The Costumer's Manifesto: FLEX YOUR HEAD MENTAL AEROBICS
FLEX YOUR HEAD MENTAL AEROBICS
EXERCISES FOR INDUCING CREATIVITYNON-SPONTANEOUSLY
SPONTANEOUS CREATIVITY:Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Wrong. All the methods described in the
NONprevious chapter can be used to induce creative thought, as well assave creative thoughts acquired earlier. Besides which there are other more active thingsyou can do to get your mind working.
ON THE CREATIVEIMAGINATION: Betty Edwards, the author best known for her ground breaking book of drawinginstruction: Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, wrote another great but lesserknown book called Drawing on the Creative Imagination. This book is full ofpractical exercises for developing creativity, easy to follow by anyone over the age ofseven. I recommend you buy it and read it ASAP. In addition, reading her work hassuggested to me a number of crazy ways to tap into your subconscious design talents. Theyare:
Remember please, these are brain-flexing exercises so they willbe strange sounding. Many of these ideas can be done by whole classes or groups at once.
QUESTIONS: When thinking aboutdesigning costumes for characters in a play, look at each character and answer thefollowing questions:
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If this character were a car, what car would it be? If thischaracter were a plant, what plant would it be? If this character were a food, what foodwould it be? If this character were an animal....etc.
You can add as many more questions of this type as you need. Sayfor instance you imagine Bianca in Taming of the Shrew this way, your answers mightbe: a pink "Mary Kay" Cadillac, a white rhododendron, a strawberry sundae withwhipped cream and a cherry, and a white cockapoo. What you're looking for is a visual imagefor the character that you can use in their costume design. Depending on how realisticyour production is you will use this image literally or only figuratively. Of the abovementioned images for Bianca I feel the sundae works best, and I would probably design hercostume to look suggestive of a super sweet dessert, begging to be eaten.
- C.Neil Vipperman of Atlantainadvertently fell upon the Jetsons method while working on his MFA at the University ofGeorgia. He was assigned by his director to do the six "characters" in SixCharacters in Search of an Author, as timeless futuristic costumes. At the last minute, afterthe fabric was bought, and the day before cutting was to start, the director askedthat the designs be changed to their original 1920's period. Staying up all night in apanic, Neil zipped through changing the designs by adapting his "Jetsons"costumes, as we in the UGA costume shop called them, into 1920's silhouettes. Strange tosay these new designs were even better than the ones he worked on for weeks because theycontained all the color and shape ideas that the futuristic set had, without distractingshoulder pads and stiffened collars. Working on the show in another period allowed him toextract the essence of each character without being mired in period detail. Adding theperiod look last in the process let the characters look timeless, while still having anindication of their 1920's origin. To replicate this process one simply tries to design ashow in another period: modern, futuristic, Elizabethan, or whatever. Then later oneredesigns the show in the appropriate period, using ideas borrowed from the first designs.This is an especially good method for shows that sometimes seem to be happening in twoperiods at once like Marat/SadeLa BeteAll For Love, or JuliusCaesar
THIS FABRIC?: This is a good one for awhole costume class to do together. Take out fabric samples for an assortment of fabriccolors and textures. Spread them on a table and ask the class to write on slips of paperat least three adjectives describing the sort of person they imagine wearing that fabric.Have them put the slips in piles next to each fabric sample. When everyone is finishedread them out loud. Most fabric colors and textures will suggest similar adjectives tomost people. These are three lists my class did:
Orange SpandexYoung, brainless, annoying, cheerful,energetic.
Scruffy Wool TweedOld, sick, professorial, tired,educated.
Plaid Flannel lMasculine, stable, practical,strong, comfortable.
A few fabrics will give off contradictory images in a group, andthis is almost more interesting than the more obvious ones. If you have a person in yourclass who comes from a different culture, she will likely get different images from therest of the group. A discussion of different cultural meanings for colors, will inevitablyput everyone to thinking about where their own beliefs on color originate.
THIS WAY: Remember the joke in YoungFrankenstein where "Ay-gor" tells Dr. Frankenstein to "walk thisway" i.e., like a limping hunchback? Characters in plays are usually individuals, whoshould have individual ways of walking. Think like an actor, and try to walk, stand andsit like each character. When you feel yourself inside the body of the character, you willquickly find the "center" of that imaginary person's body. This is a good cueabout the costume's center of focus, and should also help you to determine the type ofshoes necessary. For example, in Guys and Dolls the posture of Adelaide as awiggling S-curve semi-stripper, pretty well requires she wear heels to help push out herbackside and bust
Costume design for Adelaide in Guys 'n' Dolls
.This can also be a really great project for awhole costume class: Divide into two groups that switch off. One "performs"while the other watches. The performing group is asked to try to walk like a particularcharacter. The watchers pick a favorite walk from the group that is then demonstrated anddiscussed with regard to center, posture, and shoes. Then the watching group performs withanother character, etc... Until the whole character list has been debated. This is a verygood exercise in schools where actor's and tech/design folks have got into an adversarialposition. The actors in class will usually demonstrate their knowledge and ability inphysically manifesting the character, and the tech/design folks will have lots of goodideas about how to help the performers in the discussion. It ends up getting them to bothbond and improve communication.
- This is a similar idea, buteasy to do just with pen and paper. Before you start any kind of design drawing, Imagineeach character standing, back lit, in a doorway, where all you see is a vague silhouetteor lump like shape: Is it hulking, bristling, flowing, top-heavy, bottom-heavy, smooth,skinny, amorphous? Make a series of small rectangles on paper, and in each draw the shapethat is suggested to you by that character. Then, as you design, try to incorporate eachsilhouette into each design.
- This was suggested to me bya show where I tried to make costumes that the actors could alter themselves for differentcharacters (for more on this see the section on
DOORWAYBODY PARTSOmnicostumes). I included in my designs alot of masks on elastic straps (we were doing
Much Ado, which has lots of masks andmistaken identity in the plot). I gave them to the actors and told them to put them on thebody parts that seemed important to their character. Margaret, the oversexed maid asked tohave hers stitched to her breasts, Borachio, her boastful lover, wore his as a codpiece,the messenger boy put his on as knee pads, the fashionable and handsome young noblemen,Benedick and Claudio wore theirs as shoulder pads, a pregnant maid wore hers on her belly,the truthless Don John put his directly covering his heart, and so forth.
Body Parts, therefore is where you pick an object, like a mask,or decoration, or something, and pin the tail on the donkey with each character. Askyourself, what body part is the center of their focus? Put the decoration on that part ofyour body, and try to move with that part leading the movement. Does it feel and lookright? If not, try moving the decoration till the "character" appears to bemoving naturally for him/her. Then when you know where the center of that character is,you can design the focal point of the costume to enhance that center. Again, this is funto do in a group.
CALISTHENICS: This is definitely one todo in a group unless you are very brave. This is pure brain flexing, without any directconnection to doing your designs, but it leaves everyone's creative batteries recharged.It is also just plain fun. It helps to read Tristan Tzara's Dada Manifesto 1918just before commencing. The object of each exercise is to concentrate on engaging in themost absurd and senseless acts possible. If your group is a bit slow, and/or shy, it helpsto give each person a piece of paper and ask them to describe the most absurd andsenseless act that the group can do. Then you read them out loud and choose a plan ofaction. Examples my students have thought of are:
Go to the Fairbanks airport and put "lei's" of ice cubes on incoming passengers returning from Hawaii, while singing "Aloha Ohe".
Dressed in gas masks, rubber gloves, lab coats, and sun glasses, enter the women's toilet, like a panel of industrial experts, inspect each toilet with much flushing, "testing" and fanfare. Then inform all around (and each other) that the toilets have been tested as safe. Stick up huge intimidating signs that say "THERE IS NOTHING WHATSOEVER WRONG WITH THE TOILETS" and "THESE TOILETS ARE SAFE."
Beating drums and dancing in a circle, fling ice cubes in the air while chanting "Snow, SNOW, snow, SNOW!" etc. Then calmly inform onlookers that this ritual sacrifice of ice cubes will ensure snow within the week. Solicit donations of ice cubes from people with soda drinks for the purpose.
You can also, with a suitably deranged group leader or leaders,simply venture out without a plan, and do senseless things: ceremonial presentation ofbroken coat hangers to important people, children's games like "Doctor, Doctor, Ifeel sick" or "Mother may I?", singing popular song lyrics in Tibetan chantstyle, falling to the ground and "worshipping" objects of ordinary life likewater fountains and trash receptacles, etc. The idea is to get everyone to open theirminds to the natural possibilities for absurdity in everyday life, and to see things withnew eyes in their daily world. The exhibitionistic aspect of the thing alsosuper-sensitizes and energizes people who don't usually perform, thus making them feelsuper-charged.