For Sarah Bahr, the costume designer for Park Square Theatre’s production of Macbeth, determining the time period of the play with Director Jef Hall-Flavin was key to nailing down her costume concepts.
“Jef and I discussed creating our own ‘Brutal Period,’ which takes from ancient and modern,” Sarah said.
“From the start, I wasn’t interested in an historic representation of ancient Scotland,” Jef explained. “While that’s a fine idea for a film, I find it can remove the audience from the here and now. I want the audience to feel connected to the characters. Historically accurate costumes are also not practical when actors plays multiple roles. My goal was to create an onstage world where swords and daggers don’t feel out of place, but yet we may recognize fabric and garments from our own time.”
Sarah added, “I melded research from couture fashion designers and medieval clothing. Through my research process, I found similarities in the use of leather and heavy woven cloth, draping fabrics and asymmetrical lines.”
Jef further challenged Sarah to create a religious symbol for the prophesying three witches or sisters. It would be the same symbol that Macbeth would wear as well.
“Countless productions have portrayed the witches as supernatural figures,” Jef said, “but I wanted them to be more like nuns. So the challenge I gave to Sarah was to create garments for a religion that doesn’t exist. What she’s been able to cleverly create is an ecclesiastical look for the sisters–complete with symbology and meaning as if it were a major world religion–without being recognizable as historically Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Ours is a religion without a name.”
Sarah had researched geometric symbols of Alchemy and modern jewelry design to come up with the symbol for the witches and Macbeth, a circle with a triangle inside and a rectangular + shape at the bottom. Then she extended the concept of using geometric symbols to identify characters as Thanes but also differentiate each as coming from a different place, somewhat similar to the idea of family crests. This latter choice also helped to further accentuate the importance of symbols for Macbeth, King Duncan and the sisters.
Because this production has nine actors portraying 24 characters within just 90 minutes, Sarah additionally came up with the idea of color coding characters to wear their related group’s color. For instance, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wear red tones, while Macduff’s family members are garbed in greens. This not only helps the actors with speedier costume changes but, more importantly, helps the audience track plot lines plus understand who is who and their relationship to each other.
“It’s a great solution to providing the kind of clarity I wanted,” Jef said, “especially since many of our audience members will have never seen the play before.”
Regardless of whether you’ve seen Macbeth performed on stage before, you have decidedly not seen it ever depicted within the Brutal Period, a time reminiscent of both then and now. This tragic Shakespeare play remains pertinent to this day. Don’t miss it on the Andy Boss Thrust Stage March 17 to April 9.
(Note: If you’d missed it, be sure to go back to read the prior post, “SARAH BAHR: Costume Designer for Macbeth.”)
* All costume sketches on this post are by Sarah Bahr; all photos were taken by Connie Shaver.
Ting Ting Cheng joined Park Square Theatre’s Front of House staff in 2014. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Los Angeles, she became a Minnesotan after graduating from Carleton College with a B.A. in English Literature. She loves live theatre and has a passion for writing.