Welcome to another Featured Friday!
This week I am so excited to introduce Eirlys Wiggett! I met her at university and have always admired her costume designs and her incredible talent. ( I’ve already put in a request for her to design my red carpet dress one day! hehe )
Now without further ado , a guest post by Eirlys Wiggett. Hope you enjoy (:
Introducing Eirlys Wiggett
I stumbled across costume design by accident whilst studying my undergraduate degree in drama at the University of Hull (and this is where I met the lovely Jen). I went into first year hoping to learn how theatre was made to help me become a more understanding actor and was hoping to do an MA in acting after my undergraduate studies. Hull is an amazing place to learn about the backstage world of theatre. You’re given the opportunity to dip your toe into all the areas; costume, construction, lighting, stage management, scriptwriting, directing etc.
I spent first and second year working mainly as a costume assistant on shows in the department. This gave me a great opportunity to learn from fellow students with more experience but the same goals. And at the end of my second year I was able to design and supervise my first show; Pinocchio. Throughout my final year I completed a variety of shows as a designer and as a supervisor but there is one that has really stuck with me and ultimately helped me expand from the idea that costume is just dressing a character on stage.
This was basically a practical dissertation for my degree. Everyone pitches ideas and we end up working in groups and creating our own mini working theatre company. I had the opportunity to be the costume designer for this show (and also did a cheeky little bit of acting for it too).
Martin McDonagh is a playwright known for his dark comedy and Hangmen is no exception. Mostly it’s a show about murder, rape, grudges and revenge. But as an all female company working on a play set in the 1960s we noticed it is also a play that specifically deals with the ‘naivety’ of women and the ability men have to manipulate and use women to their advantage. With only two female characters in the play and a ridiculous amount of sexist jokes we faced a difficult decision. Did we acknowledge the fact that we were female characters playing the men? This was something we explored in all aspects of the show but as the costume designer I faced an age old question: how do you successfully dress an actor as the opposite sex?
The final design idea came from a long discussion with our supervisor. He made me discuss all my ideas in great detail to get to the root of what it was I really wanted to show. It was clear as women we felt uneasy about playing these sexist (and sometimes disgusting) male characters and after much research we wanted to acknowledge the fact we were women and make a feminist statement. Is it acceptable to make sexist jokes on stage simply because the play is set in a sexist period/the writer uses dark comedy? For us the answer was no! But how did we show our detailed research of this to an audience in just 45 minutes.
In the end the costume design was based on an old game. You used to be able to get these books with pop out models that came with clothes with these paper tags on the side that you could fold over to fit the model which meant you could change the outfit multiple times by attaching different clothes on top. Not sure if it’s just me that remembers them! But that’s what the costume was based off.
Underneath I wanted each actor to wear something they would wear in real life. Myself and the supervisor worked on pulling from the stocks together to find replicas of the actors everyday clothing. The actors were encouraged to do their makeup and hair as they wanted to go alongside their outfit. And then on top were these huge life size cutouts of my original sketches made to imitate the little paper game. The play was performed in thrust so there were moments when the audience could only see the male cut out, the back of the female actor, or a bit of both. The aim was that by seeing the real woman and the sexist character at the same time the audience would be encouraged to question why they felt like laughing at the dark misogynistic jokes.
For many people costume is viewed in quite a simple format. Often we don’t notice the decisions a designer has made because all we see is ‘clothes’. There are so many interesting and artistic layers to costume design and this happens in the TV and film industry too. Next time you’re watching a show think back to media/theatre/english lessons when the teacher asked why Curly’s Wife was wearing a red dress; what does it show about her character, what is the importance of the colour etc. When we start questioning little decisions like colour choice we can begin to notice bigger artistic decisions too.
It was noticing things like this, through the Hangmen project, that allowed me to shape myself as the designer I am now. I am currently studying an MA in Theatre Making where I have spent a lot of time looking into the academic world of theatre costumes. I have been studying the sustainability, process, architecture, space, body, materiality and movement of costume. I’ve also recently moved to Manchester (so if any of you creative people are around hit me up) and am hoping to begin my career in the industry as soon as the business takes off again. I truly believe the more I understand about costume, the more depth there will be in my practical outcomes.
Thank you to Eirlys for featuring on Double-j-Creative and sharing your amazing talent! Click on the button below to visit her website, or visit her instagram @eirlyswiggett.
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Until next time(: