Monday, April 22, 2019

Living History Theatre: Rehearsal Techniques

We had a really good rehearsal for the Locust Grove First Person Interpreters on Saturday. Everyone seemed to leave with a greater degree of confidence, so I thought I would talk a little bit about what we did. I've talked a bit about some of these things in some earlier blogs, but this should be a little more in depth of an idea of how this plays out in a rehearsal.

The Gwathmeys practice introducing themselves.
Photo courtesy of Fox & Rose Photography

Asking leading questions, giving each other an 'in'. 
When you are doing first person, you usually have topics you have researched really well and want to talk about. But sometimes it might feel awkward to launch into a monologue out of nowhere. Conversely, you probably have questions you are really hoping you won't get, because you haven't been able to research that yet, or you have researched it and cannot find an answer.

We went around our circle and talked about things we want to talk about. Then we ran several scenes were people would practice asking each other leading questions in character to bring out that information.

"I understand you have a new grandbaby!" "Oh, yes, I'm making her some new clothes right now, I am so excited! She has the biggest blue eyes..."etc

Sharron with her letter in rehearsal.
Photo courtesy of Fox & Rose Photography.

 "How is your son? I know he has been traveling"

"Oh, it is so kind of you to ask, I have actually just had a letter from him! Now see here what he has written...."

Mrs. Fitzhugh reads the letter from her son to guests. 
Photo Courtesy of Historic Locust Grove 

"Tell me again about the war papa. Were you really at Yorktown?" 
"Oh, no, I didn't make it to Yorktown, they thought I had done enough by then. But let me tell you about Brandywine, child..."

Audience focus 
What we are doing is part of a museum program, and our primary focus is interacting with the museum guests. From that perspective, it's not enough for us to be comfortable talking to each other in character, we have to  be sure that we are including our guests. So we also practiced running scenes like the one above, where someone else would come in as a guest. We practiced including them in the conversation.

"oh, pardon my manners, madam, here we are going on, let me introduce myself, Colonel Richard Taylor, and this is my lovely daughter Miss Emily Taylor." 

"Where are my manners? Please, allow me to introduce my friends"
Photo courtesy of Historic Locust Grove

"I was just asking papa about his time in the Revolution. Do you know he served with George Washington? Please tell us all about it, Papa."

What you are really doing here is involving your guests in an improv scene. By acknowledging their presence and introducing yourself, you send the signal that they are allowed to talk to you and ask you questions.

It's ok to say 'I don't know'
There are so many things we dont' know about the world we live in, and people living in 1816 didn't know every detail about their world either. When someone asks you a question in character you don't know the answer to, don't let it break you! It is absolutely fine to just not know it in character.

We portray the year 1816. Some of the people we portray were active in the Revolutionary war, others stayed home. Some weren't even alive. When someone asks Ann Croghan detailed questions about the War she says "oh, I don't know, I wasn't alive then! But you should go and ask my father, he was in the War." The man playing her father has spent a lot of time researching William Croghan's involvement in the war and is ready to talk about this.

Comfort and cohesion 
All of this rehearsing allows our cast members to work on their confidence and their comfort with each other. If  you have tried and stumbled in rehearsal, that's fine! The public wasn't there, we all just laugh and move on. That doesn't happen overnight, but we have worked really hard to be sure that our rehearsals are a friendly, safe space where people feel comfortable pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and laughing it out with their friends.

Photo courtesy of Fox & Rose Photography

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

New Regency Ballgown

I made this ballgown for the Locust Grove Ball in February. 

Photo credit Historic Locust Grove 

This was mostly based on this example, sketched out in Costume in Detail 

I actually fished the fabric out of my stash (yay, destashing!). This was a cotton sari I had bought from Regency Revisited eons ago, and totally forgotten about! I really need to go through my fabric tubs more, you find the greatest things!

Costume in Detail pages 103-104

The first part of this project involved my amazing fiance helping me make a duct tape dress form. I didn't actually take pictures of this, because I honestly was too afraid it wouldn't work out. In the end, it *mostly* did, and it has been invaluable! Also the whole affair was pretty fun, though I don't know what anyone walking by our dining room windows thought! (Fun fact we live next to a funeral home...) 

We fit the duct-tape form with my regency stays on, so I could drape on the right bustline. I stuffed the inside with pollyfill and plastic trash bags. Having this made a HUGE difference! I was able to drape a mock-up over the perfect bustline (though I have no photos for the same reason). 

When I tried on the mock-up, there did seem to be some distortion around the armsceye. However I was able to solve it pretty easily by just slashing it and redrawing the curve. 

A lot of this project was just taking the time to set the the gathers how I wanted them. It was time consuming, but it was a fun and satisfying process.  I gathered the front and back onto a piece of tape right under the bustline to provide stability. 

I cannot TELL you how much I agonized over the direction the peacocks were going here. Ultimately I decided it was fine, but Brian was pretty entertained to hear my muttering that the 'the damn turkeys are going the wrong way!"

Once the bodice was done, I just had to place the skirt, which was pretty easy.

I tried to keep the front smooth, but keep pleats on the back and sides. The original  had them mostly towards the back, but I like to add some on the sides as well so everything flows well over my hips. 

After I had pinned everything in place, I topstitched it. I was able to mostly hide the stitching, but there is also a line of stitching showing on the sketch in CID, do don't worry too much about. Topstitching is totally period. 


You can kind of see the stitching for the drawstring channel under the bust, but from the sketch in CID it looks like it is like that on the original. 

I ran into some issues because the ribbon I used for the drawstring was not long enough, and ended up popping back into the channel as I put the dress on. I was able to fish it out, but I really should have known  better. 

I finished this dress about an hour before I left for the ball, so I pretty much realized there would be some issues putting it on the first time and went in prepared. Luckily my friend Tom Tumbusch was there to help me get dressed, and he is AWESOME.

One other thing I realized far too late in this process was that I should have traced a line showing where my stays sit on the dressform. As it was I may have made the dip in the back a *little* too low. Luckily  Tom was able to help tuck everything down and pin it in place. I think I can alter it pretty easily before I wear it again, but I also need to just trace the darn stay lines on this thing.

Making a duct tape bodice over your stays is great, BUT
  • You will still need to do a mock-up!
  • Draw a line showing where your stays are on the the dressform.
  • Longer drawstrings are better than not long enough! 

With the ladies of the Indiana Historical Costuming Society. This was a really fun night.
Photo credit Historic Locust Grove.