Sword Fighting in Corsets

This week’s blog was written by The Lady Demands Satisfaction Costume Designer Kirche Leigh Zeile.

I have had the great fortune to design over a hundred productions in my twenty years working as a costume designer. But nothing brings me greater joy than working on a brand new play. I love the challenges such an experience brings, to do something that very few have done before, to be among the first to interpret and bring a play to life. It’s an exhilarating and humbling experience. When I first read Arthur’s delightful play, I was entranced. I loved its modernity. And I appreciated its connection to the English Restoration plays of the 17th century, the sparkling banter of the later Sentimental Comedies, and the biting wit of Moliere. I was excited about the challenge of working on a new 18th century period piece, full of strong female characters who all spend much of the play sword fighting and rolling around on stage. Sword fighting in corsets and petticoats and enormous wigs, you say? Bring it on.

GSP2019-LadyDemands-0611

Amy Blackman as Theodosia

After reading the play a half a dozen times, I dove in. The first step is to understand the story and its themes inside and out. As a costume designer, my most important job is to tell the story.  Nothing matters more than this. And in a period piece like this one, it would be easy to allow the costumes to overwhelm the actors and the story. It’s quite a beautiful and spectacular time, but that would be a disservice to the story and the other artists, so it was important to keep my eye on what the final result would look like. The process of costume design nearly always begins with research, and lots of it. As this is a period piece, my first stop was to the library where I began refreshing my knowledge of 18th century English culture, history, and fashion. Weeks later, I started drawing. Working in tandem with the other designers and our fearless leader, Jeffrey Binder, we slowly but surely saw our collaborative design come into focus. Because the play had so many physical challenges, I also tried to collaborate as closely as I could with the actors. I am one of those designers who considers the actors equal partners in the design process (they’re the ones wearing the clothes, after all) and that method of working was particularly helpful on a play like this. I met with a few of the actors before even finishing the designs to discuss their concerns and ideas. It was during this time that the director and Amy Blackman and I decided to put Theodosia in breeches. Obviously, no woman in the 18th century, Duchess or not, would wear pants. But this is one of those moments when the story and the needs of the actor pushed the costume design to a delightful place that I had originally never considered.

 

When the renderings were finished, the real work began. Once we had found the pieces we needed, it was time to put it all together, fit the actors, and alter them. The costume shop staff worked tirelessly to make sure the costumes fit properly and brought the designs to life. In our fittings with the actors, we spent a significant amount of time discussing their physical requirements. Thanks to JB, Jenn, and Renee, the costumes simply sparkle up there in lush pinks and greens and blues. 

This process was a true collaboration between the designers, the technicians, and the performers. Sometimes, a piece of the fight choreography had to change. Sometimes we had to raise a skirt hem or shorten a jacket cuff a bit past what the period dictates. In the end, I think we managed to strike the appropriate tone. The clothes easily reflect the 18th century. But the adjustments we made were a perfect nod to the modernity in Arthur’s words. It was all in service to the needs of the story, which is the only thing that really matters.

The Lady Demands Satisfaction is at Gulfshore Playhouse now through March 15th. For tickets go to https://www.gulfshoreplayhouse.org/2019-2020-season/the-lady-demands-satisfaction/. 

  • Playwright: Arthur M. Jolly
  • Director: Jeffrey Binder
  • Scenic Design: Edward T. Morris
  • Costume Design: Kirche Leigh Zeile
  • Lighting Design: Jimmy Lawlor
  • Sound Design: Christopher Colucci
  • Stage Manager: Jamie A. Eckhold
  • Photographer: Matthew Schipper

2 thoughts on “Sword Fighting in Corsets

  1. Kirche, I LOVED the costumes for this production, but thank goodness I live in this era and can pull a pair of slacks and a simple top and off I go. Thirty pounds ago, I had my own built-in bustle….but so glad that is gone.

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