Costume & Set Design
One of Shylock's coats and various pieces for The Merchant of Venice, 2018
General note on costumes:
Throughout my five years as artistic director of Seoul Shakespeare Company, I served as costume designer and constructed most of the costumes myself. At the bottom of this page you can see how I first started and follow my progression from year to year as my skills developed. I still mostly rely on purchased patterns (and I now have quite a library of them, and mockups of the garments I've made), and I developed various specific skills by searching the internet. I am still most comfortable creating pieces that I've designed myself, as I design for practicality and speed of construction. Fabric choice is one of the most important aspects of the process, and choosing fabrics feels a lot like casting a show. Fabrics that have their own character and can be the star of the garment negate the need for time-consuming (and expensive) trimming and embellishments. Of all my roles in creating shows for Seoul Shakespeare Company (producing, directing, marketing, acting, ticketing, sound design, lighting design, etc.), costuming is the most time consuming and potentially overwhelming aspect of creating a show (and in previous years we rarely had a costume designer construct most of the garments from scratch or make it through the entire process), but from year to year I built up a collection of garments that could subtly be reused so that I could focus on creating the pieces that would define the signature look of each show. Building up an existing wardrobe collection, and knowing what is in the collection, was essential for being able to costume each show efficiently and effectively.
Tubal's coats for The Merchant of Venice, 2018
Nerissa's skirt (with hand-sewn cartridge pleating) for The Merchant of Venice, 2018
Fitting doublet mockups for Much Ado About Nothing, 2016. Photos by Laura Jasinskaite.
Nerissa's skirt, one of Shylock's coat fabrics, our kitty, and a pattern for a long coat for The Merchant of Venice, 2018
A note on general philosophy with sets, costumes, and the company aesthetic:
In general, starting with Much Ado in 2016, Michael Downey (who directed most of these productions) and I sought to create lively productions with minimal sets, maximum playing space for the actors to move in, no blackouts, and a focus on world-building through costumes and music rather than through elaborate sets. As such, the sets were mostly a matter of fabric selection to match the mood and world of the play, and figuring out how to rig the fabric. (More about our company aesthetic as Seoul Shakespeare Company here.)
A note on sets in Theater Egg and Nucleus:
All of these productions took place at Theater Egg and Nucleus in Daehangno, which has 160 steeply terraced seats, with balcony-like side sections that jut out on either side. The stage itself is essentially a high-ceilinged black box with no built-in backstage area, or doors on the back and side walls, so that the only entrance points are the downstage corners and through the audience. If we want actors to enter and exit anywhere other than downstage, we have to construct a false backstage area around the playing area. In each production we dealt with this challenge differently, but in general we settled on hanging fabrics around the back and sides of the stage that suited the world and mood of each play, and provided cover for the actors to move about unseen by the audience. In The Winter's Tale, however, we used a bare stage, with chalk lines marking the playing space.
Seoul Shakespeare Company, 2019
Design and Construction of Costumes and Sets
(Directed by Lauren Ash-Morgan)
Photos by Robert Michael Evans
-Jewel tones--When I first went to Dongdaemun fabric market to start scoping out fabrics, I did not have a color scheme in mind, which is unusual for me. I had initially thought it might be mostly grayscale, given the play's reputation for bleakness, but during auditions, seeing the colorful and genuinely fun portrayals by our actors, I quickly realized that the world of King Lear would be in color. (The modern hospital at the beginning and end remained colorless until its final moments). In Dongdaemun subway station, on my way to the fabric market, a shop was selling scarves in colors that might come from natural dyes like goldenrod and sumac. Three scarves grouped together caught my eye: they were amber, turquoise, and lavender. These became the colors of the three sisters and their respective houses: in my mind amber, jade, and amethyst--the colors of ancient stones, suggesting a kind of ancient, earthy royalty--opulence without being glittery.
-Each household was given a color scheme for its owners and servants, to help clarify location from scene to scene without set changes. Goneril and Albany's house colors were amber, orange, brown, and cream; Regan and Cornwall's house colors were turquoise and black; Lear and Cordelia's colors were various shades of purple and dark blue (with the Fool and Kent complementing with some yellow); Gloucester and Edgar's house colors were various shades of green; France and the French army's colors were gold, red, and black. Edmond's red and black were unique to him.
-Costumes were based on Korean traditional clothing, mixed with shirtsleeves from past shows, to give a sense of a dreamlike fusion of styles, suggesting an ancient time period but not historically specific. The entire play was framed as a sort of dream or coma-induced vision (or perhaps a sort of alternate reality) of a foreign man on his death bed in a Korean hospital, so that the world was filled with both Korean and Western musical and visual elements.
-I directed this production (and produced, and designed all aspects of the show), so I knew the costumes would need to be relatively simple and quick to construct. For years I had wanted to do a production of Lear that used Korean traditional music, and that incorporated elements of Korean dress, and in this production I went back to the original hanbok design that got me involved in costuming in the first place for the three sisters. The men's and female soldiers' costumes were based on a type of men's hanbok that features a skirt-like pleated bottom half. (Google "Korean palace guards" for examples.)
-I used lots of fabrics with interesting textures, many of which came from one particular seller in Dongdaemun fabric market. Edmund's red and black coat fabric is a great example of how a carefully-chosen, more complex fabric can hide a costume's extremely simple construction.
-I made most of the garments used in this show, but several cast members helped by constructing the servant women's costumes, and Edgar's pants and hood, and hemming the skirts and curtains.
-As in Merchant, I created the backstage area and entrance/exit points by rigging curtains from the ceiling with aircraft cables, carabiners, and curtain rods.
The Merchant of Venice
Seoul Shakespeare Company, 2018
Design and Construction of Costumes and Sets
(Directed by Michael Downey)
Photos by Robert Michael Evans
-This was a return to the Elizabethan era (which we first did two years earlier, in Much Ado). We were able to reuse lots of garments from Much Ado, but added many new garments to shift the color scheme, emphasize a display of wealth, and add flowing long coats for some of the men.
-The main color scheme for the show was turquoise, blue, green, and gold. In Belmont these colors were strictly followed, but in Venice there were also lots of browns and maroons. These were just the colors that felt right for the characters, and ended up reflecting the harsher realities of life in Venice compared to Portia's very sheltered, seemingly idyllic life in Belmont.
-Doublets, shirtsleeves, breeches, and sashes were mostly re-used from Much Ado. Bassanio and Lorenzo got new doublets, to push the overall color scheme toward greens and blues. Several of the men with doublets were also given capes, worn over one or both shoulders, to class it up a bit from the casual Much Ado style.
-Portia, Nerissa, Jessica, and the (female) Duke were given thoroughly boned corsets, farthingales (hooped underskirts), and skirts with hand-sewn cartridge pleating and bum rolls--a much more elaborate and restrictive style than in Much Ado, again reflecting the theme of wealth in Merchant, as well as the societal restrictions on the women. The women's style used in Much Ado became the look for Portia's three servants/musicians.
-Shylock, Antonio, the Prince of Morocco, Tubal, and Portia (in the trial scene) were given long coats. (Portia and Tubal actually shared the same coat because I didn't have the extra time needed to create a separate one--did anyone notice?) Morocco's white coat was closed with velcro for his lighting-fast costume changes from Salerio to Morocco and back.
-The set was meant to give the claustrophobic sense of being in Venice--where there are high walls all around and you can't see anything beyond your immediate surroundings. In the end, we couldn't place the curtains as high as I'd hoped (because of proximity to the lights), so they weren't quite as towering as I'd imagined--but they were reminiscent of a fabric market for the Venice scenes and of curtains in Belmont.
-Portia's and Nerissa's dresses, and Lorenzo's doublet, were made from Korean fabrics (fabrics intended for use in making hanbok, etc.) and purchased from the same seller. Many of the other fabrics came from two particular sellers who happened to be selling many jacquards at the time.
-I ended up playing Portia, and I gave Portia a large locket with a picture of her father (it was actually Galileo, just because I liked the picture) so that her father's presence would always be felt, and to help physicalize Portia's feeling torn between her father and her own will. During Morocco's and Arragon's casket challenges she clutched the locket anxiously, and then warmly when each turned out okay. In Bassanio's presence, she struggled between Bassanio and the locket, and during his casket test she eventually removed the locket and before arguably cheating by giving Bassanio a hint through her song. Bassanio then took the locket and, looking at the face of her father in this very plain locket, deciphered the meaning of the lead casket before opening it. Bassanio continued to wear the locket for the rest of the play, and in Portia's moment of greatest despair about Bassanio after the trial, her hand habitually went to her chest to touch the locket and she was dismayed to remember that she'd given it (along with everything else she owns) to Bassanio.
-Three characters who come in briefly but visually dominate their scenes--Morocco, Arragon, and the Duke--each had elements of red in their costumes, making them stand out as outsiders and as a dominant presence when they are on stage.
-Portia first entered in full mourning, complete with a wide black hat and veil (inspired by Mark Rylance's Olivia hat from Twelfth Night but actually a gisaeng hat (jeonmo) from a Korean dance shop). During the first scene Portia removed the mourning outfit and began changing into the blue dress she would wear for the rest of the play. This served a number of functions: 1) It gave a physical action for Portia and Nerissa while they joke about the suitors, instead of just standing (or sitting) and talking. 2) It established for the audience that her father's death was fairly recent, that she has been observing the suitors from behind a veil, and that the caskets test is just beginning for the first time, with Morocco being the first man to try. 3) In our production, Portia blithely threw each discarded clothing item onto the floor for Nerissa to pick up, signaling to the audience that we were not going to idealize Portia, and that she can be spoiled and unaware of her privilege. (We found that each character had areas in which they enjoyed privilege and areas in which they lacked privilege. Portia, for example, is extremely privileged by her wealth, but is also extremely vulnerable to a potential lifetime of abuse if the wrong man chooses the lead casket and she is forced to marry him.) 4) Her state of partial undress allowed Portia to look more vulnerable while talking about her fear of the German suitor, which I wanted to give weight to, as her terror about her situation finally pokes through the veil of her jokes.
-Some of the costumes (most notably, Portia's dress) were not yet ready at the time of the photo shoot. The show video (when it comes out) will have the final, polished look.
-Whereas in Much Ado we built a frame to create a backstage area, and in The Winter's Tale we dispensed with the backstage area altogether, in this production I rigged all the curtains from the ceiling using aircraft cables, carabiners, and curtain rods.
The Winter's Tale
Seoul Shakespeare Company, 2017
Design and Construction of Costumes and Sets
(Directed by Michael Downey)
-The characters who disappear from Sicilia (Hermione, Camillo, Polixines, and Mamillius) are in light colors, while all other Sicilians are in dark colors, so that when they disappear, the kingdom appears to darken, purely through their absence.
-Leontes and Paulina are in red in the first half of the play, as they match each other's flaring tempers.
-Bohemia is full of off-white muslin (cheap, comfortable, rustic, and bright). Photos of Hamilton influenced this look.
-When we return to Sicilia, Leontes and Paulina are now in black, as they are still in mourning. This also gives the impression that the kingdom has continued to darken over the last 16 years, and also reflects a shift in the two characters' personalities over time.
-When Perdita and Florizel (and then Polixines and Camillo) arrive in Sicilia, they bring a balance of light colors back to Sicilia.
-Perdita's dress when she comes to Sicilia shifts the style from Victorian to Edwardian, as does Hermione's dress at the end.
-In the statue scene, the curtain that first conceals Hermione and then acts as a backdrop for her "statue" shifts from Paulina's signature red to Hermione's light blue, reflecting another shift in the world of Sicilia as Paulina steps aside and Hermione returns. This light blue is also the color used in our posters for the production, symbolizing both Hermione and the ocean over which various characters travel.
-The only bears we actually see in this production are Mamillius's teddy bear and Perdita's baby blanket, which has teddy bears subtly imprinted on it (which I'm sure no one noticed, but it made me happy). The bear attack was depicted by a narrowing light on Antigonus (which was one of Michael's very first ideas for the show's design), rather than showing the bear, but I put Antigonus in brown (faux) fur, which he brought up over his face at the moment of the attack, so that our last image of him would be a flash of bear-like fur before he went dark.
-Hermione's blue jacket goes to Bohemia with Perdita, tucked in her bassinet. When Perdita returns to Sicilia, the blue belt of her dress is made of the same fabric. Could it have been made from her mother's jacket? I don't know, but the blue belt subtly reminds Leontes of Hermione when he sees Perdita.
-For this production Michael wanted a bare stage, stark lighting, and chalk lines, so in the pre-show (the thirty minutes before the show, during which the audience arrives and takes their seats) we had Mamillius playing with chalk (and various toys) on the stage and drawing lines around the periphery of the playing space, with breaks for the entrance and exit points. In Sicilia the characters followed the designated entrance and exit points and sort of haunted the periphery of the stage on their way in and out of the playing area, moving in straight lines and right angles. In Bohemia, characters moved freely throughout the stage, ignoring the lines. We used a clock gobo in Sicilia to create a thematically-relevant visual focal point, and our wonderful lighting designer, Iain, made it look amazing. In general, we let the lighting design be the star of the show's overall look, with the clock gobo illuminating the back wall and streaks of light across the stage floor like the hands of a clock. In Bohemia, the characters used the event of the sheep-shearing festival to decorate the stage with light gauzy fabrics and garlands of flowers within the context of the scene, which they disassembled when the party was over and we returned to Sicilia. In this way we were able to transform the stage from Sicilia to Bohemia and back, without stopping for set changes.
-The men's costumes in Bohemia were influenced by the 1830s living history museum Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, where I used to work as a historical interpreter and camp instructor. (I used to teach children's games and crafts, drive the riverboat, and make brooms.)
-When Michael first started thinking about directing The Winter's Tale, he proposed Victorian costumes, a bare stage, and the use of chalk lines, and I was thrilled! For me, this was an opportunity to give the Victorian and Edwardian periods a try, and it was my first use of boning (in the women's corsets and bodices).
-Many of the men's coats (and lots of suspenders) were purchased online. The men's costumes were otherwise mostly provided by the actors. Some of the doublets from Much Ado made sneaky appearances as vests! Our Camillo, Josh, provided the medals for the two kings.
-Since the men's costumes were found or purchased, I was able to focus my costume construction efforts on the women's costumes, which were very time consuming. I made all of the women's costumes except for Perdita's white dress at the end of the play, which was one I owned, and Hermione's white blouse (actually a full dress, covered by a skirt), which had been used in Cut Glass Theatre's production of The Importance of Being Earnest and then donated by SSC's Hamlet director, Jessica.
Much Ado About Nothing
Seoul Shakespeare Company, 2016
Design and Construction of Costumes and Sets
(Directed by Michael Downey)
-Emphasis on "Elizabethan-era" clothes that are comfortable and provide freedom of movement.
-Lots of casual, visible white and off-white shirtsleeves
-Lots of cotton!!! (Cheap, available in many colors, and extremely comfortable)
-Women's skirts are based on rehearsal skirts used in traditional Korean dance (wraps skirts made from one long rectangle of fabric with knife pleats, and a wide waistband). Shorter versions of this style were also trendy in Korea as streetwear at this time.
-Carefully-selected fancier fabric for the women's laced corsets, the men's doublets, and the older men's long coats. No time to add embellishments, so fabrics themselves needed to be the focus and were selected for interesting textures and patterns.
-Breeches are the simplest possible, with elastic drawstring waistbands that must be covered with a scarf around the waist (or skirting on the doublets would have worked as well) to hid the waistband.
-Doublets have no skirting, sleeves, or shoulder embellishments, to save time and fabric, and to show off casual shirtsleeves
-Doublets and laced corsets keep the overall look nicely fitted and flattering, while shirtsleeves, breeches, skirts, and sashes are allowed to flow. No boning used in this production. (Compare with the women's costumes in The Merchant of Venice--tons of boning.)
-Warm color scheme. Orange was the color used in our posters, and ended up being the main color for Beatrice, Benedick (combined with lots of navy blue), and the "tapestries" that made up the set. Other colors were mostly based on what suited each individual actor, sometimes taking inspiration from colors they wore in real life.
-This play is almost entirely in prose and full of bawdy humor, and Michael wanted a fast-paced, energetic show that would reflect the vivaciousness of the Elizabethan era. We were very much influenced by the Globe's touring "Globe to Globe" production of Hamlet (which we saw when it came to Seoul) and by videos of various Globe productions, and we wanted to explore a new style for the company, shifting more toward the energy of "original practices."
-Whereas characters' shifting status and family clans were extremely important in Titus Andronicus, in Much Ado the characters treat each other mostly as peers and equals. Even Don Pedro, whose status is higher than that of the other characters, is treated as a friend and generally not with great reverence. This meant that we didn't need costumes to reflect characters' relative status; instead, we could focus on each character's individual style, based on the individuality of each actor.
-A few items from Titus made appearances in Much Ado (and future productions).
-Most items in the show were entirely constructed by me, but we had a one-day cutting session with the stage management team and Michael. In addition, Maria Fernanda Silva, who was Director's Assistant and an Assistant Stage Manager (and would later play Cordelia in King Lear) sewed on all the doublet buttons!
-Benedick's ridiculous leopard-print shirt was a last-minute find by Michael, which saved me from having to sew the salmon-colored shirt I had planned, and was far more hilarious!
-This was my second time costuming a full show, and the costumes were designed to look "Elizabethan," and maximize comfort for the actors, while being as quick and easy as possible to construct. In the early stages of preparation, I collected a number of patterns for each type of garment, and then selected (and sometimes modified) the patterns that would be the quickest and most efficient to make. I now have quite a collection of "Elizabethan"-style patterns, but I've repeatedly used my go-to favorites.
-The doublets were carefully constructed according to the actors' measurements, which I angsted about, worrying about getting a perfect fit--but then in The Merchant of Venice, we re-used the doublets on different actors, and it didn't really matter that the doublets hadn't been made specifically for them.
-To create a backstage area, we used wood left over from Titus to build a frame around the stage's periphery and covered the frame with black fabric
-The orange "tapestries" were inspired by a tapestry Michael and I saw at the Cloisters in New York in the early stages of planning, nearly a year before the production
Seoul Shakespeare Company, 2015
Design and Construction of Costumes only
(Directed by Raymond C. Salcedo)
-Silky, flowy fabrics
-Long sleeveless dresses for the women, inspired by ancient Rome, but otherwise anachronistic costumes to match Shakespeare's frequent anachronisms in the world of the play.
-Romans in primarily black & white (and gold and silver for royal family), with Goths in homespun and earth tones, emphasizing the juxtaposition between the Romans who see themselves as "civilized" and the Goths who are supposedly "primitive" in the eyes of the Romans. Titus and his soldiers are in black military uniforms to be more menacing than the browns and bright reds of historical ancient Roman soldiers. As Titus's family status plummets (and Titus's strict adherence to rules gives way to the human messiness of grief) and Tamora's family's status rapidly shoots up, their color schemes reverse over time, with homespun and earth tones for Titus's family and silky flowing fabrics for Tamora and her sons.
-Red is used to symbolize revenge--first in the Roman soldiers' sleeves during their ceremonial revenge, then in Tamora's hunting dress in the forest, later in Tamora's Revenge disguise (which mocks the color scheme of the soldiers who terrorized her in the beginning of the play), and finally in Lavinia's dress during the throat-cutting and veil in the final scene.
-Lavinia's dresses symbolize her arc and are designed to maximize a sense of her agency in the latter half of the play. Blue and white in the beginning reflect how she sees herself and how she is viewed by the public, as an ideal of Roman womanhood (with beauty and purity presumably part of that image). Then she is in black during her period of despair, until she writes the names of her attackers. After this she changes to red for the throat-cutting to suggest that it is her revenge, that she might have cut their throats herself if she had hands. (Her dress is made from the same fabric as Tamora's dress from the hunt, to really terrify Chiron and Demetrius). Finally, at the banquet, she is in white because she has come to a point of closure and peace, and bravely retained or reclaimed her sense of purity despite what happened to her, with a dark red veil that suggests her final coming to rest is also the beginning of her final stage of revenge, carried out by Titus. (Just as a personal note, since I know many people find Titus's killing Lavinia unjustifiable: I like to think that the "fly-killing scene" (which only appears in the Folio version) was added to the play in order to show that Lavinia is physically unable to eat (because of the loss of her tongue), justifying Titus's killing her (at her request) because she is slowly and painfully starving to death. Having accomplished her revenge against Chiron and Demetrius, she has reached a point of closure and is ready to end her physical suffering, and by dying in this way she is able to make a statement about what happened to her and set off the final stage of the revenge.)
-I played Tamora, and her Revenge disguise is based on the long sleeves of the Korean traditional dance seungmu, which I had studied for a number of years. Our director, Ray, wanted Tamora's way of moving in this scene to be different from other scenes, and the movements of seungmu came to mind, so I developed the costume to serve these movements.
-This also led to using long sleeves to hide Lavinia's hands. I personally dislike it when productions try to show Lavinia's stumps, because it requires placing stumps over the actor's hands, which has the overall effect of making it look like Lavinia's arms have been stretched out and lengthened, rather than shortened--not to mention that the stumps have to be too wide for what should be her wrists, and end up looking like hooves. We got around this, first by having Chiron and Demetrius bandage Lavinia's stumps with fabric torn from her dress (after all, the extra length and thickness could be balled-up fabric instead of her hands hidden underneath), and in later scenes giving her ultra-long detached sleeves, like those worn in the Korean dance taepyeongmu and in Korean masked dance.
-In this production we deliberately went against the common image of Titus as a gore-fest, aiming instead to focus on the themes in the play (cycles of revenge, metamorphosis, shifts in power, etc.).
-This was my first time designing (and constructing) the costumes for an entire production. Nearly everything in the production was sewn by me, except for most of the pants (and of course shoes). It was also my first time using patterns since high school. Fortunately, the Roman setting meant lots of costumes that could fit loosely, and I didn't need to stress too much about items being perfectly fitted. I used a lot of extremely inexpensive lining fabrics, which had a nice light weight and slight sheen, but on the day the play was reviewed by one of the newspapers, the theatre's air conditioner broke and we were sweating in fabrics that did not breathe at all. Since then I have made sure breathability is factored into fabric selection!
Oberon, A Midsummer Night's Dream
Seoul Shakespeare Company, 2014
Design and Construction of Costume (based on the original designer's general concepts)
(Directed by Raymond C. Salcedo)
Oberon costume clips (no sound):
-emphasis on movement, ability to flow and expand to take up more space or contract to drape gracefully
-strong but feminine--upper arms can be covered with flowing fabric or shown for a more muscular look
-cape can be lifted over the head to form a temporary hood and conceal the face
-extremely simple construction (but required lots of safety pinning before each performance, to cover bra straps)
-I was asked to take over making my own costume for this production, to ease the burden on our overwhelmed costume designer, who as it turned out had interesting ideas but minimal sewing skills. He had made look books and sketches for each of the characters, but as they were not designed for practicality, and there was no time to order patterns from overseas, I improvised my own version of the concept from two long pieces of fabric attached to a bra, with one side seam. (It was the original designer's suggestion to use a bra as the structural base for the dress, which was a great idea!)
-We held one outdoor park performance on the stage at Seonyudo Park, and for this performance I added one of my Korean traditional dance fans, to make sure I wouldn't faint in the heat. It had turned out that a fan was in the original costume design sketch, but I didn't know until I took over constructing the costume, and we hadn't incorporated a fan into rehearsals, so it never became a part of regular performances in the theatre. The park performance was a bit of a free for all, and I was comfortable manipulating fans from Korean dance training, so I added it for fun and as a safeguard against the heat.
Amiss film premiere, March 7, 2014
(Where it started)
The reason I was initially tasked with making my Oberon costume was because I had made the dress pictured above for the premiere of the film Amiss, and I was soon rumored to be good at making clothes. For the premiere, the guys in the film were planning on dressing very formally (some in tuxes), and I didn't own a dress to match the formality planned for the evening (and most clothes in Korea don't fit me, so it's difficult to buy clothing). The one thing I knew how to make was hanbok, because while performing gugak a lot in the U.S. I had experimented with making hanbok, since I only owned one (which I frequently performed in and had been told was getting tedious), couldn't afford to buy more, and couldn't rent them because my arms are too long. I designed and made this modified hanbok for the evening, since that was the only thing I knew how to make. The skirt was based on the lower-waisted, tightly-wrapped skirts that are associated with gisaeng, and the blue top was a modern creation, imitating an open top I had seen by a hanbok fashion designer. (In 2019 I also used this type of skirt for the three sisters in King Lear.) About six weeks after this premiere, I was asked to create a costume for Oberon, my first time designing a theatre costume.