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Williamstown Theatre Festival

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

INTERVIEW | Sarah Gosnell, Asst. Costume Designer

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Gosnell, assistant costume designer on The Torch-Bearers.

[Dramaturg] Amy Lipman: How does a costume designer usually begin their process?

Sarah Gosnell: The very first thing people get around to is discussing with the director and other designers the look, feel, and period that they’re going for in the production. The next step is to solidify with everyone how you’ll begin to research that period or time. Or, if it’s coming from something that’s not historical, inventing that period or time or place if it’s in some kind of fantasy situation, or other world. After research comes the beginning of sketching. It’s really nice if you know or recognize the actors. It makes everyone appreciate the sketches more and when an actor walks in and sees themselves, it really makes everyone comfortable and excited about the clothes they’re wearing.

AL: What was the research like for TB?

SG: Ilona [Somogyi, Costume Designer] did the research, and for this show, we were doing 1922 outside of Philly. We were establishing that most of the women were pretty well off, and with the men, some were and some weren’t. It was an interesting dynamic with these women who had lots of spare time to become involved in theatre, and the men may have been retired or had jobs that allowed them to participate in social activities outside of work. That’s a really nice contrast because the men in the theatrical troupe are of that sort and Mr. Ritter…the whole time we’ve been looking for his navy suit? We’ve been looking for a businessman’s suit. So it’s really nice that those can juxtapose against each other, and also to have him be so astonished with all these people in his home, doing this show.

AL: What’s been your role as an assistant designer?

SG: It’s a pretty unique role here. Williamstown hires me to assist designers that come in from New York. So, Ilona spends some time in New York fabric shopping, doing other errands, and I’ve spent time with her there pulling costumes from rental houses, or going shopping. I’m kind of like the liaison up here to represent Ilona and her design and to be someone in the shop that people can ask questions to about what they’re building, and I coordinate a lot of the fittings, rentals and purchases.

AL: Are you assisting more than one designer this summer?

SG: Not this summer. Torch-Bearers is our big period piece, and it also has the largest cast, so while other assistants can work on a Nikos and a Main Stage, this summer I’m just assisting on one. Earlier this summer, I designed Free Theatre so I got to put on my designer hat and work on a production on the same stage with a very different feel.

AL: Is this your first summer at Williamstown?

SG: This is my second season here. Last summer I was the first hand in the costume shop.

AL: What challenges have come from working with the size of the cast and the historical period of The Torch-Bearers?

SG: The big challenge is that the 1920s is one of those periods where if we have the actual piece from 1920, it’s almost one hundred years old. So our rentals have taken us internationally, and that’s been interesting. We’re building all of the dresses. It’s a really fun period to build and most of the dresses from 1922 have a really loose shape, it’s before traditional flapper style and it still has some Edwardian and even Victorian elements to it. So it’s fun for the shop to build that kind of loose and kind of androgynous style. There are also some pieces in the second act of Torch-Bearers that will have bustles and corsets, so it’s been nice doing a little bit of everything. This period is an incredible challenge to work on. And it’s been great.

[photo] Sam Hough for © WTF ’09.

© [Costume Design | Ilona Somogyi] 2009

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