Tuesday, March 3, 2015

She Stoops to Conquer--Costume Design and Actor, Mr. Hardcastle

Hastings, Marlow and Mr. Hardcastle

She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith was produced Spring Semester, 2013 in the Snow Drama Theatre at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

Synopsis of She Stoops to Conquer
Mr. Hardcastle, a country gentleman has arranged for his daughter to meet the son of his best friend, Sir Charles Marlow, a wealthy Londoner.  He hopes the two of them will marry and join the two households and fortunes.

Unfortunately, young Charles Marlow is painfully shy around young women of his own class, preferring instead the company of lower class wenches and serving girls.  On the road to Mr. Hardcastle's home he and his travelling companion, George Hastings become lost and seek directions to the Hardcastle estate at the Three Pigeons, an inn close by.  They meet Tony Lumpkin, Mr. Hardcastle's stepson and ne'er do well.  Tony is a prankster and when Charles and George unknowingly insult him, he decides to give them faulty directions.

He tells them Hardcastle's estate is too far to travel to that night and they will have to spend the night at an inn.  The innkeeper, who is in on the joke, tells the boys there is no room in the inn and they are directed to an inn down the road.  What they don't know is the 'inn' they are directed to is in fact Mr. Hardcastle's home.  They arrive and meet Mr. Hardcastle and believing him to be an innkeeper they treat him rudely.  Mr. Hardcastle is understandably unhappy with the treatment.

Meanwhile, Marlow and Hastings run into Miss Hardcastle and Constance Neville.  Constance is the ward of Mrs. Hardcastle and is also being wooed by Mr. Hastings.  Charles and George still believe they are at an inn.  Constance and George leave Marlow and Miss Hardcastle alone in the drawing room and they have a very uncomfortable conversation.  At the end, however, Miss Hardcastle thinks he's attractive enough to give a second chance and decides to pose as a serving girl.

At this point, Constance lets George in on the joke.  Everyone is in on the joke except Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle and Mr. Marlow.

Things go badly between Hardcastle and Marlow and the former catches the latter being very forward with his daughter.  Moreso than would be acceptable.  This goes on until the elder Marlow, Sir Charles arrives and the whole thing is put to rights.

As a subplot, Mrs. Hardcastle is trying to arrange a marriage between Contance and her son, Tony.  They despise one another but pretend for Mrs. Hardcastle's sake.  Constance stands to inherit her mother's jewels, but for some reason they are tied up in the supposed marriage contract between Tony and Constance.  If Tony refuses his cousin when he comes of age, she keeps her inheritance.  If Constance refuses, Mrs. Hardcastle gets to keep the jewels for herself.

When the romance between Hastings and Miss Neville is exposed, Mrs. Hardcastle attempts to take her to the spinster auntie's home far away from Hastings.  Tony drives them, and as he had prearranged with Hastings, takes them over logs, through sloughs, and finally ends up with the carriage overturned in the horse pond.  Mr. Hardcastle happens to be taking a walk when he sees them.  Mrs. Hardcastle believes him as a highwayman (because Tony told her so.)

That is all sorted out, finally but when Hastings and Miss Neville confront Mrs. Hardcastle about the inheritance, she claims the jewels for herself because Tony isn't of age to refuse.  At this  point, Mr. Hardcastle makes a confession that both he and Mrs. Hardcastle lied about Tony's age, thinking he could use another year or two to grow up and become responsible.  Tony enthusiastically refuses Constance's hand and everyone gets what they want in the end.  Well, everyone except Mrs. Hardcastle.

Concept and Design
Since this was a period piece and a light comedy, we decided to play it pretty straightforward.  I decided to put the country folk in earthier colors and the city folk in brighter colors.  All except Mrs. Hardcastle.  She fancied herself to be a city girl exiled to the country.  She is a character that can be played larger than life.  Early on in the design meetings I suggested to Hyrum Conrad, the director, that I wished Mrs. Hardcastle to change her clothes and wig for every act, each outfit more outlandish than the last.  In the script, she shows Mr. Marlow the fashion magazines she has sent in from France. She then proceeds to tell him that she has her own clothes made from her own designs based on the fashions from across the channel.  I decided she needed to have bad taste.

As I read the script, I found myself liking the character of Mr. Hardcastle.  He talks about a "great flaxen wig." and his bald head.  As we discussed this character, we agreed we should try age appropriate casting for him.  I also told Hyrum whoever played him would need to agree to shave the top of his head for a male pattern baldness look.  In addition, I wanted him to have a kind of Teddy Roosevelt belly on him.

In that meeting, we tossed around several different names of local men who might play the part.  We didn't agree on anyone and a half an hour after the meeting was over, Hyrum came to my office and asked me if I wished to play the part.  I immediately said, "Yes."  Then I asked if that meant I had to shave my head.  He just nodded.  Prior to that conversation, I hadn't even considered myself to play the part.  When I told my mother, she told me that was the same part my father had played in 1966 at the Playmill Theatre.  That made the whole thing much sweeter.

Study of some of the male characters


The rabble

The young gentlemen

The girls

Mrs. Hardcastle after the carriage ride

Mrs. Hardcastle wig designs

Over the years we have had a good relationship with BYU's theatre department in Provo, Utah.  Most of the members of our department have at least one degree from there.  From time to time we have borrowed costumes from them.  For some reason, they didn't have many male costumes from the Georgian period.  At least not then.  I believe they must have had them rented out.  I was able to use several costumes for the young ladies in the cast which meant we did not have to construct all of the gowns.  We ended up building the two young men and Mr. Hardcastle and several dresses.  The rest of the men and chorus folk we outfitted from our inventory.

We have a fabric store here in southeast Idaho called Home Fabrics.  When I design a period play, I always start there.  Mostly upholstery and drapery fabrics, but the weight and pattern work very well for period work.

We moved the design into the shop and between building costumes, memorizing lines, pulling and fitting chorus members and nightly rehearsal we got the job done.

I'd like to give a shoutout to my colleagues, Richard Clifford for his wonderful set and lighting design and to Kathy Schmid who constructed all the wigs for the show.  Thank you my friends.

The Players

Tony Lumpkin

The idea behind Tony's clothes was that he would rather be hunting, so I designed a hunting shirt based on historical research.  Add breeches, boots and a vest and Tony is off to poach a brace of coneys.  In his first entrance, actually he was carrying a pair of rabbits.  Later, when he goes to the tavern, he changed his shirt and put on a coat just a little too small for him.  Tony was not supposed to care much how he looked.  A prankster, but a fun person to hang with.

Tony in his hunting garb
Tony at the Three Pigeons

Tony in the yard

Miss Hardcastle

Miss Hardcastle had two basic looks.  First she was dressed as a country girl, but when she met Marlow for the first time she dressed in her best city clothes.  When she decided to stoop to conquer, she went back to her country clothes and affected a country accent which he of course found charming.  Her country clothes were pretty but in earthy colors.  Her city look was more in pastel blues with red and maroon accents.  Both of her costumes were borrowed from BYU.

Miss Hardcastle in her city look

Hat and wig by Kathy Schmid

Miss Hardcastle in her country look and her maid

Miss Neville

We decided that Miss Neville was probably older and more worldly than Miss Hardcastle so her dresses would be more refined.  We borrowed her first dress from BYU but I designed and we built her travelling clothes.  The clothes she planned to sneak off with Hastings in.

Miss Neville

Miss Neville in the gown I designed

Marlow and Hastings

The two young gentlemen each had one basic outfit which they had supposedly traveled in.  They deigned to change their clothes, instead hoping to keep their best outfits for when they reached their destination, Mr. Hardcastle's home.  There were small changes, hats, gloves, cloaks and boots that were worn at different times.  Marlow got very comfortable at the 'inn' and took off his coat and vest sometimes.  Very casual.  Mr. Hardcastle did not like that.

Hastings and Marlow in their outfits made of sofa material.  Marlow is in Mr. Hardcastle's chair.  They had quite a battle over that chair.

Sir Charles

Mr. Hardcastle's best friend.  Sir Charles shows up at the house in the evening and everything gets set to rights.  We decided he should be the most richly dressed person in the play.  His subtext was that he was a government official.

Sir Charles Marlow

Mrs. Hardcastle

Mrs. Hardcastle began the show as a country wife, but when she found out they would be hosting her husband's best friend's son, she decided to try to impress him.

In the script, Mrs. Hardcastle said she bought all the latest fashion magazines from Paris and she designs all of her own clothes based on what she sees.  I decided Mrs. Hardcastle did not have particularly good taste and that her clothes would be a mishmash of the style.  In addition she really liked lime green bows.

Whenever a few hours of time had passed in the narrative, Mrs. Hardcastle would show up in a different outfit and a different wig.  At the top of the show, she wore a fairly conservatively styled blond wig.  Her dress was borrowed from BYU.

Mrs. Hardcastle

This urn contained the ashes of her beloved first husband, Mr. Lumpkin

Her second costume was the heaviest costume in the show.  It was made of yards of heavy upholstery fabric.  All told, it was probably twenty-five pounds of fabric.  It was heavy and it was hot.  Luckily, she only wore it for a short time.  This was the first of her outfits she tried to impress the company with.  She also changed her wig for this scene to a black one.

Mrs. Hardcastle trying to impress Mr. Hastings.  Her servant is in the back.
Notice the lime green bows

Her third outfit was more outrageous still.  It was also borrowed.  The dress was an evergreen taffeta with plaid trim.  Of course I had to wig her in pink.  Had to.  In this scene she discovers the betrayal of Miss Neville and Mr. Hastings and decides to take her ward to the spinster aunt to be kept away from her beau.

Mrs. Hardcastle, betrayed

Her second to the last dress was her traveling dress which we decided would be her most fancy one since she was traveling to see her rich auntie.  When I showed the actress the design, I found a clip of Carol Burnett in her famous parody of Gone With the Wind on Youtube and showed it to her.  I told her that the only way this costume would work is if she played it like Carol Burnett on her descent down the stairs wearing the curtains.

I designed this dress.  It was red with a stomacher and large panniers.  The underskirt was gold and magenta.  Of course we had some lime green bows on this outfit as well.  For Mrs. Hardcastle, no outfit was finished without a wig.  This one had to have a ship, of course.

The infamous ship wig as built by Kathy Schmid

With an outfit this outrageous, there was only one way to top it.  Shipwreck.  Tony takes Mrs. Hardcastle and Miss Neville in the carriage to the spinster auntie's house, or so they think.  Instead, he drives the carriage over every rock and fallen tree he can find.  He crosses creeks and rivers, all the while going round and round the house and finally ends up with the carriage tipped over in the horsepond.

We made the red dress twice.  Our costume shop director was in New York when I distressed the second dress.  I took a picture with my phone and sent it to her as a text message.  I said, "This is what we do when you aren't here."  She sent me back a text that said, "You are the DEVIL!"  That delighted me.

Of course the wig had to be distressed as well.  I purchased two scale model ships and cut one in half on the band saw and gave the pieces to Kathy Schmid who then proceeded to scuttle the ship in the ruined wig.

I knew I could get away with all the wig changes and finally the scuttled ship wig on Mrs. Hardcastle because the actress we had playing her was strong enough to project her character through all of it.  When she came on stage there was no question who she was no matter what color her hair was.  It was great fun.

The shipwreck

Mr. Hardcastle.

Which brings us to me.  When I was designing the show, before I was asked to play the part, I kept coming back to Mr. Hardcastle.  By the time I was asked to play the part, I already had a connection to the character.

As I said earlier, I insisted that Mr. Hardcastle shave the top of his head because he says, speaking of Tony, "Why it 'twas just last week he fastened me wig to the back of me chair and when I went to make a bow I pop't me bald head in Mrs. Frizzle's face!"  When the part was offered to me, it was assumed I would do what I had expected someone else to do.  I did so happily.  The only tough part was shaving off my mustache.  I have worn a mustache for most of my adult life.  On a different blog, I posted a step by step progression of how I became Mr. Hardcastle.

My father wore a hairpiece later in his life.  He never went out in public without either his toupee or a hat.  When he was at home, however the hairpiece came off and would show up all over the house.  I incorporated that into my character.  The servants and his daughter may see him without his hair but no one else including the missus was allowed to.  Mrs. Hardcastle references his "...great flaxen wig."  Obviously it had to be a blond periwig.

Mr. Hardcastle, I decided was a practical man who did not care to keep up with the fashions.  Therefore, his suit was a little dated and so was his periwig.  The lapels and cuffs were wider and the back of the coat was fuller than the other men in the show.  The cut of their clothes was more modern and up to date.  To me, that is who Mr. Hardcastle was.  He valued the old ways and wasn't going to be forced to change just to keep up with appearances.

Mr. Hardcastle

Sans wig in a tender scene with his daughter.

Mr. Hardcastle selfie, because I can.  It's my blog.

Scene Design

My friend and colleague, Richard Clifford designed a beautiful set and produced a striking lighting design for this play.  The set was placed on the turntable and had three major locations.  The great hall, the drawing room and the Three Pigeons Inn.  In addition there was a French scene which was done on the front of the stage with a couple of foliage drops set in behind.  I'll show a couple of those images here.

French scene with Hardcastle dressed as a 'Highwayman'

The drawing room.  Notice Hardcastle's wig on Mr. Lumpkin's urn

The great hall was inspired by the Governor's Mansion in Historic Williamsburg, Virginia.

The Three Pigeons

This play was a joy for me to work on, both as a costume designer and as an actor.  It was made even sweeter when I discovered it was the same part my father played forty-seven years earlier.

Production Details
Director:  Hyrum Conrad
Costume Designer:  Gary Benson
Set and Lighting Designer:  Richard Clifford
Costume Shop Director:  Patty Randall
Technical Director:  Ray Versluys
Milliner:  Kathy Schmid
Assistant Scene Designer:  Patrick Ulrich

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