What is it like to go on a shopping spree with someone else’s money? Cole Bylander knows. Asked by Director Joel Sass to be the costume designer for The Realistic Joneses, currently on Park Square Theatre’s Boss Thrust Stage until October 16, Bylander did just that.
Typically, a costume designer does much research, makes sketches, then creates the garments for a production’s cast. But because The Realistic Joneses is set in modern times, Bylander was able to simply acquire ready-made clothing and accessories. He estimates shopping for three to five hours per character, imagining what would naturally be in the personal closets of Bob, Jennifer, John and Pony Jones.
During their fittings, the actors explored their characters through Bylander’s choices, free to accept or reject his picks depending on their own interpretations. The performers also helped to choose what they would wear for each scene. This costuming process allowed ideas to flow in an organic, collaborative way.
Why didn’t Bylander simply raid each actor’s home closets to build appropriate contemporary wardrobes? Not only would that be too much to ask of an actor, but you’d also run the risk of the actors looking too similar to themselves as opposed to the characters that they are creating. An actor’s personal taste may also not match the character’s esthetics. For instance, Jane Froiland dresses in a less bohemian style than her character Pony Jones. However, a few of the actors’ own items are indeed worn on stage, such as Angela Timberman’s shoes and purse and Eric “Pogi” Sumangli’s pants. Actors are be paid a minimal rental fee for use of their personal possessions.
Any final costuming adjustments were made during the technical rehearsals, which was the first time when Bylander got to see all the play’s elements working together. Is that dress too short? Is that shirt’s color too much like that of the blanket? No major changes were needed for this play.
What happens to the Joneses’ wardrobe after the show? Unworn garments with tags still attached are returned to the stores for refunds, actors purchase some pieces and an assessment is made of what is stored away or donated to charities.
“I take it as a great compliment when an actor wants to keep what I’ve chosen,” said Bylander.
Bylander has shopped before for actors in film, but this was his first time to do such extensive shopping for a theatre production.
“It was a really successful approach for The Realistic Joneses because there are only four characters,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing it with a cast of 20.”
Shop till you drop? No, more like intensely mindful shopping, followed by intensely mindful fittings, all for a rich payoff for an intensely characters-driven show. After all the hard work on The Realistic Joneses, what’s next on Bylander’s To Do List? A much-needed vacation.
To learn more about the many talents of Cole Bylander, visit his website: www.colebylander.com