Monday, November 19, 2007

A look back - Two Months in review



My adorable cast from "Long Story Short" Nov 7, 2007


The last three months was a theater equivalent to "hell months". Being the first time at a real, major design project for a play that's never been released anywhere else, I don't think I was thoroughly prepared for what awaited me.

First off, as I mentioned "Long Story Short" was a brand new, spanking hot-off-the-press new, script and therefore has never been seen or heard of anywhere else in the state, or in the country for that matter. It's a rather raw, poignant, story about the homelessness we the general public do not know of, or rather, are aware of but choose not to heed any attention to. Usually that type of story isn't too flattering to the public who's used to pert, happy tales and comic mischiefs, but if one were to stop for a moment and just pay close attention to the underlying message of this play, it should open his/her eyes and see their surroundings as it really is, that homelessness is no laughing matter or anything that can be sugar coated.
When I chose to move from Scene Design to Costume Design back in May, I had kinda hoped I'd be designing a cute fantasy type outfits. I have to admit, the first time i picked up the script for "Long Story Short" I wasn't too thrilled, since obviously there aren't any room for my overfilled brain of imaginations to go rampant. This was to be a modern tale in a dismal urban culture, things we see everyday.
But after reading the script, talking with my mentor and fellow student designers and listening to their game plans, and meeting with the fresh crop of student casts (most of them I've known for some time in my two years at Cypress) I felt I can really contribute something here. Since this is a new play I want to be able to make a first real good impression, to be able to develop a premier model for any future designers of this play to follow. (Ok, that probably sounded a bit cheesy, but there's no other way I can express it. ^_^;;) On top of that, they were going to enter the show into the prestigious American College Theater Festival, which is kind of an equivalent of Cannes Film Festival, for school plays. To be entered in that would certainly open many doors for me, and at the most crucial point in my life when I'm still jobless and trying to make something of myself.
Some challenges awaited me of course: there were to be total of twenty actors, some playing two, three, even five different characters. My costume team consisted of me, the mentor, and two girls, one of them who is in the cast. That's it. And we have less than two months before tech to whip up almost 100 different costume sets. I once asked myself: this is my first stint at costume design, am I ready for this monumental project? I thought this was going to be a small play with only a handful of actors. W-T-F???
But being a hog that I am I accepted the challenge. I was excited for it. For about two weeks. Then the Excitement meter started plummeting like the Titanic.

The next eight weeks was engrossed in many meetings with the director and fellow peers, sketches after sketches, digging in to the piles of old worn costumes in the theater storage (and taking care not to stand up too straight or bang my head against the slanted ceiling), calling in the actors for fittings and making any alterations where necessary. Sometimes the clothes don't fit, I have to go back to digging or opt for a day of happy shopping at a local thrift store. Even though the costume dept. got away with the largest budget ($750 to be exact) I did my best to spend as little as time and needs demanded it.
There were few costumes I did get to build from scratch: the exotic dancers. Not really my piece of apple pie, but I got the chance to be really creative with this one. I was suggested to actually go to a strip club as part of research, but, eh... (If you go to my previous posts from back in October, you can see the finished renderings of the dancer costumes)
Since this is a play dealing with homelessness, there were needs for clothes to look beaten, worn, torn, weathered, dirtied, well you get the picture. Some dyes and nifty tools were brought in to do the 'distressing' work. (Who knew a grater can come in handy other than for shredding cheese over the spaghetti?)
Of course the jobs were not without headaches. About three actors were cut out of the show for reasons best left untold here, roles were recast for about an nth number of times throughout the production process, the script kept getting changed...oh, did I mention I did not get the completed revised draft of the script until few weeks before rehearsal, which adversely affected some of the costume sets I've worked my ass off on for the past several weeks?

But those were really nothing compared to tech week, which I can now call "hell week."

Some of the dyes of distressed costumes didn't show quite well under the blaring lights, so I had to retouch them, enough so it can be seen by the naked eye. (this turned into a problem later during the show; it was one of the criticism of the adjudicators for the festival, that it didn't look realistically dirty.) The director didn't like some of the costumes choices and I had to go through the painful process of explaining to the actors/actresses about the changes (and some of them had hard time adjusting to the changes, really). Sometimes additional altering had to be made which I didn't catch before, and it was a lot harder because of time. Directing the running crew was the worst: never in my life did I have to direct anybody to do my bidding, I was always the follower.
Then comes one day before the play was to open: the playwright had the brilliant idea to cut out one entire scene and shorten another scene to have only one person on stage, therefore additional adjustments had to be made. Also I washed some of the costumes the night before, and what do you know, some shrank.
I remember during tech week that I was up and running about all around the dressing room trying to make sure things were in order. I probably didn't really need to be all that panicky then, but it's my first major, MAJOR, show, and I was just trying to make everything perfect and run smoothly. It wasn't like this back in Long Beach, where I just sat on my table drawing and painting relaxed and cheerful. Theater and Art are two different things.

Well needless to say, the play opened on 11/9, ran for two weekends, and got some positive reviews from audiences, teachers, even the adjudicators. Two months of toiling, I think in the end it all paid off.

And, yeah, I'm going to the Festival. Eyay!

The only real complaint I have about all this experience is I was literally driving myself up the wall trying to get things in order, which probably wasn't at all necessary. Looking back I looked like a dumbass, like I always do.
What I got out of it was a warm sense of camaderie among my fellow design teammates and casts. It's something I've always longed for, I never really had in the past 20 years of my life. I even have confidence to go around slapping the guys' asses and backs! hehehehe

I sure am going to miss all those guys and gals. That's one downside of being a costume designer - you get too close with the cast members. Another reason I switched my major was the idea that I get to be close to the actors, but I didn't count on being this close. No not in that sense, more like warm friendship that you don't want it to end.

So there it is. My tale of trials, errors, sweat and glory. Now I must prep for the festival, but that's another story...


Postscript:

After ten years of searching and struggling, I think i can safely say that my life is finally turning around for the better. I guess this is the 'plan' that God was prepping me for. And I'm feeling quite thankful for it. I don't really see all those years a waste too much now.
And if I can finally get rid of this gambling demon in me and tear myself away from the addictive WorldWinner site, I can start revamping my website:



Pretty much sums it up.



Ciao.

1 comment:

Neiman said...

I like the Art Hobo drawing. I haven't forgotten about you. I'm almost in that position. That Thailand trip hurt my pocket books ;-) I'm putting a link to your blog on my blog Muzzlewump.com/blog