The Role of Costume Design in Musical Theater

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Courtney Cox
5-4-10
THEA 1334
Final Paper
Costume Design

THE ROLE OF COSTUME DESIGN IN MUSICAL THEATER

Imagine a classic Shakespearian play or Italian opera performed in hip-hugging jeans or baggy t-shirts; or imagine the period musical 1776, produced by the wonderful Stuart Ostrow, performed in the groovy attire of the 1970s. These performances would seem completely out of place and confusing. One would not be able to grasp the completeness of the story or have any understanding of the time period, geographical location, or the character’s lifestyles and/or social statuses. As a result, the audience would fail to see certain emotions or feelings portrayed, character personalities, and would find it very difficult be connected to characters on a deep emotional level. To put it simply, without the important implements of impeccable make-up, accurate, and sometimes elaborate costume designs a musical would cease to be a poignant entertainment journey that takes us through a whirlwind of tears, laughter, fear, heartbreak, and happiness; an experience that leaves us with a lifetime of memories.

To begin with, I would just like give a history and provide you with some interesting and/or shocking facts about the beginnings of make-up and costume design to give you a glimpse of just how far it’s come as well as where it is headed in the future with all the new technologies we have.

Some of the earliest forms of costume design were the masks worn by the ancient Japanese. Throughout Japan's history, masks have been used in rituals and performances. The performer wears a mask representing a certain individual, hero, deity, devil, ghost, or legendary animal, depending on the ritual or performance. Masks have been used in Japan since the Jomon period (10,000 BC- 300BC). Some of these masks were formed from clay, and others were made of cloth. It’s not very clear what the use of these masks was other than they played a part in some forms of magic rituals of those times. They also have been used to cover the faces of the dead or used as talismans to deflect malevolent and evil spirits. There is some speculation that perhaps they were offerings used to treat medical problems. The masks that we are the most familiar with are those used in dance, theater, festivals, and Shinto and Buddhist rituals. Many of these masks were used in ritualized and religious traditions, specifically Buddhist, which was brought from the mainland of Asia. Masks are made from a number of different materials such as: clay, dry lacquer, cloth, paper and wood. The most intricate of the masks were carved from wood and are painted with a layer of lacquer, and most are primed with a kaolin clay cover with polychromatic pigments. The construction of masks has changed very little over the last five hundred years. Another society that used masks in the many famous plays and productions of their time were the ancient Greeks. Ancient Greek theatre has been fascinating millions of people. Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes and others, have been the teachers of morality, nobleness, courage and patriotism across the centuries.  In Greek theater there were two types of plays both requiring different types of masks and attire. The plays were also performed in areas where the actors were so far away from the audience that without the aid of exaggerated costumes and masks, they would be difficult to see. Actors wore thick boots to make then significantly taller and gloves to exaggerate their hands so that their movements would be discernable to the audiences. A distinctive mask was made for each character in a play. The masks were made of linen or cork, so none have survived. We know what they looked like from statues and paintings of ancient Greek actors. Tragic masks carried mournful or pained expressions, while comic masks were smiling or leering. An actor's entire head was covered by his mask, which included hair. It has been theorized that the...
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