Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog

Ghost-Writer Costumes
April 9, 2012, 1:21 pm
Filed under: Ghost-Writer, interview, Merrimack Repertory Theatre | Tags: , , ,


Recently we had the pleasure of interviewing MRT’s costume shop supervisor, Lee Viliesis, about the costumes in the upcoming production of Ghost-Writer. Check out some of the interesting things she shared with us:

A dress worn by Vivian Woolsey

This play is set November 1919, where do you begin researching costumes for this time period?

That’s an interesting story. The play actually starts in 1904 so Mrs. Woolsey has to exist in 1904, 1915 and 1919. Basically you start researching those years. It starts with photographs of people from the time period. If you’ve been in this business long enough you’ve amassed enough personal stuff from each period. You use what real garments you can get and build from there.

We ask actors: ‘can you move?’ which is funny because if it was true to period it wouldn’t matter. But on stage you have to run and jump. Theatre is about mixing reality with a sense of falsehood. When Vivian walks offstage in 1904 and comes back in 1911 you think time has passed, you don’t realize there has been a minute and a half quick change backstage.

How do you gage the class of the characters in working on their costumes?

Myra’s a worker. This is the day in age where women started to go to work. Being a secretary was a good job. Most women did Mill work, like they did here in Lowell because they had small hands and could do the work. Myra having a secretary job means she had the money to go to school to be a secretary putting her in the upper middle class. Vivian is obviously upper class. She’s the wife of an author and she can afford to dabble in poetry without actually finishing anything. She’s a society woman.

A coat and vest worn by Vivian Woolsey

Male dress would appear to most to shift more subtly from period to period; is there anything about Mr. Woolsey’s dress that an uneducated eye would miss?

It is a subtle thing, but men’s clothes have changed drastically since the beginning of time. Men’s coats went from tailcoats to the sack suit, which we would consider a standard suit. Clothes were custom made for every man, not taken off the rack like they are now. You had to go to someone who built clothes.

One difference between men and women’s clothing is that men’s clothes were built to make the man fit the suit, with padding and whatnot, while women’s clothes were built to fit the woman. Since both kinds of clothes were made by someone who custom made your clothes, everything is a little more fitted. The legs are more fitted; the lapels are a little higher. It’s hard to find a suit that looks like it came from 1904, but you can take one off the rack and build it up. We’re actually renting a suit from the Huntington. They have a much bigger shop and a better ability to build there. This one is built to look like a period suit; it’s heavier and scratchier. Everything then was larger, bulkier and more handcrafted.

A dress worn by Myra Babbage

Do the props influence the costume choices?

Actually I would say in this matter you are more likely to find the props more influenced by the costumes. This is a time period where women are corseted. While the typewriter isn’t affected, the chair is and the table is because of the way she has to sit and move. Chairs had to be higher because you can’t just flop into a chair and get out of it easily. Everything in history influences everything else. This is a time period where extremes like hoop skirts and bustles have gone away. This gives her a little more modern movement than period movement, but the actor’s mobility is still drastically changed.

There’s a joke about Vivian walking up four flights of stairs. If you’ve ever walked up four flights of stairs in a New York City brownstone…that’s a hike. For her to walk up four flights of stairs in all her clothes means she really wants him to come down them.


Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s