Building Characters Backwards

For the short film Faux Play which I’m working on at the moment, I made a decision to make costumes first and then let the characters emerge from them. This is a little bit back to front as far as my previous experience and work with characters and costume design is concerned.

In the past, working on plays or dance performance, I’ve always prepared the characters and the choreography first then designed costuming to complement certain traits or characteristics that I (or usually we as) felt were important for the persona/character or aspects of the performance.

For example, in A Hangin’ Error, which was a short work prepared with a group of performers for my honours project; we made a decision to make very simplistic costumes and placed preference on freedom of movement. The work was predominately dance-based therefore the performers needed to move without obstacle.

This time around, however, I’ve done things back to front. It’s not so unusual though considering this project as a whole has a heavy emergent quality. Perhaps this approach fits together nicely with the way I’ve started to explore faux drag and other elements of the research.

Today’s post and the next few more after this will talk about the design concepts of each costume featured in Faux Play and reflect on how the characters began to emerge from the costumes.



On a recent holiday I found myself enjoying rather a lot of high-tea in pretty little tea houses. Lovely sugary cakes for small hands on 3 tiered stands, lemon wedges floating in fragrant hot tea, delicate hand painted Royal Doulton…. (Maybe I’ll just have a beaker Hyacinth!)

How very cute it all was. As a souvenir I bought home a comically large novelty tea bag designed to be infused in your bathwater; but the huge tea bag came in a huge tea bag packet featuring a lady lying about in a huge tea cup and saucer enjoying her peppermint tea bath. This got me a-thinkin’ about a high-tea series of drag costumes. I thought a lemon cake, a Victoria sponge, a lamington for something Australian and perhaps a tea-pot would do nicely. When I returned home I got to work on concepts of a high-tea series, some of those ideas are on the backburner now, but a tea-themed costumed did come to life.

I prepared a costume which had a working title of Tea Bag Toddy. I wanted this costume to feature dried tea bags and pastel candy stripes. I wanted to have good freedom of movement in the legs, but the torso could be restricted if necessary. So I managed to find a strong boned bodice and a pastel skirt which allowed for movement at my local Salvation Army store. I defused and then dried over 50 tea bags and patiently hot glued them to the bodice and skirt. I had to be careful to leave the sides of the bodice free of tea bags because I was concerned that my arms would rub at them pop open the bags. Instead I glued ribboned candy stripes punctuated with bows and lines of tea packaging.

At the minute this is my favourite costume, because a character emerged out of it that I truly was not expecting. She is Lady Grey and I first met her when I tried on the costume and attempted some choreography for Faux-Play. My feet were rubbing on the bedroom carpet so I slipped on my ballet shoes. It quickly became apparent that Lady Grey was a closet ballerina, who is just beginning to learn ballet at 35 and due to the lack of adult classes in her village she learns with the tiny tots. Unfortunately for her, she also dances like the tiny tots. Actually let me give her a chance to introduce herself:

Well good morning to you! I’m Lady Letitia Grey of Greyborne Manner, splendid to meetchoou. You may well know of my Husband Earl Grey… no? Oh gosh I thought everyone who’s anyone knew Rupert. Oh  ., well! We simply MUST have you for tea.

 Well as I said I am Lady Grey and I must say that I truly truly love Ballet! It is my absolute passion in life. I only began to learn recently however. You see my mother didn’t feel that it was best, I was a rather round little girl you see. I was to begin ballet lessons as a child, however when I squeezed into the leotard my mother felt I too closely resembled a blueberry and absolutely refused to let me be seen in such a way. So while all the other little girls and boys learned to be dying swans and the like, mother thought Greco-Roman wrestling was best for me. I still resembled a blueberry but my size usually frightened my opponent so it worked out well for me. I have many trophies inside.

Only a few months ago I was recounting the tale to Rupert and he said, “Darling, now is your time! You must learn ballet.” It’s never too late he said. So I did! But I did a little google as you do and I couldn’t seem to find any classes for adult Ladies like myself. However the very kind staff at Twinkle-Tots Ballet Academy and Studios offered me a place in their highly exclusive class. It’s true that all the other women are 5 year olds, but I think that I don’t stand out too much. I certainly don’t throw as many tantrums… and I only weed myself that one time.

More from Lady Grey in my next post; Stay Tuned and let me know what you think on the FORUM.       

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