Costumes And Make-Up
( Originally Published 1921 )
IN discussing the need for economy which nearly every little theater administration must exercise it was stated that by avoiding all costume plays during an entire season the expenditure of a great deal of money should be avoided. One director has written me that he uses no costume plays. So the practice must be feasible, and acceptable to some audiences. The main objection which may be urged against such a restriction is that an entire season of plays with-out some inclusion of beauty, color, picturesqueness, local color, romance, the historic past, or the distant present, must become decidedly monotonous to the eye. How monotonously familiar all the actors must get to look to the regular patrons! Not many groups are so consistently exclusive of one of the most fascinating theater arts—the appeal by means of costume.
As a matter of fact no avoidance of any kind of play will eliminate totally the need for some costumes, for no selection can be made in which all the performers can simply walk on in their ordinary wearing apparel. More parts have to be dressed than the opposite. By adhering to mod-ern dramas it is quite possible to get costumes by borrowing, or making, or concocting, or combining them from personal effects. A farmer needs as appropriate a costume as a Spanish matador. Only the former's garb can be foraged for, while the latter's would have to be hired. There is so charming an effect from beautiful costumes that I believe no director will voluntarily cut himself off from their reasonable use.
Costumes upon a stage are regarded in a different manner from any others. First of all their wearers are set at a distance from the spectators, they are marked off within a definite space, they are described as being " in the picture." The frame indicates the demarkation between them and the beholders. Only in conventionally conceived exercises or frankly artificial and romantic forms of drama should that demarkation be eradicated. The stage is the stage because it is not the audience. The latter can be made to share in all the stage carries by the transfer of emotional appeal or intellectual stimulation. Costumed figures are raised upon the platform above the usual line of vision. This at times determines the cut of a gown. For instance, a short skirt always appears shorter when viewed from the house. Secondly , the costumes are displayed under an intensified, and usually colored light. This will determine choice of colors. In his Essays published first in 1597, practical Francis Bacon commented upon such details in the producing of Masques. " The colors that show best by candle-light are white, carnation, and a kind of sea-water green. . . . As for rich embroidery, it is lost and not discerned." Tests made of colors under daylight and white electric light will not lead to satisfactory results upon the stage itself. Failure to secure the proper shades and combinations in bought material has induced most costume workers of keen artistic sense to dye their own stuffs for every production.
Modern costumes for women alone admit of picturesque and colorful accentuation. The effect of the gown of an actress upon an audience cannot always be justly estimated in advance, but it can be considered carefully. Personal preference may have to be corrected by general impression. In not every play can every woman in the cast be allowed to look her best. There must be no clashes of colors or modes. There must be no effects to neutralize or kill others. When elements of the charm of the stage picture need not be considered there must be an appropriateness of garb to characterization. This emphasis of the inward spiritual nature by the outward and visible sign cannot al-ways be left to the taste of the individual actress. Too many of them—in amateur circles, at least—look upon acting as an opportunity to " dress up." The best looking, the newest, the most fashionable gowns are offered at dress rehearsal for praise. It is difficult to make some histrionic aspirants realize that the best acting may be done in drab, unattractive garments. Absence of color and fit and style may be more needed than their prominence. Detail of paraphernalia may add to the characterization but spoil some other aspect of the presentation. One actress in a smart English comedy carried a chatelaine which suited the rôle perfectly, only it jangled so loudly at the slightest movement that it drowned most of her short speeches. Overdressing a part may be as vexatious as wrong dressing.
For humor the underlying principles of costume design should be contrast, incongruity, exaggeration, increasing in degree directly as the material of the play recedes from realism and contemporaneousness.
In real life the dictum is oft repeated that " it's not the clothes which make the difference but the manner in which they are worn." This is more patently true on the stage. Some performers are physically and temperamentally unable to wear costumes of certain kinds properly. An actress, trained in poetic, romantic, and character rôles may never be able to look right in ordinary dress. The tragedy queen may try to wear modern sport clothes in the same manner, with fatal results for the effect of a rôle. The hoyden may show through an evening creation.
Nearly all these considerations apply with equal force to men. To many a suit for stage wear is something which " doesn't belong." They seem to have no knack of throwing themselves into their clothes. They seem always to have had the clothes on only for the last ten minutes, in-stead of having worn them regularly. Evening clothes are extremely dangerous. On the stage men should be at perfect ease in them. Too frequently they show exactly how uncomfortable they actually are. Even when they act as butlers and waiters they miss the carelessness which comes from continuous livery, and instead of forgetting that such suits are working clothes, they are as careful of them as though they were masters and guests instead of servants. Incidentally seldom are the suits of butlers and waiters on the stage slovenly, ill-fitting, and spotted enough.
As Bacon truthfully said, certain meticulous details are lost by the distance between the characters and the spectators. In military costumes not many of the audience will notice either the presence or absence of such things as tips on the patent leathers of a British officer. But they will notice if an American laboring man in rough shirt and overalls wears well-shaped and straight heeled shoes. Most inconsistencies crop out in character parts. The farmer buys blue jeans from the dry-goods store, then wears them with all the shelf creases in them for the first time at the dress rehearsal. He had better hang them out in the rain, kick them about the cellar, and dust the back porch off with them, then shake them out and put them on for the play.
Just as amateurs are likely to neglect the mounting of a realistic drama, so they are likely to be careless about costuming it; yet there is as much chance for artistic endeavor in the every-day as in the distant; and there are many more dangers of serious faults—serious because so painfully apparent to the critical audience. Yet art di-rectors will continue to revel in the costume play.
The best single, comment made by any dramatist about costumes (in the ordinary sense of that word) for one of his poetic romances was set down by Rostand as a direction for designers who work with Les Romanesques; " The costumes may be anything, provided they are beautiful." In modern plays the characters themselves may help more or less in providing their own costumes. In fanciful, historical, romantic, plays there should be one directing and designing head to produce harmony, balance, gracefulness, and beauty.
There is always danger in hiring costumes from a professional costumer by merely sending a list of characters and sizes. Even though his stock be large, it may be engaged in advance by other demands, and the presence of two or three incongruous dresses or suits in an otherwise harmonious combination will spoil the effect. The risk is lessened if the members of the costume committee can examine the stock, select exactly what will serve, and then can insist that the chosen articles be the ones delivered. Ordering from a distance multiplies risk a hundredfold. No time remains for changes between dress rehearsal and performances. For this reason the plan of having dress rehearsals earlier than the day, of the performance is urged in this book. If you have ever worked with a large cast you know how many shoes will not fit, how many pairs of stockings have not arrived, how many belts have no buckles, how many doublets no hooks and eyes.
The best stocked costumer is certain to have a better array for certain periods than others. Since our greatest dramatic period is Elizabethan, he will be more than likely to be able to costume a Shakespeare comedy adequately. In the history plays he may not be so fortunate. When a director, working with Molière's plays, tries to find suitable costumes at the professional's he is likely to be disappointed. The 1660-17o0 period is so little represented in our dramas and upon our stages that costumes little in request are made up in restricted variety and small numbers. In France, the exact opposite is the case.
Among theatrical conventions the dressing of Shakespearean rôles has become almost a fixed one. Granville Barker upset this convention in two of his productions. The Lyric Theater Company, of Hammersmith, costumed As You Like It in early fifteenth century style, had all the material specially dyed and made up, substituted single brilliant colors for the usual elaborate ornamentation, and made an artistic success even if they did startle the patrons of the Memorial Theater at Stratford-on-Avon. As a mat-ter of fact, this play allows the widest variety of individual conceptions for its beautiful appearance.
What shall be done about Macbeth? At no time has any American production emphasized so strongly by dress the Scottish element of the tragedy as the New Shakespeare Company's production at Stratford-on-Avon which I saw in 1920. In essence, this style of garb is quite appropriate, for the story is Scotch. Additional recognition is given this by the announcement that one group of Celtic Players in the United States intends to produce it as part of their theatric propaganda.
When Shakespeare placed his scenes in Renaissance Italy he made the costuming easy. But when he wrote The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night he left problems for the modern designer or choosers of costumes. How Greek should be the investiture of the former? Many producers compromise by a conventionalized Italo-Greco style which is in no sense historical, though it may be picturesque. Twelfth Night is more difficult because more familiar and more often produced. How can Ilyrian styles be suggested? Again our dependence on Renaissance Italy is apparent in the usual stage pictures, with, however, a recognition of strangeness in the garments of Viola and Sebastian. A bolero jacket, a turban, a short pleated skirt, knee-high leggings, are the usual marks of these two characters.
Many a modern designer feels tempted to discard all such conventions and, using only the play and his own ideas, to evolve a novel, picturesque result by absolutely untried means. In this opinion is the basis of the newer stylistic, decorative methods of costuming Shakespeare.
Mere originality should be corrected by supervision or knowledge or common sense. A recent well patronized production of Hamlet gave most of its spectators the shock of their lives when Ophelia appeared in the flower and mad scenes. Immemorially the actress during this act has worn white. This color has a real dramatic value at this part of the action, because it emphasizes her youth, her unhappy love, and her sad ending. Yet in this production the star appeared in a long, plain, green gown, which looked like nothing so much as a child's long nightgown which persisted in getting under her feet. I do not know what ex-planation was ever given for such a choice of color. Perhaps it might have been urged that green fitted better into the general color scheme. It would have been better to admit the apparent truth. The actress was too large and plump to look like afflicted Ophelia. As size is accentuated by white, this more subdued, but entirely inappropriate shade was used. I have seen performances of Julius Caesar in which—since the major part of the company's repertory was Italian comedy and English history—the actresses wore Renaissance gowns, entirely out of keeping with Roman togas and short broad swords. In spite of Shakespeare's direct evidence to the fact that in Twelfth Night, Maria must be dressed so much like Olivia that Viola seeing them together cannot pick the " lady of the house," I have seen Maria garbed almost like a maid-servant. In fact, in one production, the first scene in which Maria appears was set near the kitchen, and she was engaged in rolling out dough, from which she later sportively puffed the flour into Sir Andrew Aguecheek's face!
All the foregoing instances are from professional productions which fact makes them all the more disturbing, as they may have served as wrong models to students, per-formers, and directors of Shakespeare's plays.
Amateurs, with all their intended care for details, allow unbelievable defects to persist. In The Playboy of the Western World I do not believe that Christy should dress for the donkey race in a brilliant silk striped jockey suit. True, Synge writes a line which may be so interpreted. I did not see the Abbey Players present this in America, so I cannot quote them as authority. But I don't believe that in the district suggested by that play there would be a professional jockey's suit for a stranger. Puttees might be borrowed, and perhaps a different shirt. The adoring girls might decorate it with nosegays and ribbons. But I believe the character should remain in the picture of Ireland, and not look like the hero of The Kentucky Derby. In a play from the Hungarian, a crowd of neighbors rush into a house after an early morning tragedy. The director probably told the performers to go to the local costumer's to get some Hungarian costumes. They did. Aroused from their beds, they rushed to their neighbor's home, and stood in the increasing light of early morning, dressed in brilliant colors, brightly embroidered shawls and headdresses, looking like figures from a music box or members of a musical comedy chorus. They should have donned old petticoats, and wrapped dark shawls around their shoulders and heads; the men should have worn half-laced boots, or slippers, shirts should have hung out and flapped open, hair should have been unkempt. There was no fitness in a single suit or dress.
Photographs of an all-girl cast in Twelfth Night show Maria dressed correctly enough so far as her gown is concerned but beneath her skirt show modern heavy high walking boots. In the same cast Sir Andrew Aguecheek wears a well-made, perfectly fitting suit, but his (her) feet are encased in a modern pair of girl's pumps. Both Viola and Sebastian are dressed too effeminately to be acceptable to the audience. All the other characters are well groomed, except that the girls' hair has made their heads so large that the plumed hats do not sit upon them properly or safely.
Besides the picturesqueness of the past a director may include the color of the distant. Every land has its national garb which has found its place in drama. Japanese and Chinese plays seemed to have disappeared from both professional and amateur stages. Just now they are back again. The Mikado is delighting thousands and The Lady of the Lamp carried on the influence spread by The Willow Tree, The Son Daughter, and East Is West. Amateurs have always liked the settings and costumes of the flowery kingdoms, but the phenomenal impressiveness of Bushido under all its titles—Matsuo and The Pine Tree —has emboldened them to give rein to that enthusiasm.
Looking in the other direction we can cite long lists of plays influencing a different oriental style of costuming. It is not easy to ascribe definite beginnings for such introductions or repetitions, but I believe this phase of costuming came to us first in Sumurum. The more gorgeously spectacular Chu Chin Chow, Aphrodite, Mecca, and Afgar have continued it. Amateurs swayed by all the glorious sensuousness of such color have expressed it in the always-popular fantasies and romances of Lord Dunsany.
For a long time Greek plays were garbed more or less alike. If color were used it was likely to be some pale or pastel shade; but white was almost general, at least for women's draperies. Then there seemed to be a sudden change from the subdued and the quiet to the loud and the garish. Old Greek stories were treated in a fairly irreverent manner for comic effect, partly, I should say, by imitation of French methods. Then the great classic tragedies were approached, not from the viewpoint of literary masterpieces above all human interest, but as dramas written to be acted and embodying stories of human relations. Independent producers in America, in England, in Central Europe, revolutionized completely the method of producing Greek material. Hoffmanstal rewrote the Electra, Strauss set it to music, and Reinhardt applied " circus " methods to its staging. Ample space and large audiences in the open-air stadiums and theaters called for stronger treatment than had been dared, and the amazing discovery was made that classic tragedy need not appeal only to antiquarian scholars. Like all good drama it can be made universally appealing.
Related as closely to costuming as costuming is related to characterization is make-up. Like costuming it depends in its nature almost entirely upon lighting. Change the lighting of a scene and every make-up on stage will appear different. When amber replaced white light on the professional stage actors had to learn to apply and combine colors differently to secure the same effects as before. The varying intensity of light in different theaters will emphasize or kill certain kinds of make-up. The dazzling brightness of the large commercial stage will not serve as a test of facial change upon the smaller stage of the intimate theater. Distance between actor and spectator is so reduced in little theaters that make-up must be laid on with a sparing and delicate hand. Even in intelligent commercial productions there is a great deal less make-up now than there was formerly. Moderation of effect in acting has induced moderation in character advertising—as the change of features might be designated. Just as the villain no longer always wears patent leather shoes and flicks his cigarette ashes about the carpet, so no longer does he have to display a silky black mustache and a shifty eye. Add to all these reasons for change the fact that little theater audiences are " in the know " and it becomes apparent that more refined and successful results are demanded of make-up.
The essential principles and rudimentary effects are so simple that a beholder wonders at many of the faces he sees. In spite of the opportunity to observe good, bad, and indifferent facial decorations on the street, in the cars, and across dinner-tables, many amateur actresses make glaring blunders when they appear at dress rehearsal. Red—because they consider it the prime beautifier—is used too lavishly. It mounts too high, or spreads too low. Or it is not blended properly, so that it looks no more like " beauty truly blent, whose red and white Nature's own sweet and cunning hand laid on " than are the perfect circles painted on doll's faces like the glow of healthy children. Discussions of exactly how to secure effects in make-up do not fall within the scope of this book, but comment on some of the crudities does. Many an actress acting on habitual practice " powders her nose " just before she enters the scene, with the disconcerting result that the intensified brightness strikes the high light on her nose making it appear like nothing in the world so much as a piece of white dough or putty. Her chin may show the same ghastly prominence. Then there are others, perhaps they are the same, who spread red over the entire lip. Few mouths can stand this heavy outlining across their full width, and then appear small and winning in speech. The misuse of black is almost as frequent. Eyes are made to appear like burnt holes in sheets. I wonder if in a little theater it is ever necessary, except for character parts, to put melted cosmetic on the eye-lashes, making each hair like a ball tipped spoke, or to color the entire upper lid dark blue so that every time it is lowered it looks diseased.
In earlier times make-up hardened into set forms for regularly recognized types of play characters. Heavy accents were placed upon every trait to convey a classification to an audience. There are still reminiscences of this indicated by photographs of some little theater productions, in the Britisher with the long mustache and the Frenchman with the goatee. Modern producers have passed from such crude labels. Today in the appearance of an actor, the keynote is characterization, not type; personality, not the part. The worst violation of such a consideration which I have ever seen was the first entrance of Christy in The Playboy of the Western World. Synge describes him as " very tired and frightened and dirty," but this actor appeared with a beautiful and fresh juvenile make-up. He was the leading man, and he refused point-blank to appear with any other face. Naturally this killed any chance for the exaggeration in the play of the power of his deed to arouse the admiration of the people. His good looks would have done that at the first glance. The wrong make-up spoiled both the part and the characterization.
To secure models for imitation the best method is to observe carefully all the faces you see about you. Physiognomy is not an exact science, so' definite features do not in reality indicate disposition and character. But we have come to associate certain physical traits with mental or temperamental characteristics, and a recognition of this—not a slavish adherence to it—is usually a help in acting. It is impossible to delineate much of a person's character by means of his features; it is best to have make-up reinforce the physical attributes, merely suggesting probable disposition, then depend upon the acting for the projection of the person's real character.
Naturally men need and use make-up on the stage less frequently and less consistently than women. Unless the rôle requires a radical change in age or appearance a man may be able by his stage business and acting to simulate the difference. If his features are pliable and his powers of facial control well developed he may succeed to a surprising degree. The one detail over which he can never exercise modifying control to a large extent is the hair on his head and face. If a character in a play has to be whiskered he must either start months in advance to grow the hirsute appendage—a proof of devotion to art which no amateur working every day could attempt—or he must stick the bushy mass on with spirit gum. Beards and mustaches are not very difficult to make look real if they are properly blended. Notice the hair upon any man's face and you will see plainly how it varies in color and thickness. Practically never—except when dyed—are hair and beard or mustache of exactly the same shade. In securing this replication of natural difference lies the whole art and difficulty of this phase of make-up. More than the mustache the beard needs skilful manipulation for both shading and thickness. So few stage beards look as though they have grown upon the actor's face. The worst I have seen recently is the pair worn by the villain and the hero in the London production by Arthur Bouchier of At the Villa Rose. The latter's appearance in the disguise of the last act was as funny as intentional travesty. The disguise in real life would not have deceived any person.
Wigs under most conditions are likely to cause uneasiness on both sides of the footlights. An ideal condition would be to have among the acting group a man who would look almost exactly like the character to be presented and also able to best act that rôle. Then the use of most wigs could be abandoned. Worst of all are the bald domes or half bald heads. The best fitting bald front will never tightly cling to the forehead of the amateur for whom it has been hired. The grease paint may bring the false and the real skin close together in color, and a few horizontal lines across both will make the yawning juncture look like a wrinkle, but there will still be the open space which no amount of coloring or drawing can entirely close. Fortunate is the company which has among its excellent actors a few young, middle-aged, and elderly men whose make-up is complete as soon as they take off their hats.
If a professional make-up man is hired his stock of paints, powders, and wigs will in all probability be better than the aggregate of the private possessions of the performers. When hiring is not feasible or desirable there may be one member whose skill or interest lies in such exercises. This work must be subjected to the inspection of the director exactly as the costuming. If he has his mind on all the details he will have given, long before the dress rehearsal, specifications of make-up for every character. He will dictate changes based upon observation of the performers made from the auditorium. To insure celerity every performer should put on his own make-up, He may have his own make-up box, or the organization may own a well-stocked one. To have every actor do everything for himself comes closest to professional practice, but when the result does not justify the responsibility there should be no hesitancy in insisting upon a surer and safer procedure. A mistaken make-up may be as false a note in a performance as a mistake in casting. It is one of the most disturbing of the petty annoyances of the theater. Practice will make perfect in this as in all things, but a few serious failures during the apprenticeship may be costly. It would be good for every amateur actor to take several lessons from a professional make-up artist, for there are tricks of ground colors, blending, shading, indicating age, eradicating features, emphasizing them, modifying them, which may be speedily learned. After the manual parts have been mastered the training can be pursued at practically all times. Every illustration the actor sees, every photograph he notices, every painting he observes, will contain models which he can photograph upon his imagination for later reproduction. Elsewhere in this book the remark of Sir Frank R. Benson describing one of the actor's essential abilities is quoted:—" he must be a human kodak." Nowhere is this so plainly true as in this matter of making-up.
While pictures will help him to fix certain marks, colors, lines in his mind, there is a wider and more fascinating field of observation for reproduction—human nature in all its myriad living forms around him. Let the actor study human beings continually, let him peruse every characterful countenance, let him analyze the reality of the faces and hands he sees, and then by successful reproduction and adaptation of them he will inject into his own impersonations an appearance of individual actualness.