Read up on this past summer’s Bill Foeller Fellow/Fellowship Project play director Oliver Butler and his up-and-coming theatre company The Debate Society in the New York Times today!
We rely on costume designers to envision how the actors should look in any given production. But did you know that a whole team of people are behind the actual construction of almost every costume piece? I met with Ben Zawacki, a draper in the Festival’s Costume Shop, to learn about his job building costumes for the Festival, and to see how the Shop turns a costume design into a reality.
“First, the designer gives me sketches and fabric samples, and my job is to ensure the highest quality execution of that design with that fabric with the time and the resources we have. So I make the patterns for all the garments that we build here, and when I look at the sketches I look at things like pocket size, pocket placement, fullness of garment…
I’m currently working on this dress, for a character named Zara, and it’s an all Burberry print. Like, we’ve got fake pashmina Burberry scarves ready for this. [EDITOR'S NOTE: He's not kidding. The entire dress is made out of knock-off, Burberry-print scarves.]
Right now, I’ve started on the form with what’s called a half drape, just so I can get an idea of the lines and silhouettes the designer wants. I’m also transferring the notes and marks I’ve made on the half drape onto our brown tracing paper for the pattern.
Once this pattern is done, I’ll give it to my First Hand, who cuts the pattern out in muslin or some other really cheap fabric, and from that we make a mock-up of the costume, which we’ll then show to the designer to see if it looks the way he wants it to, and we’ll try it on the actor for fit and to see where the fabric falls on their body. Then, I go back and make the changes to the pattern and give it back to my first hand, who cuts the fabric out again.
After the first hand has cut the fashion fabric, which is what we call the final fabric that the garment is made out of, the cut garment is given to my stitcher. I will walk him or her through how the garment is should be put together and we will reference the pattern if needed. I will check in on the process of the garment and ask to see it in various stages so I know it’s going together properly. The stitcher puts the garment together but in the end, if there are problems or if it’s perfect, it all falls onto the draper, seeing as it is our technical vision.
Making clothing is an expensive endeavor. In the real world, something made this way would probably cost upwards of $1200.” – BEN ZAWACKI, Draper
WHADDABLOODCLOT!!! runs on the Nikos stage now through August 19 – for tickets and more information, click here.
“This workshop was taught by renowned scenic artist Diane Fargo. Over the three day workshop, the scenic design and paint departments had the opportunity to complete two small translucent projects: a graphic poster design and a two sided landscape and sunset. Additionally Jenny Knott, Paint Product Manager at Rosco, also gave a presentation and product demonstration.
In this photo, Nikos Associate Charge Helen McCarthy, and Paint Interns Christina McCormick and Seancolin Hankins are painting in the background of the graphic poster design. The design was first drawn out on brown paper, then perforated with a pounce wheel so that the image could be transferred onto the muslin flats by rubbing charcoal through the perforations. The black background was carefully painted with opaque black paint leaving the words and figures in the design untouched. Later, the words and figures on the poster were painted translucently, so that when lit from behind, the words and figures glow.” – NICHOLAS MELORO, Mainstage Assistant Scenic Charge
Can you tell us what the WTF Fellowship Program is exactly?
Each year Jenny Gersten and Laura Savia invite directors to pitch original play or musical ideas and then those directors ask writers they want to work with to come up with a pitch to give to Williamstown. If you are selected as the fellowship writer you then have a month or so to write the musical (or play) with the Non-Eq company as your cast. The cast helps us flesh out the story we are trying to tell and the characters we are watching. Mike makes it all come together for the 4 performances in August. At the end of the day it’s pretty much a very sophisticated workshop process.
How did you all get involved with the Fellowship Program this year?
Mike was an AD at WTF a few years ago and Sharon and I did a workshop of a musical here last year that went well. When Mike approached us about pitching a musical idea to Williamstown for the fellowship Sharon and I were very excited. We love the energy of this place and any opportunity to work here and use these amazing resources is a blessing for all of us.
What’s the story of Becoming Sylvia?
Becoming Sylvia is a musical about young artists on the verge of making it, trying to balance career aspirations with starting families; and it’s about the kind of love that gets deep inside your bones and never lets you go.
What inspired you to write/work on a musical about Sylvia Plath?
Sharon and I have always been secretly obsessed with Sylvia and her writing. I think a lot of artists have stayed away from portraying Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes because their lives have been so widely documented and judged. Our number one goal with approaching this musical was to tell the story very few people know. In our story their lives are seen from the perspectives of other people.
Can you describe your experiences working with the Non-Eq Company this summer?
Fantastic. The Non-Eq actors are some of the most game, generous and ferocious actors you could ever hope to work with – in this process, we’ve continued to throw new material at them, and they tirelessly show up every day, ready to bring their full creativity, sensitivity and intellect to the process.
How has your experience at the Festival this summer been a unique one?
The support and positive energy at Williamstown has been overwhelming. It’s been a fast and furious process, developing a new full length musical in just under a month and also getting it up as a workshop production; but everyone has been so committed and encouraging, from the cast to the people working in the theater to load in our space who haven’t slept in three days – it’s been a real team effort.
Becoming Sylvia, this year’s Fellowship Musical, plays in the Directing Studio August 12-13 at 7 PM and 11 PM – FREE tickets can be reserved by calling 413.597.3400.
In Katori Hall’s WHADDABLOODCLOT!!!, our final production of the season, wealthy socialite Eden Higgenbotham suffers from a stroke…and wakes up with a Jamaican accent. The cause? Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), a real-world disorder that causes those who suffer from it to appear to speak with a foreign accent that they cannot change or control. While Hall’s play depicts the disorder with biting humor, it doesn’t hestitate to make clear that, when you have FAS, you end up losing more than control over your voice. Here’s WTF’s primer on causes of, cases of, and misconceptions about one of the world’s strangest neurological disorders.
WHEN YOU HAVE FAS, HERE’S…
What DOES NOT Happen
> You do not acquire a foreign accent. Let me explain. When we hear someone with FAS speak, we hear something that sounds, to us, like a foreign accent. But the brain trauma that causes FAS doesn’t drag an accent out of a victim’s memory and force them to speak with it, or cause them to misremember what accent they grew up speaking, or anything even remotely like that. Instead, it damages the brain’s language centers, causing subtle shifts in the sufferer’s speech that have nothing to do with their memory or experience of any accent, and then people who hear the victim’s voice perceive the change in speech as the presence of an accent.
This explains why many FAS sufferers have “hybrid accents” (like a woman in WHADDABLOODCLOT!!! whose accents sounds “British/Hungarian”) and how some sufferers can develop “accents” that they’ve never had much contact with before, like the Australian woman who developed a Chinese-sounding accent, even though she’s never been to China. She’s not actually speaking with a Chinese accent at all – she’s speaking with changes in her speech that we perceive as a Chinese accent.
> You do not magically learn the language that you now have the “accent” for. If I were to wake up with FAS and suddenly sound Russian, I’d still be able to speak English, but I wouldn’t be able to speak Russian any better than I can now.
* To be fair, there are a couple of really cool stories of people waking up from brain trauma and suddenly being fluent in German or knowing perfect English even though they’ve never spoken it before – they just have little to no hard science to back them up. So enjoy them, but don’t take them seriously.
>You do not become a different person. FAS causes no other neurological or psychological changes in those who develop it, although many FAS victims do suffer from depression and the feeling that they’ve lost parts of their identities.
What DOES Happen
> You hurt your brain. The lion’s share of FAS cases are caused by brain trauma, usually from a stroke or a severe migraine or migraine condition – this woman actually went to sleep because of a migraine and woke up with a French “accent”. A couple more have been linked to the nerve disorder multiple sclerosis and to other developmental problems. There are a couple of fluke cases that seem to have little do with brain damage, but generally, you need to mess up your brain pretty badly to be at risk for FAS.
> Your brain’s language centers get…confused. Due to the trauma inflicted by the stroke/injury/etc. etc., a part of the brain that is responsible for a certain linguistic function is damaged and starts doing its job differently than it ever has before. For example, the part of the brain that controls how much a person with a British accent rounds her lips might be damaged, and suddenly, when she pronounce words like “small” or “fall”, her lips won’t round as much, and she will sound like she’s from the American South. Or the part that controls a California man’s use of the letter ‘r’ in everyday speech will stop working properly, and the lack of ‘r’ in that man’s speech will cause any stranger who talks to him to assume that he’s from Boston.
Often, only one element of speech is drastically changed in an FAS victim’s speech – that British woman with the Southern drawl is still going to articulate all her consonants in a British way, and she’s not gonna start saying “y’all” soon or anything like that – but the change is drastic enough that it sounds like the person’s entire accent has changed.
Other Notable Cases
> One of the first recorded cases of FAS involved a young Norwegian woman, known as Astrid L., who developed a strong German accent after a piece of shrapnel hit her in the head during an air-raid. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this happened in 1941, right in the heart of WWII, and Astrid was ostracized from her community because her new accent sounded like that of the German enemy.
> In 2006, Linda Walker, 60, of Newcastle, England, woke up in a hospital from a stroke, and has since lived with an accent that many have labeled as both Jamaican and Eastern European.
> You can hear the change in an anonymous Texan woman’s voice due to FAS on this webpage from the University of Texas at Dallas.
So the next time you hear someone speaking with a crazy accent, whether you’re in the WHADDABLOODCLOT!!! audience or walking down the street, remember that people don’t always come by their accents willingly. And if someone tells you they’re from Hawaii even though it sounds like they’re from Slovakia, don’t be so quick to judge – for all you know, they could be telling the truth.
WHADDABLOODCLOT!!! runs on the Nikos stage from August 8-19 – for tickets and more information, click here.
You may not have heard of Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country before you learned about it being in this summer’s WTF season, but it’s been a staple of the Russian drama canon for decades, and a host of great performers have starred in it over the years. Here, a review of some of the play’s most notable productions and stars:
Moscow Art Theatre, 1909: Constantin Stanislavski, considered by many to be the father of modern acting training, played Rakitin in this landmark production with his Moscow Art Theatre, cementing the play’s status as a Russian drama classic.
Phoenix Theatre, Broadway, 1956: Starring legendary actress and drama teacher Uta Hagen as Natalya, this production was directed by Michael Redgrave, who played Rakitin in several major London productions. Uta would later go on to play the same role in the 1959 film version of the play
Williamstown Theatre Festival, 1978: This Nikos-directed production starred Rosemary Harris as Natalya and Blythe Danner (who graced the Nikos stage in The Blue Deep earlier this summer) as Lizaveta, and was also the U.S. premiere of a new translation of the play, by Ariadne Nicolaeff.
Criterion Center Stage Right/Roundabout Theatre Company, Broadway, 1995: Helen Mirren played Natalya to Alessandro Nivola’s Belyaev in this revival, directed by Scott Ellis. (Scott directed this summer’s production of The Elephant Man, in which Alessandro plays a starring role.) Jennifer Garner was understudy for the roles of Katia and Verochka, and a very young Paul Dano was understudy for Kolya.
Williamstown Theatre Festival, 2012: Led by Jessica Collins and Jeremy Strong, the hugely talented cast of this summer’s production are ready to take on the world with a new, landmark translation of this Russian classic.
Don’t miss the next step in the history of this great play! A Month in the Country plays on the Main stage from now until August 19. For tickets and more information, click here.
Our sweeping production of Ivan Turgenev’s A Month in the Country begins performances tonight, and we couldn’t be more excited to carry on the Festival’s tradition of great Russian drama with this ground-breaking new translation. To celebrate, here are a few highlights from the Festival’s Russian past:
> Nikos’ Legacy – During his 33-year tenure as Artistic Director, from 1956 to 1988, Nikos Psacharopoulos directed 15 productions of Russian drama, including four productions of Three Sisters, four productions of The Sea Gull, three productions of The Cherry Orchard, three productions of plays by Maxim Gorky and one production of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country. Chekhov was one of his favorite playwrights.
> The Seagull (1974) – One of Nikos’ most memorable Chekhov productions starred Blythe Danner, Frank Langella, and Olympia Dukakis among many other noted actors of the day, and was later taped for PBS’ ‘Great Performances’ program and broadcast nationwide. The lighting for this show was designed by Peter Hunt, who would later go on to succeed Nikos as Artistic Director of the Festival.
> Enemies (1982) -This production of Gorky’s play was directed by Austin Pendleton, a prolific actor and director who is one of the Festival’s most beloved family members, and featured Sam Waterston, Blythe Danner, and Steve Lawson, one of the Festival’s most veteran members and writer of this year’s Free Theatre production.
> The Chekov Cycle (2003)- To close out the 2003 season, a cadre of Festival stalwarts, including Olypmia Dukakis, Peter Hunt, and Austin Pendleton, came together to stage readings of Chekov’s four major plays, as well as a play inspired by letters written between Chekov and his wife. This last play, I take your hand in mine…, was written by Carol Rocamora and read by Olympia Dukakis and her real-life husband, Louis Zorich. The lighting design was by Ben Stanton, who designed the lights for this summer’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, and the sound was designed by Drew Levy, who also designed the sound for Last of the Red Hot Lovers, The Elephant Man, and A Month in the Country this season. And the stage manager was none other than the Festival’s current Producer, Stephen Kaus.
> The Cherry Orchard (2004) - Directed by Michael Greif and set-designed by Allen Moyer (director and set designer for this season’s Far From Heaven, respectively), this production featured Jessica Chastain and Michelle Williams, pre-Academy Award nominations, and Jeremy Strong, one of A Month in the Country’s leading players.
> Three Sisters (2008) – The Festival’s latest foray into Russian drama until now, many of the artists who worked on this production are now major players in this year’s Festival season. Michael Greif directed, Kenneth Posner made the lighting design, and Allen Moyer designed the set – all three of these men have just finished working in those same capacities our most recent Main stage show, Far From Heaven. Clint Ramos designed the costumes, and has now designed costumes for two of this year’s productions, Last of the Red Hot Lovers and The Elephant Man. And Stephen Kaus, once again, was stage manager.
> A Month in the Country (2012) – Our upcoming production of this Russian classic features a thrust stage built into the Main Stage’s audience space, a sound design the likes of which has never been seen at the Festival before, and a glimmering cast. Not only does it continue the Festival’s legacy of innovative and invigorating productions of Russian classics, but it marks the beginning of a collaboration between director Richard Nelson and translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, as they embark on a quest to translate the lion’s share of Russian drama. We are so thrilled to have the first fruits of that collaboration premiering here at Williamstown.
A Month in the Country plays on the Main stage from August 1-19. For tickets and more information, check out our Preview video above or click here.
“My favorite thing about working here is the ‘all-hands-on-deck’ mentality that everyone has. Everyone’s willing to pitch in. If it makes someone’s day easier to do something, I’ll do it, and that work ethic is in everyone here.” – AMANDA KEATING, 2012 Marketing and Development Assistant. She helped put this flag and its neighbors up outside the ’62 Center at the beginning of the season.
Watch as our scenic, props, lighting, sound, production and apprentice crews changeover the Nikos Stage from LAST OF THE RED HOT LOVERS to THE ELEPHANT MAN.
WTF Artistic Director Jenny Gersten and director and co-translator Richard Nelson introduce us to the rich and heart-breaking world of Ivan Turgenev’s A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY. Co-translated with Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, two of the world’s foremost translators of Russian literature, this ground-breaking production will transform the Main stage into a thrust stage, while bringing in elements of stagecraft the likes of which have never been seen before in WTF’s history. For tickets and more information, go to http://www.wtfestival.org/2012/country.