Sunday, May 2, 2010

What's a Kafka?

Back in the fall of 2008, I took my first directing class. I had been an assistant director for a couple of shows (Into the Woods, He Grips the Heel, some random church sketches) but now I got to do it all on my lonesome. And then I realized I loved it. Awesome sauce. Too bad it's so hard to make a living as a theater director...

In any case, for my final I had to direct a one-act play for Shorts!, which was actually going to be a mainstage production for December rather than a class workshop. Out of the handful of approved scripts, I chose Words, Words, Words by David Ives. You know the theory that if you leave a monkey alone with a typewriter, odds of probability dictate that they'll eventually type out Hamlet? That's the basis for the play. Three monkeys- Milton, Swift, and Kafka- have been sitting in a laboratory with typewriters for years, trying to figure out whether or not they're typing Hamlet. Hilarity ensues.

I've assisted with casting plenty of times, and was really particular when I cast my production. I knew going into it that I wanted Caleb to play Swift, the angry monkey. (Although, unlike other directors who blatantly play favorites, I kept this to myself and listened to auditions with an open mind. It just turned out that Caleb had the best reading after all.) Caroline played Kafka, the adorably confused girl monkey, and Bliss played Milton. Originally he played the character very sarcastic, very biting, but it was too close to Swift's personality. We talked it over and decided to try playing Milton as a fanboy and huge suckup to the scientists, particularly Dr. David Rosenbaum, and it was perfect. And we also had a Dr. Rosenbaum (played by Nick) even though he is only mentioned in the script and never seen. It was an absolutely fabulous cast and I was lucky to have them.

Also, the set had a real tire swing.

In any case, I had a microscopic budget for costumes. So when I designed them, I knew they had to be cheap. I also didn't want to put them in monkey suits. That would be creepy.

So my costume plot began with what performing monkeys in old-timey circuses would wear. I decided on knickers, bow ties, and suspenders for the boys, and a little-girl dress for Kafka. We had about fifteen minutes to shop before we had to be back for run-through rehearsal, so with no further ado we all loaded into Caleb's car, drove to Goodwill, and ran.

I told the boys to find corduroy pants in a muted color, while Caroline and I searched through dresses. We grabbed what we could get, paid for it, and got back on campus in time for rehearsal. We had a quick fitting afterwards, and then I had to take them home and work some magic.

Converting the boys' pants to knickers were easy. I marked them off with pins at their knees, cut, and hemmed them. Simple enough. Later, I had each of them pick out a shirt and bow tie from the department. I added red suspenders (the angry color) for Caleb and an embroidered vest for Bliss, and that was that.

Caroline's costume was a little harder. We ended up finding the perfect pieces for her, though. We found an orange and gold salwar kameez- a loose dress with long bloused sleeves and long loose pants, typically worn by Indian women. The dress was the right length, but far too loose on her. I sewed long darts on the front and back- two on each side- in order to fit the dress without taking it in on the sides. I also cut the sleeves to a shorter length and added elastic, turning them into puffs. I also removed the shoulder pads, because really, are those necessary?

For the pants, I cut them off at her knees and made elasticized cuffs, effectively turning them into bloomers. I used the remains of a pants leg to make a hairbow that I slid onto a narrow headband.

The final result?

Dr. David Rosenbaum is only mentioned in the script, but we had a real one. He was actually the assistant stage manager, so he just threw a white labcoat on over his black clothes and put on a pair of goggles. He stood in the balcony with a spot on him, observing the monkeys throughout the play, and tossed the reward of a cigarette to Milton at one point.

Nick got into character really well. Words, Words, Words was the first one-act after intermission, so he spent intermission in costume with a notebook in hand, wandering through the audience and taking notes. I think I still have the book somewhere...

Gettin' some love from my cast (minus Rosenbaum, who was probably up in the flies taking down lights at the time.)

(Also, I used to be blonde.)

(No, I don't know how we managed to color coordinate.)

And just to show what I had to work with in the beginning:

Monkey Costumes (before alterations)

That was a good show.
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