Bread Loaf's costume designers consider every Shakespearean detail
Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories on summer theater in Ripton.
RIPTON — The Bread Loaf costume shop is housed in a tiny, white clapboard attachment at the far end of the Little Theater on Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus. It opens onto a screened-in porch where actors can rest between scenes.
The shop is lined with plastic boxes full of lace, sequins, elaborate cloth and feathers; the sewing table is strewn with needles and threads, and a large clothing rack in the corner holds costumes for the nearly 30 cast members. It’s a small space in which to make a lot of costumes, but for costume technicians Erin Meghan Donnelly and Rachel Dulude, it’s just right.
Dulude and Donnelly — who have worked professionally as costumer technicians for the past eight years at Brown University’s Trinity Repertory, a graduate Theater program based in Rhode Island — are excited to spend their first summer working at the Bread Loaf School of English.
They say it’s been a fun and valuable learning experience, bringing a new title — costume coordinators — and new duties above and beyond their work with the troupe known as Trinity Rep.
“This is a really nice breath of fresh air for us,” Donnelly said. “It’s giving us a different set of skills and responsibilities we’re learning how to navigate.”
As the only two people creating costumes for this summer’s Bread Loaf production of Shakespeare’s “Troilus and Cressida,” Donnelly and Dulude have a lot more freedom and responsibility — they design and create costumes themselves, instead of following the dictates of Trinity Rep costume coordinators.
Despite the challenge of completing all the costume work with just two pairs of hands, Donnelly and Dulude — who have worked at Trinity Rep with “Troilus and Cressida” director Brian McEleney — are excited to have been given the reins to design and create the wardrobe for the Bread Loaf production.
“We have to answer to a handful of people that are above us at Trinity,” Dulude said. “Here it’s nice to have the creative control.”
Part of that freedom came with the costume shop itself — Dulude and Donnelly said they had often imagined designing their own costume shop while working at Trinity Rep, and so they were eager to make the small shop at Bread Loaf their own.
“We came in and this room was totally filled with stuff,” Dulude said. “We spent the first week creating our own shop and we felt like little kids being able to make our own clubhouse, being in control.”
At Bread Loaf, Donnelly and Dulude have control over every aspect of the creative process, from conceptualizing costumes to fitting them to the actors. They sketch outfits that fit characters’ personalities, and then construct them by hand using the vast array of second-hand clothes, paints, cloth and other materials from the costume shop.
Shakespearian plays often pose an interesting challenge to costume designers, Donnelly said, explaining the need to highlight character traits through costumes as a way to keep track of the multiple people on stage at one time. “Troilus and Cressida” is no different: The play is largely based around conflicts between the Trojans and the Greeks, so Donnelly and Dulude were focused on differentiating the two groups.
“In Shakespeare there’s always two sides, so how do you make them different?” Donnelly said. “(McEleney) was really interested in how to make the Trojans really decorated, and the Greeks more weathered. He’s trying to play up the difference between the Trojans, who get to be at home, and the Greeks, who have been in a battlefield for however many years. Part of our concept … was to use body art and hair, and work in some modern things that will give you an idea of the character.”
Donnelly and Dulude have also sat in on several rehearsals in an effort to better understand the characters they will costume. They said this was an exciting opportunity for them, as they are often separated from the rehearsal process when making costumes for Trinity Rep. At Bread Loaf, however, they sat in the front row during run-throughs and later met with McEleney to discuss costume choices.
“It was really awesome and interesting to see (McEleney) as the director in that room with us observing. We don’t normally get to see that,” Dulude said. “We’re a part of it (at Trinity) to a certain extent, but it’s really cool for us to be really close to it … It was really magical to watch him direct.”
Theater at Bread Loaf does not simply mean a close-knit working environment, but also an unpredictable one. During previous summers the theater’s electricity has been knocked out by raging storms — a few years ago, the cast of “Hamlet” performed the final act under the power of one generator-powered chandelier. This summer has been no different: A few weeks ago, Donnelly said, the stage went dark, but the rehearsal continued.
“We had a massive storm that blew out the power, and there were people having an emotional scene while the screen doors were blowing open and the storm was coming up the mountain,” she said. “It is a magical place to be.”
Ticket sales have opened for Bread Loaf School of English’s production of “Troilus and Cressida,” which will run July 30-Aug. 2. To reserve free tickets, call the Bread Loaf Box Office at 443-2771. Tickets are limited due to the small venue.