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Costume Capers – Toi Whakaari Costume Construction Graduate Showcase
I was lucky enough to be invited to the dress rehearsal of the 2011 Toi Whakaari Costume Showcase, for a sneak preview of the graduate costumiers’ major works for their final year project: taking inspiration from a famous portrait.
Held each year at the Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School in Wellington, the showcase offers both first and second year students an opportunity to feature their creations on live models in front of an audience, as well as display elements of their year’s work including millinery, set design and story boards.
Pictured left: Catrina - Ashleigh Porter.
The costumiers this year took inspiration from a famous portrait, which provided focus but allowed them to experiment with many different techniques to bring the character to life. The costumes needed to be viewed in various contexts, so the construction methods and materials used had to have maximum visual impact from afar when on stage, and up close after the show. Armed with this brief and a budget of $200, their choice of subject was pinned, embroidered, tasselled and stitched into being over eight months.
Sea Queen - Sophie Tucker.
The show itself was awe inspiring, and it was hard to believe that with such a modest budget the costumiers could create such lavishly detailed and spectacular costumes.
They ranged from a multi-tiered hand beaded dress inspired by the traditions of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and The Queen’s Guard that featured in a 1921 ballet performance of The Sleeping Princess with its plus sized proportions and grandiose headgear, to a fabulous over the top creation inspired by an Erté illustration, in purple, pink and gold with hand dyed feathers and a drag performance that did more than justice to the outré ensemble.
The Queen’s Guard - Oliver Black.
Ophelia - Carolyn Heke.
Lorengorm - Brighde Penn.
La Snobinarde - Coco Conner.
Thread went backstage after the rehearsal and spoke to Clare Smith who recreated The Countess of Dunfermline. The portrait that inspired Clare’s costume was painted by Marcus Gheeraerts in 1615 and was purchased by Dunedin Art Gallery in 1974.
Selecting a model was important right from the beginning, as garments were designed to fit their specific proportions. This was especially important for Clare’s costume as she created all the historically accurate pieces – including undergarments, farthingale, ruff, hanging sleeves and corsets – as well as the incredible dress that hid all the under layers.
It seems that costuming is as much about concealment as display, as was evident when Clare pulled a ring of backcombed hair off her model’s head to expose long dreadlocks hidden underneath!
Toi Whakaari accepts only up to eight students a year for the Costume Construction programme, meaning the course is very hands on, intensive and all students get the full attention of industry leading tutors, as well as placements in leading stage and screen productions such as The Hobbit and Avatar.
If you are a fan of fancy dress and feel inspired to take it one step further, applications are still being taken for the Costume Construction course - but be quick as places are extremely limited and the deadline is 30th September. To find out further information about Toi Whakaari New Zealand Drama School go to www.toiwhakaari.ac.nz.
By Rose Jackson 26 September 2011
Photogaphy by Philip Merry