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Creating the costumes of CAMELOT

Photo of Ken Clark, Alexandra Silber, and Ana Kuzmanic by Scott Suchman.

With costumes hailed as “dazzling” (The Washington Post), “gorgeous” (DC Theatre Scene) and “sumptuous” (Metro Weekly), the clothes in Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot help to tell the story as much as the actors wearing them. But despite the medieval setting of the show, this is not a period piece. Costume Designer Ana Kuzmanic, who previously designed costumes for King Lear at the Shakespeare Theatre Company has created a legion of incredible looks for this production, drawn from a broad range of sources.

The costumes are inspired by clothing from the 10th to the 15th centuries and fused with modern influences to create a visual that makes sense on stage. Kuzmanic’s research included primary sources from medieval England, including art, tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. She then turned to contemporary fashion and art and sought to combine the two to create the “updated period look” of the production.

View Ana’s costume sketches here

And this is no small production. The cast of 20 wears nearly 90 different costumes throughout the show. That means 496 individual pieces including costumes, armor, shoes, wigs and accessories—a massive undertaking even for STC’s seasoned costume department. Costume Shop Director Barbara Hicks and her team of 19 spent six weeks creating the costumes for Camelot. However, not everything was sewn from scratch. “We built about 60% of the show. We pulled from stock and extensively reworked 25%, and rented about 15%,” says Hicks. This includes hand-sewn embroidery on dozens of gowns and coats, intricate leather pieces and 10 suits of armor. And that’s just what is visible on stage. As ensemble member Casey Wegner-Schulman explains, “Even the inside linings that the audience never gets to see are made from the most beautiful patterns and materials.” There were four rounds of fittings for this show, starting with calico cotton mock-ups to perfect the shapes and concluding with accessorizing the final looks.

Photo of Ben Gunderson, Casey Wenger-Schulman, Michael Bingham and Bridget Riley by Scott Suchman.

Even once designed and constructed, such exquisite costumes present other challenges. The armor is heavy and hot under the stage lights; the long dresses, coats and capes can make dancing a challenge; and the multiple scenes require costume changes backstage—some even taking place in the backstage elevator. As a member of the ensemble Wegner-Schulman wears four costumes and two different wigs throughout the show. She and the other female ensemble members have just a single scene between “Lusty Month of May” and “The Joust” to complete their change into a different look, including a new costume, wig and shoes. There is an entire team of wardrobe and wig assistants and run crew backstage making sure that every actor is in the correct look and ready for their entrance.

Kuzmanic hopes “the costumes give the spectator intriguing information about the characters visually and tell the story.” She continues, “For example, in Act 1 when the Ladies and Gentlemen of the Court first enter the stage, I stripped them of all color and embellished their clothes with large amounts of gold to suggest the presence of wealth but lack of joie de vivre—which is exactly what Camelot lacked before Guenevere’s arrival.” This contrasts with the vibrant, fluid looks during “The Lusty Month of May,” reflecting the joy and ease that Guenevere models. The costumes are a major part of the narrative that Director Alan Paul has constructed for this production. As Paul explains, “Guenevere’s costumes go from being more flowing to more constricted as the world becomes more constricted around [her].” Though Kuzmanic and Paul had never worked together previously, she calls him a wonderful collaborator and says, “We just clicked—our collaboration, the creative process of exchanging and developing the ideas was smooth and very fulfilling.”

Photo of the cast of Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot by Scott Suchman.

Critics have been wowed by Kuzmanic’s designs and the visual impact they have on the audience. Maryland Theatre Guide raves, “One can’t speak of the sumptuousness of this production without mentioning the costumes. They are rich, lush, luxurious, almost any adjective you can think of.” According to BroadwayWorld, the “largely magnificent” costumes “could not be better suited to this show.”

While all the costumes are stunning, there are definitely favorites among the staff and cast. Hicks is particularly taken with the rusted armor that King Pellinore, played by long-time STC Affiliated Artist Floyd King, wears in his first scene. Several staff members have called dibs on Mordred’s red leather coat once the show ends. And Wegner-Schulman cites the “breathtaking” robes that Arthur and Guenevere wear during the knighting ceremony at the end of Act 1. Kuzmanic also has a few favorites, though she has difficulty choosing just one, as all are special to her. Wegner-Schulman sums it up nicely saying, “I know I speak for everyone when I say that we feel lucky to be wearing her spectacular designs!”

Photo of the cast of Lerner & Loewe’s Camelot by Scott Suchman.

There is still time to see all the costumes for yourself—Camelot has been extended and must close on July 8. Tickets are available at ShakespeareTheatre.org or by calling 202.547.1122.

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