When a musical is constructed with attention to detail and integrity, the dialogue, acting, and music score spin their own complex stories that weave together the overall plot. They underpin the narrative, offering a profusion of information that envelops the audience in details. In the same way, costumes, sets, lighting, props, audio, and every other aspect of the show tells the story through its own medium—echoing, reinforcing, and building upon the themes of the master narrative.
As Myth’s opening night approaches, wardrobe scrambles to finish each outfit. Besides the costume designer, three girls and I form the wardrobe team. We come to rehearsal as often as our schedules allow and help the designer with whatever the costumes need, whether that be cutting, hemming, beading, or even hot gluing. Each costume tells its character’s story, some in color or shape, some in progression throughout the show, and each character’s clothing is proportional to their cultural rank and importance in the story. The costume designer creates each piece with calculated detail so the audience will know not only how integral each person is, but also who they are. Over the past month, what began as haphazard piles of fabric, trim, and rented articles of clothing have slowly transformed into racks of woven, sepia-toned stories. First the three fates, only distinguishable from one another by their hair; next the chorus, variant yet uniform so they cannot truly be told apart, and looking as though they could at any point dissolve back into dirt; then the principle characters: Hera, Athena, Apollo, and others who will contrast the brown with their disparate whites, blues, and golds.
The wardrobe domain lies behind the stage door, so everyone crosses through our space as they come and go from rehearsal. Next to boxes of shoes and sewing supplies stands the steep, black staircase leading to stage left. Following it up, every wall is covered in scrawled signatures from past performances. They slowly peter out as they move closer to the proscenium. From the top of the stairs several black curtains obscure the stage view, but stepping delicately around them presents one with a striking view of the set.
The design is simple, and the pieces remain onstage—but the overall impact is powerful. Walking behind the set, I crane my head back to see the pillars on Mount Olympus. Wooden platforms rise in jagged layers, covered in the same brown paper that makes up the backdrop. Everything is large, dwarfing the smaller actors, but somehow fitting for Zeus and Hades. The magnificence of the set is tempered, but maybe also increased, by its propensity to blend in with itself. Once the story begins, the set becomes a character, never changing, but always presenting a new face.
Lights, too, work with the set: casting moods, focusing attention, obscuring what the audience is not meant to see. Numerous other designers weave story and character into their work on Myth. The prop master. The sound engineer. The hair and makeup designer. Every actor who steps into someone else’s skin for three hours. Even the stage manager, who insures that everything flows smoothly. They all spin sub-narratives into Myth’s master narrative.
Of course, the chief/master storytellers are Driver and Greene. Walking back around to the front of the stage and into the audience, I pause to watch the writers at work. As managing director, Greene is always on the move. He knows the name of every actor and crew member, and stops to chat with almost everyone he sees. He answers every question, keeps everyone happy, and exhibits full dedication to his work. As artistic director, Driver constantly paces the auditorium making sure the choreography looks good from every angle. He works with the actors, coaxing them on with questions and cues, stopping and reworking scenes until his visions are realized. He does not micromanage, only gives direction while maintaining the integrity of the story.
With Myth opening this weekend and tech week already underway, all the storytellers are in a frenzy. These are the last few days to polish and hone their work before sharing it with an audience. These are the last few days to weave their individual stories into the tapestry of Myth. And I have the special privilege of watching while each storyteller ties off their threads and steps back in preparation for opening night. As each designer extricates himself or herself from the loom, I begin to realize that all their individual threads, all their works, are inseparably knotted to one another.
Then I realize that I’ve been staring at the back of the tapestry (full of tangled loops and thread breaks and technicalities), and completely missed the woven picture. Everything we have been working toward, all our stories, are on the other side of the loom—the tapestry face we present to the audience. And somewhere in the tangle of threads rest a few small knots with my name on them—a few stories that I have woven into the Myth tapestry. Every stitch the wardrobe team makes, every snap and hem, becomes a part of the narrative; and we are all the storytellers.
[MYTH’s world premiere is this Friday night. Click here for specially priced tickets for Rabbit Room readers.]
Lovely writing, Anastina.
You captured both the grand, sweeping picture of the final week of a large theatrical production while also giving us a view through your own unique lens.
Thanks for taking us behind the rehearsal doors this week. 🙂 Good luck with the opening.
I’m grinning like a little kid. Skillful writing about amazing art taking form.
Stina, thank you for this gorgeous description of the production! It’s a great blessing to have you in the Blackbird family!
I can’t wait to see this.
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