Down in the depths of the Ford Center for the Fine Arts, dozens of Knox students are working tirelessly as part of the theatre department’s Repertory Term to bring the campus not one, but two productions: “The Green Bird” and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle.” Hours of time and energy are being poured into this unique brand of live theater, which takes place at Knox once every three years.
But no modern play is complete without costumes and makeup — the tools that stimulate an audience’s imagination. The Rep Term students behind the textiles and bright colors take their jobs seriously and most began the design process before the term began.
Senior Franzesca Mayer, costume designer for “The Green Bird,” first began thinking about Rep Term in May 2012.
“We’re going very spectacle. It’s very fantastical and in-your-face, and that’s the sort of play it is,” Mayer said.
In addition to making the sartorial elements of the production very otherworldly, Mayer also drew on inspiration from “Cirque du Soleil” and the French aristocracy.
“I’ve got a character who’s this rich, snotty woman, who’s very inspired by Marie Antoinette,” Mayer said. “But then the soothsayer … he’s more inspired by a genie in a bottle.”
At first when Mayer was designing, she envisioned various headdresses to add to the fantastical costumes, but soon realized she needed help. Junior Hannah Compton and post-baccalaureate fellow Paul Lurenz ’12 are responsible for designing the makeup and millinery for “The Green Bird.”
“You’d be mistaken to think it was any one person that got a production up on its feet,” costume and makeup designer Margo Shively said.
Similarly, it is not unheard of for Rep Term devotees to have a hand in multiple aspects of production. Compton is the crew chief for “Circle,” keeping designers and costumes in line; Mayer acts in “Circle.”
“To go through your own costume fitting,” Mayer said, “you start to realize, ‘Okay, this is what it takes to go through [it], and this is something that I should be a little bit more aware of [when designing for others].’”
Quality theater, and Rep Term in particular, requires extensive research of a play’s historical context. As the costume co-designer for “The Caucasian Chalk Circle,” junior Miranda Loeber worked with Shively to translate Assistant Professor of Theatre and “Circle” director Jeff Grace’s ideas into costume.
“[Grace] really wanted to emphasize the modern parallels … in examining the global conflicts that are going on between the eastern world and the western world,” Loeber said.
In line with Grace’s vision, Knox’s production of “Circle” has been propelled from its original 1940s setting into present day, with the prologue taking place in the future. The play centers on a group of people in the Caucasus mountains who were able to stave off a Nazi invasion.
Raiding thrift stores, cast members’ closets and the pre-existing costume stock has aided efforts to bring “Circle”’s message of sustainability into the real world. Loeber’s biggest challenge, however, is all about keeping track of who wears what.
“Each person is playing three to five characters,” Loeber said.
In a production with about 60 characters, each of the 15 actors start with a base costume and layers different jackets and accessories to represent a new role.
Mayer spoke to the enchantment that occurs during an actor’s first costume fitting.
“You realize that exactly what you’ve drawn is now a real thing in front of you,” Mayer said. “I mean, that moment is magical.”
Costumes can do wonders to transform an average Knox student into a dynamic character but makeup helps pull the whole look together.
“We have a character [named] Pantalone. He’s supposed to be this crotchety old man, and [sophomore Oakton Reynolds is] playing him — he’s a little, cute kid,” Compton said. “So … we can never convince the audience that Oakton is an old man, but [makeup] can give the signals and characterize him so that people … can kind of go along with the journey.”
For Shively, ultimately the biggest reward she gets from working in the theater department is seeing how her students succeed.
“How exciting to see somebody accomplish something that they’ve never done before,” Shively said. “I have been on a journey with [Mayer] … since she came into the space as a first-year.”
Mayer came to Knox intending to become a fashion designer, and Shively introduced her to the world of costuming. Today, Mayer’s Rep Term experience is helping confirm that she is right where she needs to be.
“I’m going crazy,” Mayer said. “I’m going absolutely bonkers, but it’s fantastic.”