Amitabh Sharma, Contributor
The arc lights on the stage shining on the costumes of the actors and forming silhouettes can be perceived as dramatic, essential, complementary, or even hard-hitting at times.
Theatre couture has an important role in encapsulating the theme of the play, which is as critical as the talent of the actors, blends of light and sound, and the props on the stage.
"Costumes for theatre tend to be more intricate and detailed as they are seen from closer, in a more intimate environment," says Greg Thames, who wears multiple hats of costume and set designer, technical director, stage manager, make-up designer, and director.
The theme, colour scheme, design and the look of the costumes have to critically blend with the overall production. "As a designer of costumes for theatre and film, I work closely with the production director to make sure the costumes fit in with their overall vision," says Quiendell Fereguson.
Costumes for theatre not only style the artist, but also seek to blend into the overall concept and the couturier needs to have the ability to merge the two.
"I also collaborate with the hair and make-up people to make sure these elements complement each other and a cohesive look is created," Fereguson adds.
Given these inherent intricacies, the process from conception to finish involves extensive research and proactive involvement with production process.
"At the beginning of any theatre or film project," Fereguson says, "I would research the costume styles, designs and construction methods which are appropriate for the production's time period.
"Styles, fabric and looks are different from decade to decade," she said, adding that one of her most memorable projects was designing complete costumes for the Jamaican production of the Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine work Into the Woods staged at the Ward Theatre in 2004-2005. Into the Woods takes the audience on a journey through some popular fairy tales such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Cinderella," she said.
Breaking it down
As a designer, Fereguson says, she reads the full script and breaks it down scene by scene. "This breakdown is necessary to work out how many characters are involved and what costumes are required. Different people wear different clothing and colours, depending on their personalities and the character they are playing."
The fashion wears out more apparel than the man, said William Shakespeare, which encapsulates one of the key concepts of theatre costumes.
"The theatrical costumes must be able to last for weeks and a large number of performances," says Thames.
"For the mass groups," he adds, "it tends to be for one event, and must be visually appealing as a large group."
Like any couture, genre is a critical and integral process, and therein also lies the challenge, Fereguson and Thames say.
"The main challenge for Jamaican theatre is getting the right fabric which appears authentic for the costume," informs Fereguson.
"There are always challenges," Thames states emphatically. "From getting the right materials, getting everything done on time, and getting enough funding."
Despite these roadblocks that pop up here and there, the spirit, creativity and the zeal of these designers is at the optimum.
"I love what I do. I truly do," says Thames, who designed and constructed the costumes for the Jamaica Junior Theatre production of The Lion King.
"The most rewarding aspect of my career in theatre has been the amazingly talented persons I have worked with over the years."