In April of this year, when I first met with Director Nick Ishimaru, and Production Manager Allie Khori, to discuss The Red Demon, we all had this feeling that the production was very timely. It would start its run the same weekend of Halloween, before Election Day, and when it ended we would have a new President of the United States.
And as the play's opening neared, our feeling was confirmed. Its themes of xenophobia, and the perception we have of outsiders, and how "the truth" and words can be twisted, were right on point with the current atmosphere in our community.
A designer for a performance piece has to walk the tight-rope between the main themes and the nitty-gritty practical details of the presentation. Here are a few things I had to consider when it came to designing and building costumes for The Red Demon.
The Red Demon is quick-paced, and three of the four actors would be switching character many, many times, often with barely a second in between. So there was no time for elaborate costume changes. I envisioned base costume layers that would never change accented by layers, props, or accessories that could be picked up, discarded, and transformed in order to transform.
The actors had to be involved in the build process from the get-go, as their feedback in developing these hyper-quick-changes would be invaluable. And these quick change layers could not disguise the main characters that each actor was also playing. I had to present their individual quirks and mannerisms through the colors, details, and textures of their clothing. I also wanted details to reveal that all the characters were linked to each other in some way.
The character of the Red Demon was the most difficult, and the most fun, to dress. We knew from the beginning that we wanted his costume built in such a way so that a specific culture or nationality would be hard to determine. Originally, we even toyed with the idea of him looking more like a businessman than the others. We also discussed how to make it difficult to define his gender based on his outfit.
The process of developing costumes for this play was an enjoyable challenging, especially because we weren’t aiming for a polished look. We had a general idea and feel, and our main themes, but we were developing the costumes in real-time throughout the rehearsal process. This involved a lot of trust with the actors in asking for their input, and trust in my own, and the directors's, gut instinct that we would know when a costume was “finished.”
The area where I continue to learn a lot, and have a lot to learn, is make-up. I have so much gratitude for the staff at Kryolan in San Francisco for always being willing to field my many questions! And with the combined efforts of the cast, Nick, and Allie (who has a lot more make-up experience than I do), we created stunning looks for each character.
In this production process, I had the most fun painting and distressing the costumes, as well as adding minute details to each one. I am so grateful to have had such generous and intuitive performers and production staff to work with.
Photo by Gabe Maxson