Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

October 13, 2005

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Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 11:22 pm

Costuming in Jane Eyre

Again, due to the too too wonderful Kristin!

South Bend Tribune (Indiana)May 13, 2001 Sunday Michigan EditionSECTION:

INTERMISSION; Pg. E3HEADLINE: Dressed to thrill; Behind the curtain, costume designer allows work to take center stageBYLINE: By KARIN LIPSON; Newsday

NEW YORK — Not a beat was lost in the busy backstage rhythm of the Brooks Atkinson Theatre as actor Stephen R. Buntrock [who played St.John Rivers and understudied the role of Rochester] yelled, in mock outrage, “She’s got her hands down my pants!”

Andreane Neofitou did indeed have her hands, if not exactly down, at least on the back of Buntrock’s trousers. But then, this was the last technical rehearsal for the Broadway musical “Jane Eyre,” which recently received a best musical Tony Award nomination.

Neofitou, the show’s costume designer, was ready to do some pants adjusting for a cast member if that’s what was needed. So, too, with fixing the elegant pale green damask waistcoat of male lead James Barbour, or checking out some wigs, or fretting over an actress’s ill-fitting shoe.
What was she looking for, exactly? “I look at everything,” she said. “There’s nothing I’m looking for, because I don’t know what won’t be right. If you see something, it means it’s wrong.”
Uh-oh. She saw something. But what? On stage, it was a beautiful day in the neighborhood, if your neighborhood happened to be the moody English moors. In the garden of mysterious Thornfield Hall, Jane (played by Marla Schaffel) had chanced upon a bevy of bratty aristocrats, led by the flighty Blanche Ingram (Elizabeth DeGrazia). Blanche was all flounces and ruffles and pouffy white silk taffeta, while Jane — plain Jane, penniless Jane, the lowly governess — was severely clad in black. A perfect contrast in station and character, it would seem.

But in her seat, Neofitou was not entirely pleased. Those dazzling white dresses of Blanche and company threatened to visually overwhelm the dark gown worn by Jane, upsetting the balance of the scene.

“I could put her gray collar on, so it catches the light a little more,” mused Neofitou, as her assistant, Devon Painter, took notes.

Within days, not only was the collar on, but Neofitou was shopping for fabric during previews to create new, more casual and less commanding pastel dresses for the silly gaggle of girls that mocks Jane in the garden.

Dressing down a scene is not what one usually thinks of as a goal of a costume designer. But “for me, it’s never a matter of doing pretty costumes,” said Neofitou. “I’m trying to bring a world — with period pieces, specifically, it’s an alien world — to modern audiences, to make that world the present. I don’t want to have a barrier between the audience and what’s going on onstage. You have to make that costume so familiar, so real to that character, that the audience doesn’t see the costumes, it sees the character.”

It also, of course, doesn’t see the costume designer. With a few striking exceptions costume designers, much like most set designers and lighting directors, are only vaguely known to the public; though she has created the costumes for such megahits as “Miss Saigon” and “Les Miserables” (which won her a Tony nomination), Neofitou is not exactly a household name. Yet her work is part of the glue that holds a show together.

Complementing the director

Neofitou previously worked with John Caird, who wrote the book for “Jane Eyre” and is its co-director, and with set designer John Napier (who happens also to be her ex-husband), on “Les Miz” and “Nicholas Nickleby.” She also worked with Napier on “Miss Saigon.”
“I’m trying to augment what the director is saying or the actor is doing,” Neofitou says. When the emphasis of a character changes during rehearsals, which are frequently attended by the costume designer, “You do bend the costumes. The costumes are always fluid.”
This sort of continuing involvement with the show and the ability to make adjustments gracefully seem to be keys to successful costume design.

For most good set designers, the entire process starts with research. In “Miss Saigon,” for example, an early nightclub scene featuring scantily clad prostitutes was based on documentary photographs of similar young women in Vietnam War-era Saigon.

In the case of “Les Miserables” or, currently, “Jane Eyre,” research meant going back to the book that was its source. Charlotte Bronte’s famed 1847 novel about the unprepossessing title heroine and her love for her secretive employer Edward Rochester “is very descriptive, in that she has two dresses when she goes to Thornfield — a black silk and a grey silk.” And that is pretty much what she wears in the show, with a few modifications.

From paper to fabric

Born in Cyprus, Neofitou moved with her parents to England at age 7. A graduate of art school, she was a fashion designer in London until her marriage to Napier led her increasingly into theater work. Nowadays, she does her initial sketches in Crete, where she has lived full time for the past four years.

Once her sketches for the show were complete, Neofitou began to turn them into reality with trusted workmen in London and New York. “The most important person is the one who actually cuts the item, that gives it the look you require,” she said. A mock-up costume is made, usually in toile (“it’s a cheap fabric, and it doesn’t matter if it’s wrong”); after the inevitable adjustments, it’s remade in the actual fabric and tried on the actor, whom Neofitou has had in mind all along. “You can’t start until you know who your actors are anyway, because you have to go along with their body.”

From this process, Neofitou finally gets to nights like the recent one at the Brooks Atkinson, where she was adjusting men’s trousers and deciding on how to rework that garden scene. Eventually, the tinkering on “Jane Eyre” would be done, and she would be able to actively oversee the creation of her costumes for a Metropolitan Opera production of Verdi’s “Nabucco.”
And then, at some point, it would be home to Crete. “It’s wonderful to live in the rarefied atmosphere of theater, but one tends to get terribly caught up in this life, and it’s not real,” Neofitou says. “I think it’s better for me as a person and as a designer to be able to touch reality, and Crete is as far away as you can get from the theater crowd and the theater world socially.”
One thing is certain. From her perch in Crete, “I hardly see any other costume designers.”

***
The drawing is one of the costume concepts, printed in the liner notes of the Broadway cast recording.

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2 Comments »

  1. cool blog man

    Comment by bobbyRicky — January 25, 2007 @ 7:50 am |Reply

  2. with posts like this how long before we give up the newspaper?!!

    Comment by garyM — February 22, 2007 @ 7:26 am |Reply


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