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Monday, October 21, 2013

Creating Hats for Theatre, Part II

I wrote before about the logic (or, maybe, just the biased enthusiastic desire) behind making hats for "Pirates of Penzance." And shared my findings on hat styles/silhouettes circa 1877.

So this post is a little about the artistic decisions and mechanical challenges of the hats.

Pirates and maidens. (Photo by Adam Silverman.)
First off, the costumes. The costumer finished the dresses well before I began any work on the hats. So the hats were specifically designed to coordinate with the dresses (as well as each actor). Picky historians will note that the dresses are not strictly historically accurate in terms of cut, colors and fabrics. They are costume-y ... and delightfully sweet and silly in the pastel color scheme. They are fabulous costumes! And for community theatre (and a community theatre budget), they are truly amazing. The style was the thing: a slightly cartoonish aesthetic that was part of the director's wonderful vision for the show.

Thus, instead of trimming the hats in a variety of colors (which might be more historically appropriate), I made monochromatic hats for each of the four maidens. I used scrap fabric leftover from the dresses. Except for the lavender hat, which was hand-shaped sewn straw base, the girls' hats were made of buckram and wire and covered in fabric. (This was a fun and challenging step outside of my comfort zone, which is primarily felt.) ... And, of course, I had to put several matching ostrich feathers on each hat!

Mabel. (Photo by Adam Silverman.)
Mabel's hat was a different matter. As a character, she is "other." She enters separately from the other girls, and her storyline is very different from theirs. So I didn't have to adhere to the same choices with her hat. She didn't have to be as monochromatic as the other girls, which is good because the green of her dress would have been too much if the hat were the same color! I used a straw base (hand-blocked/shaped) and used four different colors of green to trim it (1=the brim edge, 2=the crown ribbon, 3=a ribbon to tie behind her hair and 4=the kelly green on a ruffle/bandeau at the back and as some of the ostrich feathers on the hat). Ivory ostrich feathers were on top to keep the green ostrich feathers from looking too intense. I am please with how well the greens pull together without matching.

Mabel's hat was also able to be less secure than the other four hats.

The four maidens had to do the following in the hats: run/scamper around, jump up and down energetically, be captured by pirates and struggle to get free, a bit of choreography that knocked the hats about sometimes, faint (lavender) ... oh, and bend upside down to start to untie boots!

"A man!" (Photo by Adam Silverman.)
The photo above was taken immediately after we stood up after bending over to untie our boots. The hats are still on! The director marveled at how unheard-of it is to have hats on stage go through all that and still stay in place.

Bad blogger that I am, I neglected to take pictures of the undersides of the hats. They were not pretty! But they were functional, and that is what matters. At the front of each hat, I put a hair comb, so the hat would be secured at the front as it slid back onto the hair. Clips or horsehair loops at the sides gave a little extra insurance, but they weren't a primary securing method. At the back, stiff wire loops were able to slide down into the hair at the back of the skull. Pinning those wires to the hair was what enabled them to stay in place so well. Again, strange-looking to any layperson who might pick up one of the hats, but invisible on stage.

During the tech rehearsal, the director said to me "You're just beaming when you look at those hats!" And so I was. I am quite proud of my work. More than one person commented to me that the hats pulled the costumes together and were the icing on the cake. Combining my passions for millinery and for theatre was quite a treat.

Maidens spying on Mabel and Frederic. (Photo by Adam Silverman.)

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