For Into the Breeches!, designer Angela Calin’s costumes have many layers — and not just in the physical sense of the word.
Set in 1942, the play follows a troupe of women who stage Shakespeare’s Henriad to raise morale while their husbands are overseas. Throughout the show, the characters change from ’40s dresses to Elizabethan attire before finally donning World War II military uniforms.
Chautauqua Theater Company continues its run of Into the Breeches! with a performance at 4 p.m. Thurs., Aug. 16, in Bratton Theater.
Calin, who previously designed costumes at CTC for The Comedy of Errors and last season’s Noises Off, said she begins each new project by researching the time period through books, movies and websites.
“Considering I’ve been doing this for a long time, some of the periods are imbedded in my brain at this point,” Calin said. “Especially for the 1940s, there are a lot of good period photos on various sites, newspapers, magazines and so on.”
After speaking with director Laura Kepley of Cleveland Play House about her vision for the production, Calin started researching 1940s fashion that would be appropriate for each character’s social status.
“For this particular play, I used the Sears catalogs from the period, which are a fantastic research opportunity for us because not only do they have the prices, but also there’s a lot of quality, period-specific outfits and clothing and accessories that we can use,” Calin said.
Once she had an idea of how the characters would dress offstage, Calin shifted her focus to the play-within-a-play’s costumes: Shakespearean doublet and hose.
“Because they are supposed to be theatrical, there’s a little more leniency in how you approach those costumes,” she said of the Elizabethan attire’s historical accuracy.
The play involves plenty of gender-bending, so Calin said that some tailoring was required to make the costumes fit the actors’ bodies.
“Of course, having women play men’s parts as well as men women’s parts, it creates somewhat of a challenge when it comes to purchasing costumes or clothing items versus making them from scratch,” Calin said. “The female body shape is different from the male body shape, meaning, for instance, with the uniforms, we discovered that the shoulders are much broader, so we needed to do some adjustments.”
Calin said accessories were key to the costume design for Maggie Dalton, played by guest artist Nisi Sturgis, because the character almost never leaves the stage. The designer used sweaters and jackets to signal the passage of time as Maggie rallies the men and women of Buffalo, New York, to save her show.
Calin hopes that theatergoers who see Into the Breeches! will gain a newfound respect for artists who work tirelessly and receive lackluster compensation.
Having worked on over 100 regional productions and having costumed eight films, Calin said she enjoys returning to Chautauqua because of the engaged audiences.
“It’s such a joy to come here and be faced with not only the audiences, who are quite knowledgeable, and they are so interested in the arts in general, … but also to work with young people,” she said.
Calin was assisted in the costume shop by manager Cece Hill, costume crew members Meaghan Carlo, Erin Harteau, Cody Lorich, Mikayla O’Neil and costume design fellow Jennifer Clark. Given the number of snaps, patches, hat trimmings and coat cuffs in the show, the costume crew received extra help from carpenters Will Avery and Christian Pearson, as well as properties artisan Meg Valentine.
“It’s nice to have this collaboration between older, professional people with younger designers and actors (and) directors who are just at the beginning of their road to hopefully a long and successful career,” Calin said.
Calin received her MFA in set and costume design from Academy of Arts in Bucharest, Romania. The award-winning designer said she loves her line of work because it continues to challenge her.
“One of the joys of my profession is to always come up with something new, so you don’t repeat your work very often,” Calin said. “Each play is a different journey into the theater.”