Posted on January 26th, 2016
“As designers, it is our responsibility to search for those KEY VISUAL ELEMENTS that guide our journey through the story.”—Catherine Zuber, Costume Designer, The Bridges of Madison County.
THE OLD CLICHÉ — “First impressions are everything” — is true; especially on the stage. Another cliché that theatre keeps alive — “Clothes make the man.” The full quote reads “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Thank you Mark Twain! In theatre, costume design is an indispensable tool that helps an audience navigate the world of the play.
Reflections from Six-Time Tony-Award Winning Costume Designer CATHERINE ZUBER
How would you describe what a costume designer actually does?
A costume designer creates the first impression the audience has regarding a character. They assist and collaborate with the actor and the director to bring to life the exterior definition of the character they are portraying.
How does the costume design help tell the story of The Bridges of Madison County? How do the costumes help the audience understand the people in the play?
In The Bridges of Madison County, the costumes strive to capture Iowa in the mid-60’s. Some of the characters would have dresses that would have been home-sewn, or from a mail-order catalogue, or a dry-goods shop in the local town. It is the summertime, so the clothing contributes to creating those wonderful sultry August days.
You said about the costumes in The Bridges of Madison County: “This isn’t the groovy side of the mid-‘60s. There is nothing urban about the clothes.” Can you talk about how the costumes help tell the time and place of the story?
When we go to the state fair, we see a world outside of Madison County. However, it still is not the urban mid 1960’s ‘mod’ drifting into ‘hippie’ aesthetic of a big city. I was hoping that the costumes convey a world that is a hard-working, rural environment. The characters have dignity and care about their appearance, but not at the price of comfort and practicality.
Theatre is a collaborative medium. How do you work with the director and your fellow designers? Can you give us a glimpse into that collaboration?
Our director gives us his priorities for the story-telling. He encourages us to visually assist his vision by illustrating the emotions the audience should take away from the experience. As designers, it is our responsibility to search for those key visual elements that guide our journey through the story.
Can you share something about the costumes for The Bridges of Madison County that an audience member could look for while watching the show? What is part of the design they will see that could only happen onstage rather than in the film or book?
Francesca starts out in our story wearing pretty but simple and practical shirt-waist house-dresses. As Robert awakens in her romantic feelings that she didn’t realize were still possible, we see her making a choice that is out of character for her. She purchases a shoulder-baring dress in a deep shade of pink. Her hair is worn down.
Regarding costume design, the progression that occurs in ‘When I’m Gone’ happens before our eyes, during the course of the song. This could happen in a film, but the theatricality of the amount of information that transforms us through 15 years of time in less than 5 minutes on stage is thrilling.
—Company, The Bridges of Madison County
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY is presented by Dallas Summer Musicals February 2-14, 2016 at Music Hall Fair Park. Tickets are ON SALE NOW! For more details and a sneak peek for the show, click here.