A mighty costume collaboration for Douglas College’s ‘A Macbeth’
By Julia Siedlanowska, Staff Writer
John Steinbeck once said that “there are no good collaborations,” stating that “Nothing was ever created by two men.” Well, thank goodness for women! Although Steinbeck meant that the individual must first conceptualize the idea before a group may collaborate on it, it seems director Thrasso Petras and costume designer Trena Hollands have found a way to meld minds on design matters. Having recently created the designs for Douglas College Theatre Department’s upcoming production of A Macbeth, I thought it would be a good time to sit down with the two to examine the origins of this semester’s costumes.
I first noticed the duo’s chemistry after a production of Twelfth Night at Douglas College: during a talk-back after the show, the designer was asked a question about the costumes, and a copy of Vogue was subsequently pulled out by the director and gushed over.
“It was the first show we worked on together,” recalls Petras. “Although it seemed like we’d known each other for a long time before that.”
I noticed in the director a certain interest in costume design that I saw as uncommon.
“I’m not designing,” admits Petras. “And I’m not going to turn up the hem of a costume and go ‘What’s going on here?’ I can’t sew to save my life, but I know what I’m looking at in a different way… sometimes, especially opening night will happen, or the dress rehearsal will happen and then all of a sudden there’s the set and the lights and, you know—hopefully people will know what they’re doing—and then all of a sudden it’s just like there’s the picture. Right? The picture just fills in and you’re like ‘Oh!’ I don’t know… You see the costumes again for the first time. And then they’re inside the context and they become even more beautiful. It’s because I know what went into it, so when I’m looking, I just look in a different way.”
With the obvious excitement these two displayed, I knew this partnership was more than ordinary.
“I think that when you’re working that way with someone, you have to get along in a certain way. It’s like a relationship,” laughs Petras.
“And I think that we never laugh at each other’s ideas,” says Hollands. “Well, except for sometimes… once in a while that happens. But neither one of us ever go ‘That’s crazy, what are you thinking?’ It’s like there is nothing too crazy to say.”
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,” Petras chimes in.
“And I think that that’s really helpful because while that may have been a crazy idea, more will come from that crazy idea,” adds Hollands.
The crazy idea that inspired the designs for Charles Marowitz’s A Macbeth was hard to pinpoint. After a long pause, glancing at Hollands, Petras announces “Casati.”
“Oh right! Yes,” exclaims Hollands. “Sort of. In such a very, very roundabout way. Luisa Casati. That one portrait with the red hair—that one.”
On the first day of rehearsals for A Macbeth, the Douglas College theatre students were presented with a picture of Luisa Casati. The eccentric Italian heiress was notorious in early 20th century Europe as a female “dandy.” A millionaire, she was reported to have indulged in such opulence—like keeping a leopard on a diamond leash—as to have been $25-million in debt by 1930. In her final days, she fled to London, where she was rumoured to be seen rummaging in garbage bins searching for feathers to decorate her hair. The red hair in Hollands’ sketch of Lady Macbeth is inspired by Casati.
“And the surrealist idea,” adds Hollands.
“That was kind of like just the little touchstone,” says Petras. “The men were really, really hard for this show.”
“Yeah. Because it was all about the kilts,” says Hollands. “Well we don’t want kilts but…”
“We want kilts!” the two say in unison.
This is how the idea of blown-up or almost “zoomed in” patterns came about in the costumes. “How do we do a kilt without doing a kilt. You know what I mean?” asks Hollands. “Although you wouldn’t necessarily look at these clothes and think ‘That’s very surrealist,’ but, you know, you’re taking what is and turning it into something more abstract.”
“Yeah and it doesn’t take much to just make a small shift in something very obvious and traditional,” adds Petras. “I had just seen a version of Macbeth in Edmonton where everyone was dressed very formally. They were dressed for a very formal Scottish wedding. And everybody was kind of sexy, and they all had bow ties and the whole shebang. And I saw pictures of Nevermore from New York, and I was like ‘Wait a minute!’ That’s the same kind of aesthetic. And then Luisa Casati is the same time frame, kind of like ‘20s/’30s where everyone’s all slick and stuff. So we didn’t want to go fully on, ‘Oh well, we’ll just go for a ‘20s/’30s kind of aesthetic,’ but that was sort of the touchstone.”
“And I had all these plaid samples!” exhales Hollands.
Although the play is set in Scotland, it was easy for both the director and the designer to see that plaid was not the direction they wanted to go in.
“The other practical thing is that it’s expensive to do kilts. Really expensive. To either build them, or find them so that they all match, fit properly. It’s huge!” explains Petras.
“And who wants to see that again?” chimes Hollands. “Who wants to see a million kilts on stage? Because we haven’t seen that enough times! Not that I have anything against kilts but…”
“But yeah! We’ve seen it and if it’s going to be anything interesting it needs to be done really, really meticulously. Which is going to cost a lot of money, for which we just don’t have the budget,” says Petras. “This department is producing miracles of costume with very little money.”
As the interview went on, I was able to witness more and more of the moments of unison that have yielded several shows worth of creative costume designs for Douglas College. This next show promises to be beautiful. As we discussed our favourite costume designs in film, our interview ended simply:
Hollands: What was that film? Sofia Coppola I think…
Petras: Marie Antoinette?
H: Yes! That opulence. I still haven’t seen Gatsby, which is kind of unfortunate…
P: Oh, me neither!
H: Well it’s out on DVD so we can have a date night. Excellent! Who’s TV is bigger?
P: Yours. I have a laptop.
H: Fine! You’re coming to my place.
Written by Charles Marowitz
Directed by Thrasso Petras
Laura C. Muir Theatre
Admission $12, students and seniors $10
November 8-16 at 7:30 p.m. and November 16 at 2 p.m.
tickets.masseytheatre.com or 604-521-5050
Written in 1969, Marowitz’s version is a streamlined, hard-hitting adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic. Marowitz gives us the story in fragments, condensing the experience and letting us re-examine the tale.