For many Central Indiana families, attending the IRT’s A Christmas Carol each season is a celebrated holiday tradition. But even the most dedicated attendees might not realize that the current costume design was first introduced to IRT audiences in 1997.
In the two decades since Murell Horton’s beloved design premiered, small changes and updates have been made out of necessity, but in large part, the design remains remarkably intact. That is, until this summer! While the Theatre is dark, the IRT will undertake one of the largest design projects in recent IRT history: a full redesign of the A Christmas Carol costumes.
According to production Director and IRT Associate Artistic Director, Benjamin Hanna, the redesign could not have come at a better time. “The costumes have served us well but they are tired and ready for a reboot,” said Hanna. “There were so many pieces that would need to be rebuilt before this season’s production. Looking at the original designs, the fabrics needed to make the repairs… we realized it was going to be cost and time prohibitive to continue to refresh the old costumes each season.”
With over thirty characters to outfit, the redesign is no small undertaking. But it is in capable hands with costume design powerhouse, Linda Pisano, at the helm. Pisano, Chairperson and Professor at the IU Bloomington Department of Theatre and Dance, and frequent designer at the IRT, is an ideal choice for this monumental task. Importantly, she is familiar with the Theatre’s costume shop facility and artisans, but she is also keyed into the emotional impact that seeing A Christmas Carol has on Central Indiana families.
Pisano shared, “The tradition of IRT’s A Christmas Carol is part of the annual gathering of many families in the region. To be part of the artistic team that creates this long held and valued tradition is wonderful.”
Pisano also recognized the impact that a magical live theatre experience can have on audience members. “I wanted to be part of a project that cultivates a love of live performance and an opportunity for family and friends to come together in a shared experience of live theatre,” she said.
Long-time fans of the IRT’s holiday show may be wondering what to expect, with a new costume design coming to the stage. Hanna shared that the overarching vision for the costumes will be appropriate for the period in which Dickens presents the story. The costumes will also have a close relationship with the iconic “field of snow” scenic design and the IRT building itself.
“In the ghost’s new garments, Pisano has brilliantly referenced the patina of the exposed columns in the production’s set design. The ghosts will sparkle with layers of fabric covered in ice,” said Hanna.
Pisano also shared the important role that research and the original Dickens’ text has played in her design process.
“I personally have gone back deep into the novel and pulled out details, some subtle and some obvious,” she said. “For example, Dickens writes about the soot and industry of London of his day. The distressing of the costumes and the overall feel of the Cratchit family will reflect this. The sense of class division will be clear.”
Pisano has also shrewdly allowed the characters to inform the design. “Even though Mrs. Cratchit is incredibly poor, probably getting fabric from the rag pickers of the streets, she probably would have been very skilled in sewing and may even put in a lot of pin tucks and embroidery to liven up the old clothes. I’d like to reflect this juxtaposition of craftsmanship in the context of clothing that looks very distressed.”
Despite the theatrical illusion of distress on the final pieces, longevity of the newly built costumes is vitally important. The IRT Costume Shop artisans have been tasked to make sure the pieces are built to last. Durable materials will be a priority, and generous seam and hem allowances will allow the shop to make easy adjustments from year to year. The hope is that this new costume design will last for many seasons to come.
This Indy holiday tradition is on stage November 16 - December 26.
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