By Corinne Florentino
Costume designers Kelsey Nichols and Linda Pisano found time to discuss their experiences working on the IU Summer Theatre repertory shows, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Sense and Sensibility, respectively. Nichols, a recent graduate of IU Theatre’s MFA program in costume design is no novice to designing for the IU Theatre stage. Last season, we saw her innovative designs for Mr. Burns, a post-electric play and Macbeth. Linda Pisano heads the M.F.A in Costume Design program at IU and teaches both undergraduate and graduate students. Pisano also designs for opera, ballet, and theatre at IU and for other professional theaters across the country and abroad.
Each year, IU Summer Theatre performs two plays in repertory. “It is kind of fun to work with the actors in a way where they’re one character in the afternoon and they’re something completely different in the evening,” Pisano says. An adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility brings the Regency era to life and is contrasted with the modern setting of the Shakespearean classic comedy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“My job is never to be historically accurate. My priority is always to tell the story,” Pisano says. Though Sense is set in a well-known period, the designer must aid the narrative before keeping true to the time. “What I’ve tried to do is take many of the iconic silhouettes and details from the period that I can use that still tell the story. So, for women, it would be the empire waist or the high waist on dresses. It’s the hair that is stylized after the roman statuary that they loved so much. Many of the men are in tall boots, long dusters, and cutaway jackets.” The costumes in the show maintain a sense of age, with worn wrists and vintage fabrics. There as a “sense of parchment” that echos the original drawings from Austen’s classic novel.
On the contrary, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is taking Shakespeare’s words and setting them in 2016. In the show, there is a group of working-class people called “The Mechanicals.” In more traditional productions, their jobs are “weaver” or “carpenter.” In IUST’s production, their jobs are “Walmart greeter” and “pizza delivery guy.” Nichols states, “[The Mechanicals] are those people you see around you. It’s a way of saying: Theatre is an art for everybody.” Nichols loves that the costumes and setting of the show will allow Shakespeare to be more relatable to its audience.
Each of the designers discussed a few of their favorite costumes from the productions. “I take enjoyment in the ‘only once seen Miss Sophia Grey.’ I took her costume from a costume I designed for Der Rosenkavalier, and it’s layers of silk chiffon white. She, more than anyone, is the iconic silhouette for females. It was very fun to get the peacock feathers, the silk chiffon drape, the hair, and the dress. Even down to her shoes, she is the closest to the time period that you will see in the production.” Pisano stated. In addition to Miss Sophia Grey, Pisano loved that Edward Ferrars’s costume appears to have walked off the page. “He looks just like the piece of research I pulled from the time period. That doesn’t happen as often as we like. Usually, reality and drawings are very different things.”
For Midsummer, Nichols expressed her enjoyment of everyone’s favorite mischievous fairy. “I really love Puck,” Nichols said. Puck interacts with both magic of the fairies and the mortal Athenians. This is reflected in Puck’s costume with the Athenian influence of a more military style jacket. Tara Chiusano portrays Puck and was jumping around during her initial fitting according to Nichols. “It’s always exciting to see it come to life like that and to see your actor really love what’s going on them.”
Don’t miss out on light up costumes, fairy raps, top hats, and some proper poise. A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Sense and Sensibility are running until July 23rd. A full list of performance dates and times can be found at theatre.indiana.edu.
Corinne is a junior at Indiana University majoring in Theatre and Drama with a certificate in Arts Management.
She is on the board of University Players and will be directing her second production with them this fall.