Responding to fabric

The design/making of a garment – figuring out the design through alterations

Tracing back designs

Looking at some of my writing on art and design I realise I have always focused on the dialogues concerning the documentation of performance and events – the representation of history through theatre and art.

In retrospect it makes sense that I moved from design to research. On one level some of the subjects I addressed may appear a little morbid – representations of Wuthering Heights through installation art – the artistic notations of Otto Dix – dance marathons and the relationship between dance and social/political events – historical applications and performances of the Commedia’Dell’Arte – clowning and mask work.

But on another they provide me with an insight that always feeds into my work as a designer/researcher and that enables me to create work that embodies that knowledge.

Ralph Koltai

When the image is so much. An inspiring creator/designer whose work demonstrated how important the process is. RIP.

Designing with elegant lines

The costume design process owes much to many different legacies – from fine artists and fashion designers to stage designers. Aubrey Beardsley’s work has always interested me, if not for the fine detailed work, for the complexity of work that went into shaping different bodies and garments. Without even realising it the references appear in the work…

Starting places

For a designer there will always need to be a place to begin – a point, aside from the text, that provides a visual idea from which to elaborate on the themes and the narrative.
Often this may be an historical reference from art or fashion and whilst this will not necessarily be an image that remains part of the main design process it can lead to new and different visual research pathways.

A piece of art at an exhibition, a photograph, an image from a book – each can provide a range of different information to inspire design ideas – from shape, style and silhouette to fabric references, hairstyles and accessories. From this perspective the costume designer develops a range of historical references, from art and fashion to architecture and graphics.

This first image may become less or more relevant during the design process, but it’s important to keep each image for reference at a later stage – whether that’s to communicate an idea to the cast and director or to clarify or develop an element within the design process. It may be easier to photograph and digitally store this process – creating a map from which to chart the different key moments in the design process.

This may also assist in the development of additional design elements such as light, sound, set and movement and can provide a connecting point between different areas within the design process.

For instance a Klimt drawing may lead to the development of a particular style and shape of a dress or the choice of a certain type of fabric that echoes the physical qualities rendered by the artist. A photograph of a building or an open space may lead to the choice of a particular colour palette or a range of textures that assists with the development of a costume and how that costume moves. This in turn can assist with the development of character and/or the interpretation of the original text.

Play, empathy and interaction

When it comes to the development of performance practice it has been acknowledged that performance can be more than illustrative – that the act of performance has the potential to inform and initiate a range of different embodied learning experiences. It can also connect people, facilitate collaboration, the exchange of ideas and can, under certain circumstances, make visible the processes involved in its creation. For instance, Foreman’s writing practices demonstrate the ability of a performance itself to document and make visible the creative process and the gradual and simultaneous development of both narrative and its meaning, turning the creative process into one that closely resembles academic research practice.

In the digital era connections made through performance still occur, yet the way in which this process occurs has altered how some performance companies address their working processes. To review how this type of work occurs multiple areas need to be addressed, and it is important to remember that because success can be measured in a variety of different ways the ‘impact’ and ‘value’ of this performance is difficult to assess. For example, it’s popularity, the demographic of its audiences, it’s ability to widen access to performance and it’s financial success all play a part.
However, it’s also worth questioning why this approach is used not just how it is used.

One such performance was the RSC’s on-line interpretation of Romeo and Juliet – Such Tweet Sorrow. It’s ability to provide an insight into each character proved popular, offering a multi-viewpoint perspective through which the audience could choose which elements they were most interested in – a selective process that occurs differently within live stage performance. This meant that audiences were more involved, even though they may have lived miles apart, connecting them with both the performers and other audience members.

This performance also offered an interesting alternative to highly priced theatre tickets, especially in relation to the idea of collaborations between ‘outsider artists’. It is important to note that when I use the term outsider art I use it to mean a collaboration between those professionally trained in performance industries that have been disconnected due to location or financial restrictions. In this instance, digital platforms become performance platforms and a way to share data, but also a way to make the creative process and the intricacies of this process a little more visible.

However, whilst the platform used by Such Tweet Sorrow may be a useful one for some it will not be for all, just as the theatre auditorium may exist as an accessible and relevant space for some but not all. The open nature of the performance platform itself meant that such an approach to performance development, albeit new, puts it at risk of trolling and unhelpful, distracting comments. And whilst its application may facilitate a multi-character perspective that appeals to a specific type of audience member it is necessary to look back as well as forward.

For instance, this interpretation of Romeo and Juliet offers an interesting view of how a specific demographic has explored as well as performed Shakespeare. Yet, there are similarities between this process and that used by established practitioners. Drawn back by the open nature of the writing process of Foreman and the physically explorative processes used by companies such as Frantic Assembly, alongside the need to move forward, there are perhaps different ways to use interactive practices to engage new audiences in key texts.

29th Oct 2018.

'There are times when the simple dignity of movement can fulfill the function of a volume of words.' - Doris Humphrey.