Detroit Art City!

Nick Cave Costume Heard Herd
Nick Cave Costume Heard Herd
Nick Cave Costume, with happy young dancer!

Saturday was an outdoor performance extravaganza of Nick Cave’s costumes from his residency at Cranbrook.

Starting first with the lovely afternoon, and the sense of community that manifested in crowds of people on the hill ready to watch the dancers in anthropomorphic costumes dance and move to the beat of a small marching band.

I went with a friend who lives in Detroit, and the first thing that happened was that we decided to park far away and walk rather than pay $10 to go in the structure. It is in a very pretty part of the city, so we got to walk through a beautiful (if poorly maintained) park, and then down the hill to the park, which has another hill in it.

Grazing horses in front of the Renaissance Center
As they played L’après Midi d’un Faun, Horses grazed

Then, once we found a spot, we ran into the first person that we know, who had brought her mother, in from out of town. They shared our sheet and watched the show, chatting about the world, the community etc.

But the young woman wanted ice cream, so I went down the hill to get ice cream with her. And who should follow us back up the hill, but 2 of my students from FLY! I vaguely knew that one of them might be there since I had been talking to her mother earlier in the day. Even so, it was very random to be chased up the hill by 2 kids under 12.

Then the show, and afterwards, another FLY teacher was there with her kids, who were in our camps this summer too.

It is amazing how small the big scary world is, when it comes down to it!

Then someone said there were installations in the Dequindre Cut, so we walked down there and saw several installations: swings on an overpass, crazy steel-wire lightning erupting out of a hill, some weird constructions made out of gator board, and lots of beautiful murals/graffiti.

Having walked down the Dequindre Cut required a decision: to walk back to where we parked a few blocks from Milliken State Park, or to walk towards downtown and back up the river. I always love a good walk.

So off we went, down Gratiot, past a church with an Oktoberfest and a live pretty good live (high school) jazz band. Past the Fail Jail. Past several pieces of public art including some I’d never noticed before. Then into Campus Martius, and walking down Woodward to Hart Plaza we found some of those wacky merry-go-round chairs and some neat gazing balls.

The Ren Cen ever present with us on our journey, and Canada within sight for the last angle of the triangle.

In the photo of me, although the new landscaping in the park is more interesting than the statue, it is of one of the Stroh’s who loved bird-watching. We did see and hear some birds (and freighters and steamboats, oh my!).

Detroit Art City!!!

Fallen Angels

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Come see the latest show for PTD at the Riverside Arts Center, Fallen Angels Opens June 12.

Set in the 1920’s I’m taking inspiration from Erté in the gowns and dresses. Mostly they are dressed up contemporary evening gowns, but one was made from scratch.

Little Red with a Twist

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Little Red in the show, Into the Woods, gets to turn the Wolf into a new cloak, after the part of the story you know. I won’t give it all away, but here’s a sneak peak at how she’ll look when the unexpected part of the story starts.

This play is great with all kinds of archetypical and symbolic overtones. You should definitely come see it if you are in the A2 area.

Cinderella’s Birds

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The next play is Into the Woods, which is a fairy-tale mash-up. It goes up in a couple weeks, and so we are in construction mode. Not all costume design is done with a needle and thread, and as you have probably guessed, I like building things that people don’t expect.

In the play, Cinderella has birds that help her out, and in most productions, they are flown in. Our theatre doesn’t have flys to move in trees, birds, etc, so our trees and birds are puppets instead, making them my job instead of the scenic artist’s.

It means I get to play with power tools!

These were cut from insulation using a bandsaw, then sanded with a big belt-sander, and glued together with liquid nails.

Brecht, Aelita, and other Inspirations

Natella Abashwili in the CourtroomOne of my other recent projects was at the same school where we did Charlie Brown, but with the “Upper School” students (Grades 9-12). It was the play by Bertholt Brecht, The Caucasian Chalk Circle. It takes place in the Caucuses region in what is present day Georgia. It is not about “white” people, though if one did it as a period piece, set in the 1940’s and the 1920’s, I suppose people in that part of Western Asia are white.

The play is a parable based somewhat upon Solomon’s Judgement, but also focusing on the political situations in Russia and Germany at the time. That is, the Historical framework upon which the play sits is that of the Bolshevik Revolution in the late 1910’s, the ensuing chaos, and political drama.

The director, Emily Wilson-Tobin chose to use the current influence of The Hunger Games as a lens to help the students relate to the sideways angles of Brechtian drama, and make the underlying unfamiliar history relatable. The costumes in The Hunger Games, by Judianna Madkovsky have crazy lines, beautiful high-end construction, and a finish that in 9 weeks with 2 plays going at once weren’t going to be possible.

Natella Abashwili and her Towering Shadow

To solve this quandary from the beginning, we planned to use non-traditional materials which don’t need to be hemmed, can be glued rather than sewn, and theoretically are cheaper than fabrics, since many of them can be got for free. For example, the Balloon Dress above, or the wild pink-ribboned farthingale.

The Balloon Dress was actually one of the more expensive pieces because it went through several iterations and in order to allow the actress practice time with it, we had to re-inflate and add balloons at a few points. We made it modular rather than all taped together so that this would be possible.

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First, looking at the costumes in The Hunger Games, I realized there was some relationship to the costumes in Fritz Lang movies, and in a Russian Film, Aelita, Queen of Mars, a film which drew my gaze while browsing in Paris at a DVD shop because it holds my namesake, and held my attention because it had such wonderful sets and costumes.  It is a silent film, made in 1923.

So in the costumes for Greenhills’ production of The Caucasian Chalk Circle, as well as the set, we were most influenced by Russian and German Avant-Garde Cinema and Constructivist painting between the Wars than by the real clothes people in the region would have worn.

It was fun to work with students, and many of them helped with the design process, or just came to help out a little here and there. They learned a little about how we would do things in a larger scale professional production, about how to make design choices, and how some things are good on paper but less so on the proverbial boards.

For those who were interested, I also talked a little about my own family’s history and experiences at that time in Karelia, on the other side of Russia; the social connotations of dress and how to manipulate the audience’s perceptions; and how the history and social connotations of clothing and fashion are still present today, though in a different form.

Director: Emily Wilson-Tobin

Music Director and Composer: Benjamin Cohen

Tech Director: Laura Bird with assistance from Tim Ebeling

Assistant Costumers: Sarah Ceccio, Luena Maillard

Assistant Makeup Designer: Cat Bonner

(All Photos except Natella Abashwili and her Towering Shadow, are by Gabe Linderman, Greenhills student)