Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Comedy of Errors--Costume Design

The Comedy of Errors cast
The Comedy of Errors was produced Fall Semester, 2004 in the Kirkham Arena Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Before our tale begins, the Merchant, Ægeon and his wife, Æmilia had twin sons.  A poor woman also delivered twin sons at the same time.  Ægeon purchased the poor woman's sons to be servants to his sons.  Not long after, the family was sailing across the sea when a storm sank the ship and the family was separated.  Ægeon was rescued with one of his sons and one of the slave sons while Æmilia was rescued with the other of her sons and the other slave.  Ægeon and his boys lived in Syracuse while Æmilia settled in Ephesus.

At the rise of the play, Ægeon has been captured in Syracuse after trying to follow his son, Antipholus who is questing to find his long lost brother.  Because of an archaic law, Ægeon will be put to death because he is a foreign trader.  Put to death, unless of course he can come up with a ransom of 1000 marks in 24 hours. 

The rest of the play is mayhem as the two sets of identical twin brothers navigate the town, bumping into people who know them and think they know them.  Mishap after mishap of mistaken identity until at the end, the twins bump into each other and all is forgiven.  The Abbess who has been sheltering Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Syracuse reveals that she is, in fact Æmilia and the whole family is reunited.  The Duke forgives the debt and all is well.

The director of The Comedy of Errors, Hyrum Conrad told me that since the play takes place in Ephesus, which is in modern day Turkey, he wanted to do this play in Turkish dress.  We were setting this production in the fifteenth century which is when the Byzantine Empire finally fell to the Turks.  I surmised that as the Turks encroached on the Byzantine Empire that they probably coexisted peacefully at times and were warlike at others with the Byzantines.

I suggested to Hyrum that we should have the ruling class be Byzantine and the merchant class be Turkish.  He agreed and I began to research the styles of dress in both the Byzantine world and the Turkish world in the fifteenth century.

For the Turkish characters, the basic garments were harem style pants, a shirt which was then covered with a cassock or robe.  For the men I fashioned turbans for headgear, and I also added skirts to the women.  Both men and women wore pointy shoes.

Hyrum decided to cast the Duke as a woman and she became the Duchess.  Byzantine noble dress evolved from Roman and Greek dress, but much gaudier.  There were some medieval elements to the undergarments of the time, but all the overgarments were wraps and robes, very toga like. 

I decided that the Duchess would be the only character allowed to wear pearls.  She had two costumes, and each one was trimmed heavily in pearls.  I purchased some fabric from Home Fabrics that was red with a goldenrod thread running through different directions making a grid pattern.  The fabric wasn't blingy enough and I mentioned that I'd like to have a pearl sewn at each intersection of the goldenrod threads.  One of the costume shop workers was also a student in my tech theatre class and voluteered to handstitch each pearl on the cape as part of her service hours for the class.  Her name is Carla Traughber Simon.  This costume was one of the showpieces of the play and I credit her with making it so.

Sketch of Duchess and what would become the pearled cape

The Duches and her pearled cape

The Duchess' second look
I used upholstery and drapery fabrics on this show almost exclusively.  We have a fabric store in Idaho Falls called Home Fabrics which specializes in those types of fabrics.  I did most of my shopping for The Comedy of Errors in that store.  Many of the fabrics have large designs which read really well for period shows such as this.

For Antipholus of Syracuse and Ephesus, I designed their costumes exactly the same with the exception of color.  Each man had Turkish balloon pants, a loose belted shirt and an over cassock.   Each man also wore a turban wrapped around a cap, and the cap was covered in the same fabric as his trousers.  Antipholus of Syracuse was wearing a blue chenille cassock and rust colored trousers, while his long lost brother wore the same outfit but with the fabrics on the cassock and trousers switched.


I designed the Dromios in a similar fashion, switching their trouser and shirt fabrics.  I viewed Dromio as more of an earthy character so I dressed him in dusky earth colors, greens and browns.

Sketch of Dromio

Antipholus and Dromio of Syracuse

Antipholus and Dromio of Ephesus

Adrianna was Antipholus of Ephesus' wife, and Lucianna was her sister.  Adrianna was sharp and just a little shrewish, not trusting her husband, believing him to be cavorting with the courtesan.  Lucianna was her sister and she was softer and gentler and Antipholus of Syracuse fell in love with her.

For Adrianna, I designed harem pants with a tight cuff with a primitively pleated overskirt in ecru linen.  I designed her cassock to come to points all around the sides and back, each one terminating with a beaded tassel.  In fact I purchased several dozen of the beaded tassels and added them to each of the family members' costumes.  Her arms projected out of slits in the sleeves which then hung almost to the floor, once again terminating with beaded tassels.  Adrianna's cassock was made of a rust colored drapery fabric with gold flowers throughout.

For Lucianna, I designed similar harem pants and the same skirt as Adrianna, but her cassock was softer and rounder.  I used a blue chenille with yellow flower shapes patterned through the fabric.  Her arms were rounded with the lining rolled out at the end of the sleeves and the sides and back of her cassock curved away gently.  Lucianna's sleeves were trimmed with light blue bead tassel fringe.  In addition, Lucianna had two long pieces of fabric which were folded twice and belted with the ends hanging down and terminated with the same beaded tassels.

Each sister had an outside look which included a calf length cape and a pillbox hat trimmed with beads.

Luce was the servant of the two sisters and her costume was earthy like the Dromios' and consisted of harem pants, an underskirt of primitively pleated linen, an overdress and a veiled pillbox hat.

Sketch of Adrianna

Sketch of Lucianna

Sketch of Luce

Adrianna, Lucianna and Luce
Detail of hem on Adrianna's cassock
The girls outerwear

My original sketch for Dromio looked too bourgeoisie and did not make him look like a servant.  I liked the look and so did Hyrum and he suggested I save it and put it on one of the merchants or Angelo the goldsmith.  I went with Angelo and chose a brown chenille fabric for his harem pants and a sage green jaquard for his cassock.  This ended up being one of my favorite costumes in the show.

Originally drawn for Dromio but used for Angelo

Balthazar and Angelo

The courtesan's costume was also one of my favorites in this show.  Her costume consisted of an irridescent peach and gold silk underdress with a purple jaquard cassock trimmed with a wide band of dark teal crushed velvet.  Finally the whole cassock was trimmed with a pale mint green bead fringe.  On first dress rehearsal, everywhere the courtesan moved, the beads dragged across the floor and drowned out any dialogue.  that wouldn't do so I had the costume shop remove the beads along the floor.

The Courtesan with Antipholus of Ephesus
This was a fun show to design.  It was very detailed and I felt fairly imaginative.  I enjoyed the process a great deal.  I was glad that Hyrum wanted to do the show outside of the way it is done traditionally.

The family reunited

Production Details
Directed by Hyrum Conrad
Costume Design by Gary Benson
Lighting Design by Gary Benson
Set Design by Ray Versluys
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys


  1. This was the funniest show I ever had the privilege of seeing. You did an excellent job - and I know that because I never noticed a thing. I think the greatest credit to a costume designer or set maker is "no one ever noticed." To me that means it was so perfect that the audience never realized it wasn't real. It was so seamless that the audience could enjoy the show without their mind ever saying - "that doesn't look right."

    Well done sir.

  2. Thank you kindly. And you are right about the idea that if the audience leaves singing the scenery or costumes etc... then the production failed. It was a great show. I enjoyed every minute of it.

  3. That was a lot of pearls! I think it was worth it, my only regret is that even though I heard the show a dozen times I never got to see it. I think I will stick to being a costumer so I can reap my rewards!

  4. Your work on that costume really made the difference between an okay costume and a magical one. I was thankful you took the time to do that. We still talk about you and what you did for that costume after all these years. That must mean you have reached the level of legend!