The costumes for The University of Alaska Fairbanks Theatre’s recent production of Much Ado About Nothing employed a unique system that allowed each actor to “invent” his own costume: UAF Theatre’s resident costumer, was composed of a painted unitard (with Renaissance embellishments) and a “mask-garment.” The “mask-garment” is a single article of clothing that can be arranged by the actor into three different types of skirts, two types of breeches, seven types of tunics, five types of capes, and three types of wimple as well as a few other things. In addition, the mask-garment can be worn as a mask for the masked ball scene of Shakespeare’s play.
Most people viewing the play never guessed that what appeared to be a stunning variety of costumes on the performers, was in fact simply a series of very similar costumes (differentiated by color) worn in a variety of ways. Even the various long robes worn by the older characters in the play were simply longer versions of the same thing: Leonato’s elegant robe, Friar Francis’ monk’s garment, and Dogberry’s paunch-highlighting gown were all cut from the same versatile pattern.
In order to show the actors the many ways the mask-garment could be worn, Maginnis made a home video demonstrating twenty-five ways to wear the garment. She then handed the garments over to the actors who discovered three more ways to wear it within ten minutes.
“I wanted to give the actors a chance to determine for themselves what their costumes should look like,” Maginnis states, “and yet draw the costumes together with a consistent concept.” All the costumes had a strong Renaissance flavor, with golden painted patterns copied from 15th Century Italian paintings, and a color scheme borrowed from a candy store. “Much Ado is a pretty fluffball comedy,” she points out, “without a lot of deeper vitamin-enriched content. The costumes should reflect that.”
In addition to the masks on the garments, there were masks everywhere else. In order to underline the play’s obsession with disguise and mistaken identity, false faces peered out at the audience from every imaginable body part: A pregnant woman wore a mask over her belly, a “lewd fellow” wore his on his crotch, a dunderheaded constable wore his on his hat, and a swift-running messenger boy had faces for knee-pads.
The costumes for Much Ado About Nothing were constructed by students at UAF who sign up for Costume-Classes, a course that allows students to learn technical skills while working backstage on UAF Theatre productions.
Theatre UAF Press Release