June 2, 2009
Tempest #34—Costumes

Meeting this week with our new costumer, David Romesburg. The following are notes I’ve printed out for him. These are just the starting point. I try to get everything in my head down on paper, and then look at everything afresh.

General Thoughts on Costume—

• This puppet style works best with flowing lines & fabrics. Costumes that require clear waistlines, tight sleeves, etc., don’t work well. We can do some padding for shape, but it’s very easy for padding to create a stiff, lifeless body.

• Asymmetry in costume works best for this puppet style. It makes the puppet’s one-handedness less noticeable, and as in the face, gives the body more sense of movement and life.

• Period? It’s a mistake to locate these late “romances” in an identifiable historic period. First, because Shakespeare is rife with intentional anachronism. Second, because distinct period tends to make a very loud one-note statement. Tempest is a fantasy, though set in a very specific period, so I think we need to reference Elizabethan/Jacobean elements—esp. in hats, collars, shoulders and capes—yet be very free with everything. Contemporary elements are fine if they don’t seem too jokey or stick out obtrusively. Finding ways to violate symmetry will tend to lead us into violating period as well.

• Multiple worlds in the play: (a) the world of island survival, (b) the world of political power, and (c) the world of the elves and elementals, including the force of the sea and the tempest. Prospero is the bridge-point between all these: in that sense we can think of the play as being an expression or a “vision” of Prospero. We need to make those “worlds” very distinct in the color, texture & line of costume.


• Prospero/Miranda/Ferdinand:

The father & daughter have been marooned on the island for 12 years, with a store of rich garments but living in this primitive state. On the literal level, Prospero’s magic powers should be able to conjure sumptuous wardrobes and housing, but they don’t: he’s more adept at enforcing sudden bursts of action from spirits or creating illusions. They shouldn’t be in rags, but perhaps garments have been put together incongruously—a sleeve from one garment replacing another, etc.

Sense of displacement: in one sense, they try to maintain a European cleanliness and order, not “of the earth,” and yet thee may be a kind of “sea change” that the island gradually has brought upon them. Maybe grays and earth tones predominate.

Miranda & Ferdinand are from very different backgrounds, but they need some element that connects them, probably some color element that harmonizes immediately.

Should be said, since directors seem to have a contrary impulse: there’s nothing silly or immature about their attraction: its intensity must be deep, true and stunning, strong enough to shake them to the roots.

A human actor, costumed, who also operates a puppet Prospero. The puppet relates to the other puppet characters; the bare-faced human relates to the spirits and to the audience. Both are beardless, with long white hair.

A man of hard-won wisdom, but the wounds haven’t healed. He’s achieved great power but has serious fault-lines within, subject to sudden rage. The play ’s basic action is his own healing, his choice of redemption over revenge. His extreme, continued violence toward Caliban suggests a personal identification with “this thing of darkness.” Miranda knows of his magic but has never seen him directly in ritual practice: he puts her to sleep before calling Ariel. His magic has extended even to calling forth the dead.

So there’s an extreme darkness in contrast to his own desire to see himself as a practitioner of “white” magic. It’s “rough”: harsh, dangerous, rage-fueled, and its power is extraordinarily seductive.

Problem of the magical robe: The puppet Prospero asks that Miranda help remove his robe, so there must be a removable garment for the puppet. But the human continues to wear his robe: in fact the magical ceremony isn’t finished until the play is done.

For the puppet: Magical garment must be easily removable. Possibly a hood with two flat front pieces (there’s a similar kind of ecclesiastical garment) with magical signs, etc. Under this is a more flowing robe for daily wear.

For the human: Magical garment must have some affinity with the puppet’s, so that we’re clear on the identity. But may be much richer or textured with various substances, places of transparency. Possibly the puppet costume is light-colored, the human’s is very dark, befitting the depths of his magical life.

At the end, the puppet Prospero appears in court dress. This would be in the vein of what the Courtiers are wearing, similar in cut and color scheme. At the end, too, the human Prospero takes off his robe: I would see him, in the Epilogue, simply removing it to reveal the actor’s present-day clothes beneath, probably blacks, as he comes back into this world.

So we need: 1. Basic robe for the puppet; 2. magical garment for the puppet; 3. magical robe for the human; 4. court dress for the puppet.

She’s 15 years old, has been raised entirely by her father, with no other human companions except Caliban.

There would be great modesty in her dress, enforced by Prospero’s reaction to the reported sexual attempt by Caliban and the father’s own self-discipline in relation to his adolescent daughter. Possibly the hair is covered. She is well-tutored, intelligent, well-disciplined, with no model for how a woman should act, only the model of her father.

At the same time, from the very first scene, the play shows her revolt, her finding an independent will. She’s compliant but not soft, deeply moved but not weepy, and when she stands up to her father it’s with the same focused power of will as he. The play is also a series of life-shaking revelations and discoveries for her, and she needs the scope of character to absorb them and show us their power.

Costume: something light-colored, flowing, attractive, but not sumptuous, not delicate.

He’s within the same orbit as the Courtiers (see below), but with some element that connects him with Miranda. His eyes are large-irised and very centered, full of wonder like Miranda’s. He’s likely in his 20’s, but as a prince this would be much more “mature” than a contemporary American 20-yr-old. But he’s also been deeply shaken by near-death, the loss of his father, the unearthly music, and the astonishing vision of Miranda.

In 1:2 he draws a sword; we need to solve this issue for him and for the others. In 3:1 he’s been manacled; in 4:1 this chain is unlocked and removed.

• The Courtiers (Alonso/Sebastian/Antonio/Gonzalo):

A sense of their being extreme aliens in this place. Alonso is clearly the highest ranking of the four, but Sebastian is of the royal family. Antonio isn’t from Naples, but he fits into this unit. Gonzalo is somewhat distinct in being a functionary, though high-ranking; he’s in effect a “chief of staff.”

Possibly all are predominantly in black. A degree of elegance in the fit and drapery, but they’re in travel garments, not formal court dress.

Ferdinand, as Alonso’s son, would also fit into this group, but perhaps a color element (shared with Miranda) sets him somewhat apart. We only see him with them in the final scene.

Alonso is King of Naples, which comprises the whole southern half of Italy; the city was in Shakespeare’s time the second largest city in Europe. His action in supporting the overthrow of Prospero would simply have been a political decision to replace a troublesome lesser power with a firm ally.

His eyes I’ve given a more distant (or inward) focus that suggests grief. He’s an extremely powerful man suddenly reduced to distraction.

He should have some kind of signet that marks him as king: a medallion on his hat or chest? Maybe a heavier cloak than the others, somewhat more width of frame.

He bears some resemblance to his brother Alonso, but a rattier version. Looser flesh on the face, ambitious but weak-willed, easily manipulated by Antonio. He enjoys the luxuries and privileges of his rank, would be quite incompetent as a king.

Maybe a wider brim to his hat, a more decorative collar?

Antonio shares a sardonic humor with Sebastian, but there’s more of a coldness, a hardness to him. His irises are small and slightly out of focus to the distance: you can never quite tell what he’s thinking, what he intends. Perhaps more plainness to his dress, or other means of suggesting he’s not possessor of quite the same power as the Neapolitans. Still, he’s of their party and aspires to more.

He’s a counselor and a nobleman, but Alonso’s distraction allows the other courtiers more leeway in mocking him than they might otherwise have. He’s elderly, garrulous, and seems a bit obtuse; but in fact he’s very smart—enough to survive many years in this court. I also see him as quite capable physically, though he lacks stamina: when he comes suddenly awake, Antonio and Sebastian are as startled as if they’d suddenly roused a bull.

So his face is rotund and wrinkly, but one that’s decayed from a face of strength. I tend to picture him in a tight cowl and rather plain gown. Like the lower servants, he should wear some kind of signet that marks him as part of the King’s retinue.

• Trinculo/Stephano/Caliban:

Trinculo and Stephano are servants at the Court of Naples: Trinculo the court fool, Stephano the butler (wine steward). They need to have some common element of “livery” that would mark them as Alonso’s servants. They need to be very contrastive, yet clearly part of the same comedy team. Caliban is outside this dyad, yet he needs to blend somehow s part of the “team.” While the courtiers’ clothes haven’t been affected by the Tempest, it’s likely that the servants, like Caliban, show a lot more wear.

I’m seeing him as a short hunchback. While he has some basic skills as an entertainer, he’s mainly the kind of court fool who served more as a pet, receiving affection or abuse, depending on the owner’s mood. To his superiors he’s an object of sport as an ill-tempered freak. His eyes have a focus somewhere between terror and despair.

Some sort of fool’s motley, probably with cap and bells. Probably ill-fitting and distressed.

The King’s butler, the servant in charge of the wine cellar. (He would rank benearth the steward, who had the broader responsibilities of what we think of as a butler.) He seems to have scant respect: Alonso refers to him as “my drunken butler.” He’s probably the only member of the household who befriends Trinculo, who in turn looks up to him.

I’ve given him wide, vacuous eyes. He’ll have a mustache, tiny beard, and hair sticking out under his hat. I see him trying to add to his dignity by the line of his hat and shoulders, but nothing quite fits together.

He’s conceived as a realistically deformed man with a cleft lip and heavily-lidded wall-eye, about 27 years old. Very asymmetrical. He’s intensely lonely, carries great rage. There’s a kind of baby-faced quality about him, and he’s not very strong.

Probably dressed in cast-away clothing, the appearance of a refugee, maybe stuff that’s washed ashore from a shipwreck. Could be contemporary elements—I’ve even pictured him in a baseball cap—image of a somewhat retarded homeless man.

He needs some kind of cloak to hide under when Trinculo appears. Might be something like a plastic tarp he’s rigged for wearing in a storm.

• Ship Master/Boatswain:

Both of the ship, Ship Master of higher rank. Both dressed for the storm.

• The Ariels and the Spirits:

The multiple shape-shiftings of Ariel and the five puppeteers masked as Earth Spirits (Elves) can go the furthest into fantasy. They’re all “elementals”—manifestations of primal earth forces. So “fantasy” doesn’t mean fairy-tale sprites or playful Puck-like critters but something much more powerful.

Ariel is a shape-shifter: we see him first in his most “natural” form, whatever that is. Then as a sea-nymph. Then as a harpy. The first form will have three heads and bodies, all similar but not necessarily identical, so that he can appear and disappear suddenly from different areas of the stage. Likewise, he’ll be voiced by three different actors, sometimes singly, sometimes in unison. He’s like the many moods of the wind: he can be soft and sweet but can also blow up instantly into a lethal force. Prospero has great difficulty holding him in check and could easily be torn to pieces by him. He loves action, can be playful, but with no sense of consequence.

Might look at the art of William Blake as a reference, at least for color. Also the human/animal combinations of Susan Seddon Boulet. There can be a variety of textures, but need to be sparing with anything gauzy or “fairy-like”—there needs to be great underlying power.

Headdressing is part of the head design, but we need to collaborate on this in tandem with the costuming, so that the whole creature is very organic. He’s not a naked human who’s chosen to put on some clothes; the costume is organic to him.


Five actors (including Prospero, who sometimes must operate other puppets) in half-masks, costumed as Earth Spirits of the island, subject to Prospero’s command. They animate and voice the puppets. Most of the time, they’re behind the puppets, semi-visible but neutral in expression. Once in a while they’re more visible, as when they’re making a sudden group movement, e.g. whipping the characters around in the storm.

And a few times, they’re stand-alone figures, as when two Spirits appear to mime the elaborate banquet. These two might want some additional costume piece just for this scene.

They should be in black base costumes (we can ask the actors if they can supply these) with some kind of simple over-garment that provides texture.

The over-garment too needs to be dark, but doesn’t have to be absolute black. Except for Prospero’s it can remain on during the whole show. The puppeteers’ arms need to be free to fit into the puppets without obstruction, and the garment needs to be safe in terms of catching on things.


Tentative Timetable:

June 8: Shoulder structures finished (CB).
June 16: First thumbnails (DR)
Faces painted (CB)
June 26: Final renderings (DR)
Spirit mask bases (CB)
July 3; Puppet hair (CB)
July 10: Basic garments (DR) or rehearsal do-fers (CB)
July 31: All basic garments and hats (DR)
Spirit garments (DR)
Spirit masks finished (CB)
Aug. 21: All trim finished (DR)
Sept. 18: Adjustments & repairs as needed (DR & CB)
Show opening.