works in one grand late 19th century house might work in another, as long as it suits the characters.

As Becky finished her costume fitting, Scott Greer arrived for his. He explained that in a community like Philadelphia, in which theatres often rent costumes to one another, he sometimes wear the same pair of pants at two different theatres—the pants travelling with him from the Arden to the Walnut Street Theatre, for example. It’s not even unusual in the film industry—check out www.recycledmoviecostumes.tumblr.com to see how Hollywood shares costumes from one film to another.

Are there costume pieces you remember from previous Arden productions you would like to see return? Or a way you would costume one of the characters from Three Sisters? Share in the comments!

Sally Ollove
Dramaturg for Three Sisters

Read Part Two
Read Part One

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