The Fabric of a Well-Fashioned Performance

Behind the Scenes of "Great Expectations" Costume Design

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Great Expectations behind the scenes

When a production is chosen to be part of BJU’s Concert, Opera & Drama Series, a long and collaborative process begins. Even before thinking about casting, the director must establish the look of the play. He or she will work alongside the production and costume designers to establish the aesthetic of the play.

Then the designers guide their teams to bring the director’s ideas to life. The costume design for Dickens’ Great Expectations followed the same pattern in the play’s return to the Rodeheaver Auditorium stage.

See Also: Setting an Unsinkable Stage

Dan Sandy, manager of the University’s costume, makeup and wig department, leads the team that builds each character’s look. While Sandy personally heads the makeup crew, he believes that the collaboration between the three departments helps the audience visually relate to a character.

All Noses Powdered

An actor’s physical transformation begins in the makeup department. This aspect of theatre has interested Sandy since high school. His teenage curiosity eventually evolved into a profession.

“When I came to Bob Jones in 1976 as a freshman, I volunteered for the makeup crew with Mrs. Marian Bopp who was running the department at the time,” says Sandy. “I’ve been doing makeup ever since then.” Managing the department since 1993, Sandy has been part of dozens of theatrical productions and films. But 16 years later, his enjoyment has not dimmed. “I really enjoy being able to help a performer establish and create a character visually,” says Sandy.

Through different makeup techniques, Sandy and his team can age, rejuvenate, darken and even impoverish a character. The makeup in Great Expectations helps visually divide the roles into different social strata and hint at their sanity and morality. For example, the people of Dickens’ London streets get “a dirtier look, a more lived-in or hard life look,” said Sandy, while the lawyers have a crisp and pristine appearance. Mrs. Joe’s abusive temperament is accompanied by a rough look and hints of rosacea done with skin texturing methods. Miss Havisham is painted in yellowish hues, following the script and giving her a frail but creepy look, which communicates “that things are not all in order and right,” Sandy said.

Details such as skin texturing, wrinkles and tooth enamel are designed in advance and tested during technical rehearsals. Sandy sits in during these rehearsals “so that if the actor is needing something a little different or a different edge than I thought was needed we could make that change and with their input add that to the visualization of their character,” he said.

Not a Hair Out of Place

The work done in the wig shop complements the makeup. Wig master Alicia Carr and her team of student workers prepare hairstyles and facial wigs months before every production. Carr was a cosmetology student at BJU and interned at the wig shop during her junior year. She now manages the shop and works with directors and designers to create the perfect coiffures.

Each individual wig is made from scratch and requires hours to weeks of work. Using wigs allows the team to give a personality to each character’s look while saving time on performance night. Once the hairpieces are done, they can be reused in future productions. But wigs must be researched before they can be created. Carr’s main source of information on each play is the script itself.

“Sometimes I’ll go through and read the entire script just to kind of get a really good look at where the characters are coming from,” says the wig master. As with the other departments, the collaboration with the director and designer, as well as with the actors, is crucial. “Sometimes the director has an idea already of what he wants,” says Carr. After the designer assigns a time period to the play, the wig shop team “pull (ideas) from hairstyles of the period combined with what we know about the characters.”

Hair might not be the most remarkable part of a performance to many in the audience. But subtle details can be introduced through specific hairstyles. In the Great Expectations design, Mrs. Joe’s hair, disheveled and frayed, communicates her hard work. Magwitch’s transition from a shaven convict to shepherd with a long mane shows the passage of time. Miss Havisham’s outdated hairdo also helps tell her story.

“She’s stuck in time,” says Carr. “She’s stuck back where her wedding was going to be so we tried to tap at it with her hairstyle.” Though people in the second row of the balcony may not notice these details, they can help the actors connect with their characters. Madison Arce, one of Carr’s student workers, believes that to the actors “once you get everything on it’s easier in a way to act. Because you’re already there, but it just takes it to the next level.”

Dressed to the Nines

Costumes tie everything together. Costume supervisor Kandice Busche has worked for the University’s costume department for the past two years. Busche started costuming back when her daughter joined the Civic Theater youth program in Indiana. Supporting her daughter gave her the chance to become the theater’s costume supervisor. Now she enjoys being part of the production team at BJU.

The costuming process begins with period research and consulting. “BJU has an in-house designer who assists with each production,” says Busche. The designer gives the costuming team individual sketches for each role and includes fabric samples. If the costumes have yet to be built, Becky Sandy, who has worked in the costuming department for over 20 years, creates digital patterns.

“It can take a week to a couple months to build a costume depending on the detail work involved in it,” says Busche. While revivals like Great Expectations may not require a lot of creation time, the costume team spends many thorough hours on alterations and rebuilding costumes. Busche enjoyed working on Great Expectations’ costume design because “it’s always fun to embellish costumes.”

A costumer’s work is not over once the garments are ready. From polishing the cast’s shoes to dressing them during rehearsals and performances to providing every actor with clean white shirts and garments to protect their ensemble—the costuming team keeps working. To Busche, the effort is worthwhile because “each costume makes a statement.” Through raggedy and dirty clothes, a young Pip is shown to be poor and disadvantaged, and a young Estella’s embellished dress tells her social status and personality. “The costumes tell the story along with the lines,” says Busche.

The detailed work of the makeup, hair and costume department, however, is useless without the performers. “The work that we do is supportive to actors,” says Sandy. “They actually bring the character to life. What the crew helps to do in a visual way is to relate that character to an audience so they can both see and hear and experience what is the actor’s total character transformation.”

Come see BJU’s Classic Players transform into Pip and company from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2.

Thank you to cinema production student Gabriela Gaduh for producing the Great Expectations costume design videos!

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