delanceyplace.com 1/17/08 - costume and set design

In today's encore excerpt - Susan Hilferty, award-winning costume designer, whose credits include Into the Woods, Wicked, Hamlet and many others writes about her profession and work on specific plays. Hilferty also chairs the Department of Design for Stage/Film at New York University:

"Translating thought into design is the hard part. If we make the decision that this is a world where Hamlet has a sense of paranoia, but there's real tension in the court caused by everybody being nervous about losing their head or job, I could start to use that. I probably wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm going to make it like Hitler's Germany. I wouldn't necessarily use that as a specific reference, but I would start weighing up the qualities of different cultures and places that give me access to that kind of paranoia. Stalin is another example. ...

"[Y]ou have to ... understand real history so that you can identify what you would do in 1776. Then, the [next] part is to take all that information and abstract it so that it's not a specific time or place. You have to have the skill to extract a design idea. Designers have to know about history and its relationship to the world, whether it's about the sciences war or politics; we have to know about literature, because almost every great play references other great plays. ... I have to deal with an actor who has problem feet and a bad stomach, and insecurities about weight and baldness, but then I'm the one who has to take that actor through the transformation to become somebody else. Actors have to trust that I will not make them look bad. At the same time I have to be confident enough in my choices that I can take them to the place they need to be. It's the greatest compliment when they are finally dressed and say, 'Now I know who I am.' ...

''I believe every designer has to think holistically. ... If I put somebody in black in a white space, that's one thing; if I put somebody in black in a black space, that's a completely different thing; if I put them in candlelight, that's something else. ...

"Sometimes you can do something huge with a character. Take Wicked, because it's simple storytelling without a lot of loops in the story. I've got one character who is a kind of ditzy, sweet woman, and by the end she's a power-hungry killer. I used pictures of Queen Elizabeth I,, moving her from this innocent woman to somebody who's got her hair scraped back structured and powerful. Sometimes, you get to tell the story that way."


author:

Babak Ebrahimian

title:

Sculpting Space in the Theater: Conversations With the Top Set, Light And

publisher:

Focal Press an imprint of Elsevier

date:

Copyright RotoVision SA 2006

pages:

59-63

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