Arts & Culture

For ‘Grito,’ costumes fit actors and atmosphere

Play relies heavily on costume design to portray shifting time periods and locales

By
Staff Writer
Friday, April 4, 2014

When Jo’Nella Ellerbe ’15 first began practicing the opening scene of “El Grito Del Bronx,” she found it difficult to move as if she was wearing her character’s bridal gown.

The play, which debuted in Leeds Theater Thursday night, follows a young woman on the cusp of marriage and her fraught relationship with her violent, imprisoned brother. Ellerbe considers herself as in a “completely different place” from her character, Lulu, who is at an age where “marriage is a real possibility in the near future,” she said. But this sentiment changed drastically when she was placed in the dress while being fitted in the costume shop.

“For that scene, now it feels more truthful,” Ellerbe said. “When I put on the dress, I just said, ‘Wow.’”

Alison Carrier, costume director for “El Grito” and a freelance costume designer for theater at Brown, plays a central role in creating this visual for the audience. Since the play traverses many different time periods, Carrier works with various artistic directors, in areas from props to staging, to develop a coherent picture. Discussions of this vision usually start before the rehearsal process even begins to make sure that there is an overlap between disparate artistic factions, Carrier said.

“For the most part, ‘El Grito’ called for more modern day clothes. So I would go to different thrift stores, like Savers, and look on Amazon.com,” Carrier said. “But in other cases, you might have to visit speciality websites or make some of the pieces by hand.”

In order to maintain a cohesive aesthetic, the costume and props departments will often check with each other about color and style, wrote Ronald Cesario, the University’s costume shop manager, in an email to The Herald.

Budgetary concerns usually also play a major role in such planning stages, but financing was not an issue for this show. “I honestly never asked (about the budget) because I knew it was going to be a second-hand show and I knew I wasn’t going to be spending a lot of money,” Carrier said. “But usually, the designer has no control over the budget.”

The costume director takes measurements of the actors before the rehearsal process begins in order to collaborate with the performers and get a feel for their appearances. This information allows Carrier to craft practical, functional costumes that provide the actors with freedom of movement throughout the rehearsal process while maintaining the play’s intended atmosphere, she said.

“In this play, costumes function together as a group. So there are gas station attendants that have a particular look, and characters that play mothers have their own look. Yet when you put it together, it all makes one picture,” Carrier said.

Strong costumes often help solidify an actor’s performance. Vincent Tomasino ’14, assistant director for “El Grito,” said he finds great value in the choice of an actor’s shoes.

“In ‘El Grito,’ there are lots of clothes that we even wear today. But once an actor puts on shoes, it changes the way they walk and move,” Tomasino said. “It’s one thing to act like you are wearing something and a completely other thing to actually be in it.”

During tech rehearsals, actors must remain in their costumes in order to become totally immersed in their characters, Tomasino said, adding that this requirement is helpful in discovering the particular limitations that final costumes might pose. For example, in Shakespearean theater, actresses often rehearse in full skirts, helping them to understand how to move in an Elizabethan-style dress. In rehearsals, costumes help actors become aware of what they are doing with their bodies, Tomasino said.

“We think about time differently. We think about steps differently. We put personas forward differently in different time periods,” said Ken Prestininzi, the play’s director. “Costumes are about how we present ourselves knowingly and unknowingly.”

  • CalgaryCostumeShop

    the costumes were excellent and reflected the changes in time periods