150 SHIRTS by Jade Bettin

Posted on May 2, 2013 by Haymaker

From our promo shoot to the second draft, Jade has been in the room for most of it. A week after our draft performances at UNC’s Process Series, we thought it would be interesting to get her take on the project thus far… 

There have been 150 men’s dress shirts in my car for the last week.  Prior to that they were hanging on the walls in Swain Hall where our most recent draft of the Elektra Project took place.  With their quiet yet overwhelming presence, I hope they served as a reminder during that performance that even though there were no male actors in this draft, the presence of men cast a dark shadow on the relationship of these two women.

As I stacked those shirts in my car in preparation for the hang, I believe the question, “Wait, what am I doing?  I signed on to design costumes, not sets” crossed my mind.  This really caused me only a moment’s pause as I have been working with Haymaker long enough now to realize that in this process of devising theatre, I will be involved in all sorts of things that don’t directly relate to costuming.  That includes everything from group warm ups pre rehearsal to writing out my own family’s rules in addition to figuring out how to put someone in costume and then smother them in mud and (fake) blood without ruining said costume.

But of course, all that non-costume work absolutely relates and is in fact, key to my work.  When you’re not starting with a concrete script and you’re dealing with abstracted characters, being involved in the process is the way in.  It’s what I use to figure out what in the world these characters are going to wear.

And because costuming is a visual art, I also look at a lot of pretty pictures for inspiration.  This is a familiar step in designing for traditional theatre and simply requires drawing on a memory bank of stored images which in my case consists of a variety of sources including fashion, art history, architecture, and my own personal experiences.  I started my first Pinterest Board for Elektra.  It’s fascinating for me to look back at those first few pictures I pinned to see how each iteration sends me in a slightly different direction.  I began with images from the runways of Alexander McQueen because for one, he was a genius, but more than that, he seems to capture beauty in unexpected and often disturbing ways.  Those clothes are raw emotion and for me that felt right for the types of characters we were dealing with.

Although each of the drafts of Elektra have started from different places and I now have a great variety of images on that Pinterest Board, it’s interesting to me to see what keeps reappearing visually from draft to draft.  Two words (and their related images) seem to keep surfacing: compression and elongation.  When I try to think of why, I believe I’m drawn to the tension that they suggest.  That even though elongation implies distance, it doesn’t necessarily mean freedom.  And that compression might mean closeness, but doesn’t necessarily mean connectedness.

And how does all of that relate to what these characters are wearing?  Beats me!  But in this draft I think the essence of all of the work I’ve done on each draft lives somewhere in those 150 shirts.

Jade is a costume designer and a professor. She’s from Iowa where they grow good people aplenty. Her ”Elektra” Pinterest board is damn fun and a great archive of the project’s development: http://pinterest.com/coffeebeanbet/elektra/.