I’ve been talking up a storm about the show I’m currently costuming, Clybourne Park, because it has the cast and crew abuzz with intense conversation about it’s themes of gentrification and race and community and absolution.  We had our first preview last night and the audience was incredibly enthusiastic – tons of laughs and applause and chatter.
The award-winning show is a riff on A Raisin in the Sun, a story about a working class black family that is the first to move into a middle-class white neighborhood in the center of Chicago in the late 40’s to 1950’s.  Clybourne Park tells the same story from the perspective of the white family who are vacating the house that is being moved into.  The show then jumps forward to the present day where the same house is subject to a debate about whether a new set of property owners can tear it down to put up a modern new house.  This time, the racial roles are reversed.

Katherine Roth designed the costumes with quite different concepts for the first and second acts.  Act I, set around 1959, features costumes that very clearly delineate the character’s status and highlights their specific roles within society.  At a glance, one can tell who is paired with whom, who is of a higher or lower class, who is a minister and who is a housewife.  The characters’ dialogue takes on another level of meaning when you see the words coming from the mouths of these specific archetypes. When the curtain opens on Act II, very little is revealed very little about the character’s class or relationships.  It forces you to pay close attention to the words on stage to discover who is who in the situation.  In the end, the message is clear: even though class and racial struggles have been hidden behind a collective uniform of jeans and a t-shirt, there is still a real tension present in our society.
The San Francisco Chronicle has this to say about the show:

References to tropes and characters from the first act crop up in telling ways. The differences in attitudes and power dynamics, within as well as between the couples, add immediacy to the social satire. What becomes most striking, however, even as the laughter intensifies, is how much harder it’s become to talk about race. As Norris and these fine actors erase the comforting distance of time, “Clybourne” proves as unsettlingly immediate as it is exhilarating.

The show is very successful at highlighting the difference 50 years makes.  One of the most fascinating changes for me was the change in how we relate to pregnancy.  In the 1950’s, women still wore tight, boned girdles well into their third trimester.  Accordingly, the actress playing the pregnant Betsy in Act I is dressed in a tight skirt and girdle and has trouble sitting down and walking up steps.  In Act II, the pregnant Lindsey is clothed in yoga pants and a stretchy t-shirt that fully shows off her growing baby bump.  She moves around with remarkable ease!
Production photographs by Erik Tomasson
Update:
Go behind the scenes to see the dramatic set change from Act I to Act II!
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Camille and Takeshi’s City Hall wedding were featured on Wedding Nouveau in a two-part feature.  My DIY laser cutting designs were the special feature for part 2.
Some quotes:

Camille’s fabulous dress was custom made…that’s right, custom made by theatre costume designer and stylist – Jessica Hinel.  As a theatre artist myself, I deeply understand the value of a costume designer who can tailor a look that supports your body and character, 100%.  But when that level of finesse is brought to your wedding day, well consider yourself “Hooked Up.”

As mentioned earlier, I’ve been so enamored with Camille’s custom made dress, that I had to dig deeper into the vision behind the gown.  How do you go from concept to couture?

Turns out that the designer, Jessica Hinel, is an accomplished costume designer for the theatre and opera.  Fortunately for us, this collaborative maestro of the sewing machine, tailors to unique individuals as well as performers.  Her influence?  Haute couture designers like Issey Miyake to urban hipster life and street fashion.

Not only did she create everything about Camille’s dress, right down to the black floral patterns, she’s also provided instructions on how to laser cut your own design for your dress.

Mind you, there are many huge details left out, such as step 1A:If you’re not a professional, do a trial run first and step 9c: Make sure you’re a “bad ass” designer.  I, for one, don’t fall in the latter category.  To make things a little less daunting and a little more DIY, I did a little research to find solutions to the basic How Tos.  For example, converting to vector….WHAT? Come again?

There is a lot to consider when picking your pattern, but one thing’s certain:  You can be sure that no magazine editorial will claim ownership of your style.  Not to mention, the endless possibilities for linking it to cake designs and other reception details.

I’m grateful that their ceremony has been shared with so many others.  Cam and Tak are 2 of my favorite people and I was so glad to get to collaborate with Cam on a techy dress (appropriate for 2 doctors/scientists).  She didn’t tell him too much about it in advance, only that it was made with *lasers*!


]I was recently filmed working on a wedding dress at the A.C.T. Costume Shop for the TEDxSF conference. The piece was shown in the planetarium at the California Academy of Sciences as the event’s opening video, projected on giant screens.

From the film’s producer, Joelle Jaffe:

We’re putting together vivid beautiful images of inspiration, innovation, creation… etc. — people doing things they are passionate about as well as shots of incredible things in nature and iconic shots of SF, etc. The driving principles of TED revolve around technology, entertainment, design, science, business, global issues, philanthropy and the arts.

Look for me (briefly) at minute 0:21!

TEDxSF Opening Video from Alex Beckstead on Vimeo.


For those of you into DIY, I’ve started an Instructable on Camille and Takeshi’s wedding gown and vest that I designed with graphic patterns made with a laser cutter.  It’s mostly pictures at the moment, but most of you just want to see those anyway.  Contact me if you really do want to make your own and I’ll give you any and all advice that I have about the process.

Wedding photos by Alison Bank

Update:

My how-to is currently featured on the Instuctables homepage: http://www.instructables.com/


Remember that dress?  Finally, a full write-up of the whole lovely occasion! The great alternative wedding blog Offbeat Bride has featured Mary and Stephen’s wedding in the Santa Cruz forest twice now.  First, a teaser featuring the dress: http://offbeatbride.com/2009/06/jessica-hinel-dress

And now, the lovely bride, Mary, gives you all the details of what made this such a special weekend: http://offbeatbride.com/2010/04/santa-cruz-forest-wedding

Glad to have been part of the group of friends who put their love into celebrating these two.  And thank you, as always, for your wonderful and supportive comments on my work.  Definitely a great way to start the day.


I was in for a surprise, the other night, when our actors came onstage. Caucasian Chalk Circle director John Doyle warned me before the second preview that the cast might be a little “playful” with their clothes that night.  I sat in the back, confused and amused as one by one the actors walked onstage with an item or two of clothing that I’d never even seen before.  A beaded skirt became cropped jeans, heavy work boots became sneakers, and a gold dress gave way to stretch pants.  I thought they might wear each others’ hats or wear their coats backwards or something of that nature.  Never did I imagine that he’d given them the full creative liberty of dressing themselves that night!

Once I’d realized how much freedom the actors had been given, I was impressed by how little they decided to change.  We must have done a pretty good job finding clothes that worked within the world of the story we were telling.  The experiment was really informative and started some thoughtful conversations about the choices they made when left up to their own devices.  Some actors moved differently or were more comfortable in different items and I then worked to provide substitutes or find a better solution using the clothes we had originally provided.

It’s a great feeling to be a part of a production where such playfulness is encouraged and there is such a high level of trust amongst the entire cast and crew.  John trusted the cast to make decisions that were true to their characters (and trusted me not to freak out in the back row!) and the cast felt free to experiment without fear.

Production photographs by Kevin Berne

As a bit of a teaser before I do a full write-up of the gown and vest I made for Camille and Takeshi’s beautiful wedding at City Hall, I’m posting a few diptychs by their outstanding wedding photographer, Alison Bank.  Can you spot the laser-cutting?


© Alison Bank, http://firstcomesloveweddings.com

All-American

Recently opened at A.C.T. is the West Coast premiere of David Mamet’s November, a show set in the Oval Office.  Now, even President Obama has failed to push White House fashion much further than snappy ties with a conservative suit, so the show could have been a bore to costume. Despite this, costume designer Alex Jaeger and I still found ways to have some fun.

For the supporting characters, we transformed several core company members of A.C.T. who might normally be recognized from their regular appearances on stage. For example, we added a long wig and a colorful headdress of porcupine and deer hair to veteran Stephen Anthony Jones. He was transformed into Micmac Indian Chief Dwight Grackle, effectively boosting the climatic scene where he storms the Oval Office demanding repayment for crimes against his tribe.  The SF Examiner praised our image overhaul.

Appealing offbeat performances come from company stars unrecognizable in their roles. The usually glamorous René Augesen is the jet-lagged, head-cold-afflicted presidential speech writer (just back from adopting a baby in China and determined to marry her girlfriend), while matinee idol Manoel Felciano is the wimpy, balding National Turkey Association representative.

Aside from these grand gestures, some very detailed costuming is done to help the cast get into character. Some of these details are ones that the audience would never notice. For example, the representative for the National Federation of Turkey Manufacturers wears a hilarous lapel pin of a turkey flying across the American flag. And in Act III, the President dons cufflinks with a carefully reproduced impression of the Presidential Seal.


Production photos by Kevin Berne

Update:

It seems that President Charles P. Smith has higher approval ratings than we thought, because the show has been extended for another week until November 22nd.  So, you’ve got now plenty of time to check out the show.  In the meantime, get a few laughs from the show’s ad that I acted as stylist for.


Train

The San Francisco Chronicle just posted a gushing review about the 1st show of A.C.T.’s 2009-10 season, Noël Coward‘s Brief Encounter.  While this is the U.S. premiere of a show that was originally mounted in England by Kneehigh Theatre (so we in the A.C.T. Costume Shop only made small contributions), I hope that the quality of this show represents the beginning of a season of innovative and moving productions.

Here’s an excerpt from the review to persuade you further to go get tickets.  Right now! Before everyone else in town rushes to the box office!

Every so often a theater piece comes to town that is so brilliantly conceived and executed, so entertaining on every level, that you want everyone you love or even like just a bit to see it. Kneehigh Theatre’s “Brief Encounter,” the opening show in the American Conservatory Theater’s new season, is that kind of experience.

Anarchic humor deepens the pain of lost love, and iconoclasm reinvigorates nostalgia in director Emma Rice’s mashup of a classic David Lean film, the wit and melody of Noël Coward and a carnival of vaudeville.


Styling Stephen

20Aug09

handinhand

My focus when styling Stephen was to assemble a formalwear ensemble that matched his unique style. Stephen’s comfortable, casual outfits have almost become a uniform for him, over the years.  He is almost always out and about wearing cargo pants and hoodies in a palette of olives and browns. He wears soft, natural textures.

The challenge was to create a sharp, formal look out of these casual elements. Stephen would feel confined in a tux or sport coat, so I thought it would be best to stick to a vest and tie. I found this runway shot that inspired us to look for a mix of pieces in complementary textures and colors, but in brown tones.

I set out shopping and pretty quickly came across this taupe Ted Baker vest that seemed ideal for the occasion. It had some interesting elements that I thought Stephen would like such as the pairs of buttons and the contrasting fabric for the welt pockets and button flap. It also worked well for a vest worn as an outer layer because the back was not in a lining fabric, but the same wool as the front. Starting with this vest, I found coordinating pants, tie, and a shirt. Stephen made the outfit further his own by picking out some special striped socks and adding a scarf and fedora for the reception.