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Emma Williams: Costume Designer For Pride And Prejudice

March 11, 2013

There are “shopping trips” that you or I might take when the old wardrobe could stand a bit of sprucing up, and there are SHOPPING TRIPS like the one in January that Emma Williams devoted to outfitting the cast of Pride And Prejudice. A highly regarded British costume designer who has been flying back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean this season during a residency of sorts at the Globe, she spent four full business days at an establishment in London that services theatre companies whenever budget restrictions call for something borrowed as opposed to something new.

“A this point, I’m rather costume blind, but I think it works,” Williams said as the ambitious show was being launched and her responsibilities were winding down with a satisfactory conclusion to a process that routinely begins with a series of original drawings, as was the case for The Wizard Of Oz, or with a list so comprehensive it would challenge anyone outside of the North Pole.Emma Williams

Having reread Jane Austen’s novel to acquaint herself once more with character, plot and theme, and diligently researched the Regency period in the name of historical accuracy, Williams departed with the body measurements of the 16 men and women who perform about 30 different roles, and returned with an estimated 60 to 70 costumes, from entire pieces to tiniest accessories, renting more than was needed, initially, in order to provide director Marti Maraden with options and to make possible any problem solving that might be necessary during the preparations.

With projects such as this, the operative word is “authenticity,” and the bottom line is not the personal glorification of the designer but the needs of the actors who are creating the characters that will be telling the story. “It isn’t a fashion show, it’s a play,” Williams says. “The costumes may be a delight to the audience, but for the actors they must be functional, and you don’t want to create a hindrance backstage either, because there’s a lot of stuff going on already.”

Two dressers are required in this production, and there are easily enough scene and costume changes to occupy twice that number. Their function is not necessarily to dress the actors literally, but to ensure that the costume pieces are laid out in a way that is “organized, efficient, logical,” and to check to see that everything is “as it should be” as the actors are about to return to the stage.

It is the actors themselves who are responsible for dressing, and it all begins in rehearsal when the performers are given time to what amounts, basically, to getting used to their working clothes. Costumes are introduced early on, and the footwear is integrated slowly, with hairstyles coming last.

Ideally, the initial fitting will be done even before rehearsals begin, but certainly by the first day of rehearsal at the latest. There is the interim and final fittings, as well, but often, especially when preparation time is short, these two are combined into one. Among the costume designer’s more practical skills is the self-discipline that guards against unnecessary tweaking.

“You could tweak forever, but you have to know when to stop. You don’t just tweak for the sake of tweaking.” Williams says. “Quite often, most often, in fact, you’ll find that less is more.”

Pride and Prejudice runs from March 6 – 24, 2013. Visit the Globe Theatre website for more details, cast information, and to purchase tickets.

Nick Miliokas is a freelance writer and editor based in Regina. You can reach him by email at rozenstern@rocketmail.com.

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