One of the plays I recently worked on was Ah, Wilderness! by Eugene O’Neill. I was the costume designer for the Northwestern College Theater Department’s production of it this fall. I’ve never been part of an O’Neill production before, but I’m glad it was this one. I hear it is his happiest/funniest/most light–hearted script. Like all of his plays, he includes a lot of overlapping themes: family, love, alcoholism, hope, teen rebellion, independence.
FACT: This was my very first ever historical costume design!
I don’t know how I’ve made it this long as a costumer without doing a historical costume design, but I have. I mean, I have been part of historical plays, but always with non-traditional design concepts and costumes. I’m hired for alot of avant-garde projects, or projects with descriptions that end with “with a twist!” I’m really good at blending themes and creating imaginitve worlds, so a straight up historical play with traditional, historical costumes just had never come my way. I’m happy to have this one in my portfolio, for sure. What kind of costumer doesn’t have any historical plays under their belt?
Miller family room
Ah, Wilderness! is set in 1906. I went into this design with a kinda/sorta/almost working knowledge of this time period. Which means, I did a lot of research. I loved all the old photographs I came across. My very favorites were Edward Linley Sambourne’s street fashion photos. (Sambourne did street fashion photography before street fashion photography was cool.) He snuck photographs of women while they were out and about. This is a little creepy, but now we have all these amazing images of Edwardian clothing showing what they wore day-to-day and how they moved in it versus what they wore for formal pictures as they posed stiffly. These photos are a treasure and they were really helpful for my research.
With the costumes, I really wanted to highlight how strong the ties of family were throughout this play. I used a tight color scheme of blues, blacks, whites, creams & greys to show the family. They looked great all together, but could still interact with the rest of the world as individuals.
Miller dining room
My favorite character in this play is probably Norah, the Miller family’s maid. She has a fairly minor role, but provides a lot of exasperation to the matron of the house and consequently, a lot of humor to the audience.
Norah, the Miller family’s maid
Some of the costume renderings of the family members I created were left uncolored. I did this because I knew my Miller color scheme and I needed a bit of flexibility since we were on a huge time crunch. This allowed my crew to move quickly to collect/alter/build pieces to assemble each outfit without the constraints of creating the EXACT garment in the EXACT shade portrayed. Normally, this isn’t how I design, but I think it was a successful choice for this show.
Norah, the Miller family maid