Section 5: Through Rehearsals
5.1 Devising Process
During the first two weeks of rehearsal, the director, Bruce Barton, had to teach the student actors the difference(s) between a devised and conventional process as well as the importance of collaboration for this type of creation. Most of these actors had either never been in a mainstage production or worked on a devised and unscripted piece before this project. Barton taught them about toolkits, and how crucial they are for creation. At the same time he emphasized the importance of considering the audience as active participants, and the different lenses through which we aimed to approach scenic elements. In order to accomplish this, Barton adopted the description of lenses that I developed with Pil Hansen (dramaturg and thesis supervisor). (See the section “Pre-Rehearsal Period” for more information.)
Barton decided that for this project, the actors’ interaction with the scenic elements should focus on the material, representational, and performative approaches. He developed his methodology in the Drama 460 Performance Creation class, after consulting with Sarah Banister (T.A for the class and his assistant director) and I. After the experience with 460, he further developed his method and presented a condensed version in this first workshop sessions for the actors of Conduct. To see the assignments developed by him click here.
The actors rehearsed six days per week and, after the introduction to devised theatre, they were divided into their rooms. One of these six rehearsals contained the full cast of actors and other performers (musicians and dancers) that participate in the second movement of the show.
The structure of the ten rooms forced us to rehearse differently than the usual. Because of our tight time-frame (approximately one month) we had to develop and rehearse several rooms simultaneously. Three rooms had to be created to accommodate this situation. The idea that Barton came up with, after many brainstorming sessions with the creative team and production manager (Andrew North), was that each room would contain a group of 8 audience members, last six minutes, and be repeated 9 times for different groups. All audience groups would travel to their next room at the same time.
Barton, Banister, and Danielle White (the stage manager for the show) divided the rehearsal schedule into 2 hours per 2-3 rooms. Therefore, we rehearsed 6 rooms per day. This rendered it impossible for one person to keep track of what the actors and other collaborators were doing in each room. In the rehearsal hall, we taped the footprint of the 10 spaces in order to start the rehearsal process. While Barton was in one ‘room’, Sarah rehearsed in another. When there were more than 2 ‘rooms’ rehearsing at the same time, other collaborators (Pil Hansen, Beth Kates, and/or I) would be working a room. Most of the time, I tried to watch the rehearsal process of the room that Barton considered more important to me.
Approximately halfway through the rehearsal process, I realized that I needed to be careful with my participation in the creation of the scenes. Considering the leadership the scenic elements provided pre rehearsal period and the impact we wanted them to have in the devising process, the scenic elements could easily become too directorial.
Thus, the extent to which each artistic collaborator could impact each other’s roles became clearer. We often contradicted each other when addressing the performers. Someone would give instructions and in the next rehearsal someone else would be rehearsing with that room and ask the actors to do the opposite, adding new ideas that suggested a different path for the room. At times, that supported the creation and the students’ learning experience within a complex creative processes by teaching them to navigate the divergent opinions collaborators can have about the same thing. By example, they learned to propose solutions of their own.
When Hansen attended rehearsals, I observed her method of engagement with the actors. At the beginning of the rehearsal period with each room, she told them what she knew about their work and asked them what Barton’s instructions to them were. After this initial conversation, the actors would start to rehearse. Instead of giving answers, she asked questions about what she saw. From the actors' answers, she offered multiple options and choices, leading to different directions for the creative process. Thus, instead of contradicting the suggestions made by previous collaborators and polarizing the options for a piece, she would highlight the many possible paths.
I decided to explore the combination of a designer/dramaturg. Rather than pointing out multiple directions, I saw it as my task to point out the different relationships they could have with the props, space, and audience members. I did so while avoiding to voice personal opinions and aesthetic preferences that did not work along the lines of what the creative team aimed for in the process.
5.2 Case Examples of the Rooms
Between 1905 and 1910 and as a child, Henry Cowell had to deal with the separation of his parents, an Earth Quake in his neighborhood in Chinatown San Francisco, his neurological disorder, and the experience of dragging himself home after being beaten up severely by boys in his school (Sachs 20). Cowell had a natural ability to memorize flowers names (21). These were the main points from Cowell’s life initially raised by Barton and Brown that I used to create a chart of possible scenic lenses and elements for the room (see the section “Pre-Rehearsal Period”). Later, Barton distributed a chapter from Joel Sachs’ book The Men made of Music as source material for the actor’s creation of this room.
Chart by Bianca Manuel, 2017.
The events described above gave me a clear idea of how to make the scenic elements perform the core of that moment in Cowell’s life. After researching this moment, I was struck by how all of his relationships and his environment were radically changed in a very short period of time: his physical body, family, and built space collapsed. The word ‘collapse’ affords an action that suggests more than a representation of a space, but rather what it may do (Baktir 107).
Beth Kates (projection designer) had suggested alternative materials for projections, one of which was sand. Thinking of her interest and extracting from the image bellow of the debris the earthquake left behind in Chinatown.
Chinatown 1906, San Francisco. Photo found on https://medium.com/@nkolakowski/earth-dragon-trembled-san-franciscos-chinatown-and-the-great-earthquake-of-1906-2f452c1088c2, October 21st 2017.
The idea was that at the same time as the actor would be selling flowers to the audience, the cork would start to drop. Through the nine repetitions of the performance presented each evening a massive amount of sand would gradually accumulate, offering every audience group a slightly different experience of the process. When the world around Cowell changed in each performance, Cowell’s physical body would start to collapse. The drop of the body and the sand would become both performative and representational of that moment in Cowell’s life, rather than illustrative of his original historical and geographical context.
The production team had turned down an earlier request for sand on stage. They considered it too messy and impossible to be cleaned. As nothing was mentioned about the use of cork, the idea of using cork to represent sand and dust instead of the real materials seemed like a good solution with projection benefits. Unfortunately, the sand-drop we created also ended up being considered unrealistic by the production team, because of its price and the safety hazard it might cause (spectators could be harmed by the cork when it dropped from the grid above). There were, furthermore, technical issues associated with cork because it was deemed too heavy for the grid, which already had to support the curtains for all the rooms. Finally, we did thus let go of the idea of the drop, and worked with a permanent pile or cork, that would change in shape as it was handled by the actor over the duration of each evening.
The fact that the audience would spend half of the show on stage made the Production Team worry from the outset of the project. Conversations about procedures to make the audience safe increased in frequency throughout the process and we were always reminded to address safety concerns. The artistic team’s interest in an agency of the scenic elements that located the performers’ interaction with space and objects outside the representative approaches was a significant challenge for the production team.
During a brainstorming session around the charts with the artistic team (see the section “Pre-Rehearsal Period”) we were all intrigued by how Cowell was selling flowers during the period of his life that room 2 was based on. With reference to images I brought to the discussion, we envisioned a flower arch that the audience would have to move through. I suggested that the flowers should be half real and half artificial, so that part of them would decay throughout the run of the show. This decay was intended to foreshadow and symbolize the collapse of his sexual blooming and creative exploration later in his life.
Historically, post-modern scenography and shifts in creators’ approaches to scripts led to discussions about materiality and representation in scenic design (Aronson 149). By far preceding this development, Adolphe Appia and Edward Gordon Graig were instrumental in advancing the 1880’s scenography to bypassing the conventional two-dimensional backdrop paintings that used to give the audience the illusion of a space described in a script. In 1888 Andre Antoine marked the end of illusionism when using real rotting meat on stage in his production The Butchers to provoke the different narratives that the use of real instead of representative materials could generate on stage (Banes 354). Today, centuries later, popular theatre forms and the postdramatic theatre have shifted many aspects of theatrical praxis, such as audience placement in theatrical settings. It has given rise to innovative scenographic approaches that also have affected the relevance of physical objects on stage. When I decided that the use of artificial flowers should not only be the materiality of the flower but also a symbolic representation of it, it was with awareness of the labour of artists through history that has made such advances possible.
I attempted to use real materials on stage to produce greater material responses, such as the decay of the flowers. Once again, Andrew North (production manager) attempted to discourage Barton and I from proceeding with the flowers with reference to the potential allergies of audience and crew, but he did not initially veto it from the production. North wanted to make the designs possible, but this production already presented many more changes and unknown components than the school is used to. Approximately one week prior to the opening of the show, White mentioned she has a serious allergy to flowers, potentially affecting her ability to call the show. Thus, if we were to proceed with the real flowers, the production risked provoking an allergic reaction and losing its stage manager mid-run. The Production Team decided that in order to test whether or not she would reaction, she needed to help with the physical construction of the flowers strings. White thus had direct contact with the flowers in a way that would not have happen when calling the show cues from the grid; and she did, predictably, experience an allergic reaction. We therefore had to work with plastic flowers.
As a designer intending to work with real materials on stage, this experience provided me with a useful learning experience. Next time I attempt to use real and performative materials on stage, I will ask all of the artists and crew involved about allergies or other medical conditions in advance.
Ground plan by Bianca Manuel as of December 15th, 2017.
Flower arch technical drawing by Bianca Manuel, 2018.
Artistic collage presented to the collaborators. Collage by Bianca Manuel, 2017.
Because of the production schedule, Lauren Brady (the actor in the flower room) did not have the flower arch and cork as materials for her creative process until the last week before the show opened. In order to support her work, we had to find other materials to support her process. Working on the idea of selling flowers to the audience, she came up with a list of scientific flower names and descriptions to give to audience members. Hansen was interested in the traces that each room could leave with the audience members. Taking off from this suggestion, Barton proposed that audience members could receive feminine pink clothing pieces in the room. Discouraged by the Head of the Wardrobe and the Production Manager, due to the logistic issues the idea could present, we decided to instead offer spectators flowers. Because of the absence of them in one rehearsal period, Brady started playing with giving ribbons (used in room 6 “Catch”) to the audience members. While watching her do that, I suggested that she try to tie them in flower shapes and name the flowers. Barton, then, suggested that she would look at the audience members when they enter the room to determine which flower they each resembled, give them the name as a present, and then attach the ribbons to their wrists.
Suggestions made by the Head of Properties, to avoid that the audience strangles themselves in the flower arch. Photos by Bianca Manuel, 2018.
Real flowers cut because of Stage Managers’ allergies mentioned previously. Photo by Bianca Manuel, 2018.
In 1940 Henry Cowell was released from prison into the custody of his colleague Percy Grainger (Sachs 358). Cowell changed after prison. Brown described that although Cowell became more productive as a composer, his works became rather conventional during and after prison.
The intriguing part of this period of Cowell’s life was that he moved to Grainger’s house, which barely mimicked a standard lifestyle at surface level. Grainger had odd, private, sexual habits and he kept his sadomasochistic praxis documented. The material was so condemning that he only allowed his Private Matters to be made publicly available well after his death.
Grainger’s book private matters, image found on http://recollections.nma.gov.au/issues/vol_2_no2/papers/i_am_hungry_for_fame_after_death on October 30th, 2017.
Initial chart by Bianca Manuel, 2017.
To invite the artistic collaborators to use these charts, I organized and filled some of the fields with reference to previous meetings and exchanges. As stated by Joslin McKinney in her article “Scenographic materialism, affordance and extended cognition”, affordances are not merely related to the utilitarian invitation of an object, instead they are the reciprocity of ‘agent and world’. These are the offers apparent in the way that the perceiving body detects changes in the environment (81). With this statement McKinney further develops the concept of affordances of James Jerome Gibson and Teemu Paavolainen. Aiming for the reciprocity described by McKinney, I took what was at the core of a moment from Cowell’s life and elaborated on what it could do to the scenography with attention to how it might constrain and affect the perceiving body of the participants – that is, performers and audience members (85).
In the case of Room 7, “Release”, we were all intrigued by the contradictions of Cowell being released in the custody of Grainger to ensure he would not reoffend given that Grainger was hiding sexual habits that were unaccepted at the time. Previously, Barton had shared that he wanted this room to be a naturalistic living room. After brainstorming with Hansen, I proposed that under the common living room surface the space would reveal private matters and secrets for the audience members to explore.
Initially, we considered that the discovered objects might be sadomasochistic tools. However, to effectively hide and reveal tools, we needed a bigger room than our floorplan made possible. This limitation led us to consider miniatures that could generate the same effect.
Ground plan by Bianca Manuel, as of December 15th, 2017.
For budgetary reasons the room sizes had to be smaller than we first imagined. In the case of room 7, this meant that the audience members had insufficient space for movement. Thus, we first decided that they would be seated and served tea in cups with tiny sadomasochistic tools. Although that was a great idea, we had to change it to make it work within our budget and to solve the logistic problem of how these objects would be cleaned. Instead, we came up with the idea of erotic stickers to be attached to the bottom of the teacup.
1 of 8 vintage sadomasochistic images attached to the tea cups.Photo found on https://www.ebay.ie/itm/French-TWO-Exceptional-OSTRA-Studio-FETISH-Tableaux-Mistress-1920s-PARIS-Latest-/121813462686 , January 20th, 2018.
Sticker on the tea cup. Photo by Bianca Manuel, 2018.
Chosen fabrics. Photo by Bianca Manuel, 2018.
Research of fabrics for Grainger’s towel outfit. Grainger’s towel outfits were inspired by Maori patterns, I decided instead to invest in more geometrical patterns to avoid cultural misappropriation. Photos by Bianca Manuel, 2018.
Building on the cognitive suggestion of the initial chart for this room, the actors started to work with real physical constraints of hiding and being cloistered. Thus, the actor performing Cowell (Jaden Sullivan) was hiding from the audience members, who were guests at a tea party welcoming him back to society, while Grainger (Rylan Strachan) talked to the audience members, making them uncomfortable while touching them or sitting very close to them.
Sullivan devised a journey of hiding under the sofas, and surprised the audience members with interactions (knocking under the sofa, passing them teacups from below their seat, dropping handcuffs and whips). He also had the cognitive and performative task to hide in the cloistered spaces under all the sofas until the end of each scene repetition.
During the rehearsal process, both actors, Sullivan and Strachan, were able to use the initial frame proposed in the charts and add their own visions of their scene. The text spoken by Strachan was generated through experimentation and edited by Barton. In other words, the initial suggestion for the scenography generated lenses and pointers for their creation which, in turn, produced dramaturgical relevance. Developing the scene on the actual physical elements with the chart, allowed them to discover how the affordances of the environment invited them to create (McKinney 81).
Henry Cowell’s costuming evolved with the set design, as it was related to each room Cowell appeared in. The final ground plan design determined that the events selected by Jeremy Brown (music director) for room 2-10 would be organized in a chronological order. Thus, Barton, Banister, and I decided in a brainstorming meeting that we would apply color psychology and theory to Cowell’s costumes. Our thoughts were organized by Lisa Roberts (head of the wardrobe) as: the youngest and naive Cowell would be lighter, bolder, and brighter while the oldest Cowell would be darker.
I decided that the actors performing Cowell would be wearing orange colors, while the other characters would be in grey and blue tones. This choice was meant to make Cowell seem out of place in the world created, just like he did not fit into societal expectations in his life. The color pallet of the set was grey, neutral, and easy to match anything to. Both oranges and blues fit the set design pallet. At that time, we did not consider that blue is the complementary color of orange, and thus the result of the costumes ended up being different from the dramaturgical intention. Because blue and orange complement each other, Cowell remained distinguishable, but did fit the world. The colour pallet of costumes and set made the design aesthetically coherent and pleasant (Albers).
The budget did not allow for all of the costumes to be created, so they had to be pulled from Drama’s storage or bought from second-hand stores. The limited selection these options provided meant that Cowell’s costumes had to become shades of browns, oranges, and creams. As for the other characters and performers, the color pallet remained the intended blues and greys.
Barton, Banister, and I had several meetings to decide on how to approach the actors’ personal element in the participatory design. Barton wanted this element to be subtle and small. He also suggested that we find a strategic way to avoid making the personal elements too preciously attached to the actors’ own memory in order to ensure that the actors remained connected to their respective personalities in the work.
Regarding the matter of clothing and memory, Maiko Yamamoto explores in her article "Undressing" a devised creation by Theatre Replacement that is based on donated clothes. The use of clothing in this piece motivate their creation, and they integrate into their work with costumes a series of stories that was either provided by the donors of the clothes or sourced in the performers’ own personal memory. Just as they “try on people’s clothes, they try on people’s stories” (42).
Johanna, who had donated clothing to the piece, was asked about her reaction to watching her personal memory performed by the company in front of an audience. She said that you “find out as much about the memory itself as about the person who is telling it and their attitude towards the story” (42).
Applying the reflections from Yamamoto to Conduct made me think that the personal items brought by the actors would have relational stories behind them, connections to memories. If these elements provided pieces of the actors’ personal stories, it might give them more agency regarding their costume design. The intention with the personal elements was to remind these actors during rehearsal and performance of the fact that they were as much personalities as they were themselves in a presentational state.
This mixture of personality and self reminded me of the scholarly research of Amabilis de Jesus, who discusses the role of costume throughout history in her PhD dissertation "Figurino-Penetrante: um estudo sobre a desestabilização das hierarquias da cena" (Penetrative-costume: a Study on Destabilization of the Scene’s Hierarchies).
Jesus problematizes the role of costume in a piece and discusses how it relates to the performing body. She establishes through a historical analysis that the conventional costume is based on semiotic signs to visually inform a character and denominates a figurino-involucro (costume-shell). In Greek theatre, for example, the main costume piece was the mask. The clothing was used to make the figure of the mask verisimilar, to provide proportion to an audience watching the piece from distance (30). She states that in that period, “the habit makes the monk”, (the costume makes the character) (30). Drawing on Roland Barthes, Jesus states that the mask in Greek theatre did not only hide, it exhibited.
A question is established: the persona (invisible) manifests itself on the mask (visible), instead of on the performing-body (that is hidden by the costume). The body is a vehicle, a kind of channel, or ‘mask-characterization’ support. That is, the body of the persona is an extra body, "outside" of the performing-body (…) However, Jean Chevalier emphasizes that the theatrical mask, derived from the sacred dances, is a modality of the universal Self, serving as protection of the personality of its bearer, being that the Self is immutable and is not affected by contingent modifications. The notes of Girard and Ouellet make sense the moment they reveal the distance between the characterization made by the mask, willing to separate the body of the actor from the body of the character, and the characterization made by the costume, glued to the body of the actor, and, moreover, making no distinction between performing and character body, it is not a matter of between bodies, but rather it is a matter of between the Selfs. (30)
The author then highlights the uses of costume in Constantin Stanislavski’s practices. Although it did not include masks, it did not differ as much from the Greek theatre as one could imagine: “The use of costume is still the one of composing a body that is not of the actor. It is composing an extra body” (31). The actor would look for ways of embodying the characteristics of the costume described in the text. For example, when working on how a moldy coattail informed a body a Stanislavski trained actor searched for symbolic or semantic meaning to imagine a character instead of exploring the costume’s materiality or cognitive constraints. Although the costuming approaches during that period separated the performing-self from the character-self, the acting method at that time did inquire and approach subjectivities that connected these selves, such as ‘emotional memory’, ‘subconscious’, and ‘I am…’ (31). All of these methods are described in Stanislavsky’s book An Actor Prepares. During naturalism, the “habit also makes the monk” (33).
Jesus moves away from masks and figurino-involucro (costume-shell), elaborating on costuming as a tool to unite the character’s body/self and the actor’s body/self, and from their relationships and responses constitute a persona who is present in that encounter, between body, self, and costume. For example, her case-study is a costume piece supervised by her, performed by Leo Fressato, Débora Vecchi and Elenize Dezgeninski, that was part of the Extreme Costume Exhibition in the Prague Quadrennial of 2011. The costume was “made of ice – a material that necessarily melts in proximity to the body warmth’s – it played with the notions of ephemerality vs. eternality” (Prihodova 82). The garment contained an ice bra and a 10cm high clog. The piece’s subject matter was dramaturgically affected by the performers’ constant interaction with the material of the costume. It became about sexual violence, and the costume was performative as it was penetrating, hurting, and burning the performing-bodies (Silva 153). There, another notion and concept of costume is established. This costume, named figurino-penetrante (penetrative-costume) by the author, penetrates the performing body while constraining their movements and ability to control and rationalize relationships.
Amabilis de Jesus’ works reflects the principles of critical-costume although she does not reference it directly. This concept derived from a network of costume designers attempting to enhance scholarly costume research beyond examining visual meaning. As defined by Rachel Hann and Sidsel Bech; costume is critical and “means of critically interrogating the body” (3). and Dorita Hannah further develops; “it is high time we do speak of how design elements not only actively extend the performing body, but also perform without and in spite of the human body” (Hannah and Mehzoud 103). The newly combined terms proposed by Jesus; such as costume-shell, costume-penetrative, and freezing-costume (figurino-involucro, figurino-penetrativo e figurino-penetrante) highlight to the reader how the role of costume was changed in the making of a piece. Indeed, these terms invite the reader to change their conception of and expectations regarding costumes accordingly. An invitation is also extended to question the body in ways that character representation does not engender.
With this perspective in mind, I started to reflect on the impact the costumes of Conduct would have in the performance. They were not meant to represent a character through naturalistic integration of costume and actor, but instead help generate a personality from the common point between the actors and Cowell. The costumes were also meant as a potential comment, voicing each actor’s opinion on his emblematic figure. The costumes should be connecting Cowell’s body (representational costume), the actors’ bodies, and relational memories triggered (their personal element) while maintaining a productive difference between these layers.
The framework I offered the actors to help them pick these personal elements was inspired by Tim Etchell’s chapter "On Performance Writing" of the book Certain Fragments: Texts and Writings on Performance, in which he performatively demonstrates his approach to found text in the context of devising:
1. A text to be whispered by the bedside of a sleeping child.
2. A text to be willed aloud by a single performer in a car park at dawn.
3. A text to be left on the ansaphones of strangers.
4. A text to be spoked while fucking secretly a partner of a good friend.
5. A text for a megaphone.
6. A text that could be used as a wapon. (98)
Etchell’s chapter is not only referring to written texts as script and dramaturgy, but rather as language –found, broken, used out of context—that can become a tool in creation. Instead of giving his actors texts, Echells gives them procedures and invitations to collaborate. He does not give them ‘what to say’, rather Etchells gives his actors ‘how to say’. He states; “for me writing was so often about collecting, sifting, and using from bits of other people’s stuff – copied language like precious stones” (101). With that in mind, I proposed to Barton the following list of instructions to help the actors select their personal element:
Cage: something to wear being sarcastic towards an audience.
Cowell: something you have from your childhood, or what would you would wear if you had a drag persona as a child, or what would you take from your wardrobe if you had to evacuate your home.
Cowell: something that is extraordinary from your wardrobe.
Sidney: something that is exceptional to you in your wardrobe
Cowell: what would you take with you on a long walk?
Varian: what would you wear if you were crating your own cult? Room 5:
Cowell: do you have something it took you time to find?
Theremin: what would you wear to invent something new?
Cowell: if you hid a small item from your wardrobe in your prison cell, what would it be?
Graham: what would you wear if you were visiting a friend in prison?
Cowell: what would you wear on your first day out of prison?
Or do you own something that makes you feel clustered?
Grainger: what is best to hide things in?
Or what do you own in your wardrobe that you hide?
Cowell: a small item to take when traveling abroad.
Cowell: what do you have in your pockets? What do you wish you had in your pockets?
Cowell: something you own and wear that is not yours.
Sidney: What item makes you remember something you forgot?
Barton considered the list too limiting for the actors, and thought we should let them bring their personal elements without any framework. The process went on and we postponed the final decision of how to approach this method of costuming. The costume shop did not allow us to rehearse with the real costumes, because they might be harmed and add labor time to the shop. This material condition demotivated us and strengthened Barton’s concerns as the actors might become too attached to their personal elements if they were the only material costume pieces they had worked with in rehearsal. Thus, we did unfortunately never have the chance to implement this important idea.
When I, nevertheless, continue to reflect on this method of co-costuming with performers it is for the purpose of implementation in future projects. Looking back at my list, there was a form of engagement with memory that might be interesting for the performers, but it also might be too rational and thus block their creativity. The sentences I wrote resembled a Stanislavskian approach to costumes: my questions about what the actors would wear had some similarity to Stanislavski’s ‘what if’ approach to the construction of a character (Sawoski 13). If I would re-do it again, I would change any verbs that imply thinking and imagining to actual verbs that could inform an action to be realized by or with the costume Thus, suggesting to performers how to choose their personal item, rather than what to choose:
Cage: a sarcastic item of clothing.
Cowell: an item from your childhood, or a gendered piece of clothing reflecting the opposite gender of what you were assigned at birth, or take the most important item of clothing you own (do so quickly and just before leaving your house).
Cowell: an extraordinary piece of clothing. Sidney: an exceptional piece of clothing.
Cowell: an item for a long walk.
Varian: an item for believing.
Cowell: a found item of clothing.
Theremin: invent an item of clothing.
Cowell: hide a precious piece of clothing on your room (scenery).
Graham: a clothing to visit someone in prison.
Room 7: Cowell: a tight or cluster piece of clothing.
Grainger: an item of clothing that hides things in it.
Cowell: a small item that traveled abroad.
Cowell: a silent item of clothing.
Cowell: an item of clothing that is not yours.
Sidney: an item of clothing to remember someone.
Without the personal elements, there was a real risk that the costumes would be perceived by the audience as merely illustrative of these historical figures. Barton’s aesthetic preference was for subtlety, thus I decided that for the costumes not to be merely representative I would add subtle details that produce dissonance. I wanted something that made the audience think “did I miss this?” thus, making them reflect on the costumes and question the personality experienced. I went through all the accessories from the costume shop to find something that there would be multiple of to give to all the Henry Cowells. I found that the shop had multiple clip-on flower earrings and flower brooches. Both were a reference to Henry Cowell’s childhood. He was selling wild flowers when he was a kid to help his mom pay for their food. While he was selling plants, he met the educational psychologist Lewis Theremin who was impressed by Cowell’s knowledge of botany. Then, he was recruited by Theremin to be part of his studies and considered ‘gifted’. Cowell also had a drag persona as a child and his mom allowed him to dress-up in women’s clothing, he was always performing to his neighbors and considered an attraction in his neighborhood. (Sachs 20)
Elaborating on this element of Cowell’s personality, and buoyed by the fortunate accident of the stock of flower accessories in the Costume Shop, I pulled a flower brooch and earrings for each of the Cowells. To assign these accessories, I returned to the principle of colour shades used for the selection of clothes: the youngest would wear bolder and bigger accessories and the older Cowell was assigned smaller items. In addition to the childhood references, the earrings were a tactic to comment on the aspect of Cowell’s life I found more interesting; namely his sexuality. This aspect was otherwise not explicitly showed, discussed or problematized in the rooms. After a late rehearsal, Barton and I went to the costume shop, I had to show him the fabrics I had choose for Percy Grainger’s costumes. At that moment, I also showed him the brooches and earrings and he loved them and told me to look for more subtle details/comments for the other characters. We were only able to see the full finalized costumes with the brooches and earrings at the first dress rehearsal. Barton liked the brooches, but had some concerns about the earrings. To him they stood out, attracted attention, and worked against his aesthetic preference for subtle choices. He was even concerned that they might overdetermine the audience’s interpretation. In Conduct, ten performers were cast as Henry Cowell, half of them were women. No male actor was performing a female role. During the process of pulling costumes, I became aware of how clothes is gendered and can gender. Since we were not trying to enact the character of Cowell and it was not the focus to hide the actors’ gender, I understood that we could pull jackets, suits and shirts based on each performer’s gender identity. Before making that decision, I had a meeting to discuss it with Bruce Barton, where he told me that women’s clothing might make the actresses look stylish, something that would not fit the piece. During that conversation, I did not inquire about his definition of ‘stylish’. This was a significant mistake as in that moment it stopped me from continuing to develop my work on gender in costume and performance. I became more aware of the costuming culture at the Division of Drama, perhaps in the Calgarian theatre scene, possibly even beyond Calgary. Seeing women dressed in men’s clothing nowadays is common, thus also becoming more verisimilar and acceptable in theatre, whereas men using a small women’s accessories can change the whole aesthetics of the piece to a ‘drag show’. This reminds me of what has been mentioned earlier in this section; “how design elements not only actively extend the performing body, but also perform without and in spite of the human body” (Hannah and Mehzoud 103). In this case, the design element of the earing did not perform without or in spite of the human body, but it did perform on the body, adding a layer of dissonant discourse to the costumes. I interpreted Bruce’s response to the earrings as an example of ‘the conflict of the drag-show’ described above. On the one hand, this conflict can seem paradoxical, particularly when reflecting on it through costume history: men commonly cross-dressed as women in Elizabethan theatre because the moral standards of that society prohibited women from performing on stage. On the other hand, the conflict might show how masculinity and femininity evolved: as woman gained professional territory in the patriarchal system, perceived threats to heteronormative male dominance and image shifted. Judith Butler elaborates in Bodies that Matter: on the discursive limits of sex on how bodies are constructed (x). Mark Edward suggests that “the practice of drag offers means of queering the conventional notion of costume to expose how gender is performed, and reperformed, through the practice of dressing.” (Hann and Bench 7). The ‘drag’ aspect was not a choice that I made consciously when choosing the earrings to comment on the assumption of gender and sexuality (the actors’ and Cowell’s) in Conduct. Rather, it was a position taken to create a dissonance for the audience and performers. But again, design elements can perform discourses on the performing body. Barton did, initially, not accept my choice of earrings and thought they were introduced too late in the process. After the first dress rehearsal, he asked for time to think about the earrings. After more conversations, we decided to keep only one earing for the right ear of all the Cowells, allowing the audience to see it in some moments, and not in others depending on the performer’s movement. This decision made space for my artistic input as costume designer alongside Barton’s aesthetic preferences for the show as director. It further developed, and perhaps even shifted, my initial intention regarding elements of disruption in the costume. The question about Cowell’s sexuality and gender identity was raised. The discomfort for an audience member in seeing an earring on a male-identified actor revealed the inherent duality of this emblematic figure. Therefore, perhaps disrupting the recognition of a naturalistic character for the audience and inviting them to reflect for a moment.