Today’s blog post is the first in a series of posts centered around Boston Opera Collaborative’s upcoming production of Les Lettres de Werther. If you haven’t already heard about this exciting new production, stay tuned for upcoming posts about the production, the guest artists involved, and other magnificent facets of the show!
We are very fortunate to have the very talented Amelia Fitch joining us as our costume designer. Amelia is a senior at Smith College where she studies costume design. Ms. Fitch was very kind to answer a few questions for us about the challenges of being a costume designer, ideas for Werther, and some beautiful renderings of the costumes we can expect to see on stage!
1. First and foremost, what made you decide to pursue costume design?
Ever since I was a little girl I absolutely loved playing dress up. I was the kid who insisted on wearing her Glinda the Good Witch Costume to the movie theater. I think I just always knew that I wanted to work with clothing and textiles. I am drawn to costume design as opposed to fashion design because of the relative lack of rules, or more so that the rules change with each movie and play you get to design. Costume design is not about looking in or fashionable, it’s about translating feelings from written words into an outfit, and I love the opportunity to get a little weird that that provides.
2. What are some challenges of costume design?
Personally I find that creating renderings (drawings or paintings of a characters costume design) can be challenging. Although I have always loved sewing and working with textiles it has taken me a very long time to understand sketching and painting. I have character renderings from a few years ago that are so cringe worthy, and I feel like I still have so much more to learn. I think the most frustrating part of it for me is that I have all these crazy ideas and images in my head and then I have to get my hand to translate them onto a one dimensional page, it can take me hours to do one rendering but it’s completely worth it.
3. Which aspects of it do you enjoy the most?
I love working with fabric, especially hand sewing and dying. There is something so great about making a flat piece of fabric into a three-dimensional garment. I also love the research process when you are trying to figure out what world, decade, style, etc…. that a play lives in. The Internet is awesome for this but there’s something about leafing through books and magazines that is always fun. I especially love old fashion magazines! The clothes are all gorgeously tailored and their fashion advice is very, very strange.
4. Tell us a little about the costumes for Werther; inspiration, period, juicy details!
The costume design for Werther is based of the silhouettes and textiles of the clothing people wore in the late 18th and early 19th century, however the costumes will incorporate modern elements; for example, fitted jeans and boots instead of breeches. During the 1780’s (when Werther takes place) a fascinating shift was happening in what was considered fashionable (particularly for women). The tightly laced bodices and heavily embroidered brocades of the early 18th century were abandoned for a much looser, classical silhouette. Loose empire waist gowns made out of gauzy material became popular for women, and simple yet perfectly tailored linen clothing became popular for men. Personally I find this to be an incredibly sexy time period, as people were dressing to allow their true form to show.
Before this point it was thought that a main way to express yourself was through your clothing, there was no sense of individuality as social decorum and status dictated what you wore. This shift in clothing coincides with a shift of individuality that was also happening at this time, the idea of having a sense of self became popular and important. In a way this more stark and natural way of dressing represented the fact that you wanted your inner self to transcend what you were wearing. I feel like these costumes will add to the tragic romance of Werther, and the soul bearing nature of the piece.
5. Is there a show that you’d love to design the costumes for? If so, what is it and why?
There are so many wonderful plays out there it’s hard to choose! I guess a play I’ve been thinking about lately is Freak Show by Carson Kreitzer. I would absolutely love to design costumes for this play. I’ve always been drawn to the slightly grotesque aspects of circuses, and I feel like this play takes that idea to a whole different level.
6.What have been some of your favorite shows that you’ve worked on and why?
This past summer I worked designing costumes for a children’s theater (New Century Theatre Kids), which was a great experience. It is not every day you get to make a grown man dress like a Chihuahua. The theatricality of it was really fun to work with. Generally when you’re producing a show for young kids to watch, everything has to be heightened and over the top, something you don’t always get to do in more adult centered theater.
7. Do you have a favorite era or style?
I am not sure if this counts, but Isabella Blow has always been a great inspiration. She was such a fearless dresser (her motto was “Haud Muto Factum” – “nothing happens by being mute”).
Here are some more beautiful renderings by Amelia. Thank you so much Amelia! We can’t wait to see your designs in action on stage!