Education and Community Programs Coordinator Lauren Sivak sat down with Animal Farm costume designer Izumi Inaba and Steppenwolf Costume Director Caryn Weglarz Klein to discuss some of the unique challenges in bringing animals to life on Steppenwolf’s stage.
Lauren Sivak: Izumi, you are in the process of designing the costumes for Animal Farm. Would you mind walking me through the design process for this show?
Izumi Inaba: After the initial reading I did a lot of research, and after that I did a lot of sketches. I drew out ideas for masks and the posture of each animal. Early on we had a specific idea of having these animals move on crutches, but as the design progressed, we then saw using crutches would actually prohibit the actors’ mobility and movement onstage. We have decided to use masks and other specific traits for each animal instead of crutches.
LS: Caryn, when does the Costume Shop receive the designs? How early on in the process are you involved?
Caryn Klein: Fortunately, for this play I was brought in early and I have been brainstorming ways to execute Izumi’s designs within the parameters of our budget. My job is to get her designs from page to stage. It’s a challenge, but it is also really exciting!
LS: How is this show different from the work that Steppenwolf typically produces?
CK: It’s abstract. Most Steppenwolf plays are not. The closest thing we’ve produced to anything like this would be The Tempest, which was a number of years ago. In the 13 years I have worked at Steppenwolf and the 20 years I have been involved with the company, we have not done a play like this. It is very unusual and thrilling.
LS: How big is the team that will be working on this show?
CK: This play will require our whole staff. We will also need to bring on a special craft person and people for stitching. I would say that there will be at least ten people working on this project.
LS: How many costumes are you building?
CK: That’s the big question! Currently, it looks like we will build 17 costumes.
LS: Izumi, one of the things that I am most excited about is all of the familiar materials—like sporting equipment—that you are using in your design. You are using familiar objects in so many new and different ways. What inspires you?
IN: When I show my designs to a director and playwright, they give me feedback. They might say, “How about we try this? Have you also thought of that?” So ultimately we come up with ideas together. We collaborate. And then I draw out our ideas so we can ensure what we have been imagining together really works.
CK: Izumi, one thing that makes you such a good designer is how cohesive your design is. It has a very distinct language. I look at these designs [for Animal Farm] and I see the world of the play appear before me. As the Costume Director, I get to work with so many talented people. I get to work with designers, artisans and actors. Working with creative people like you is one of my favorite parts of the job.
LS: Speaking of actors, given the nature of the show, how do you keep in mind the physical demands of the costumes?
CK: We know that the actors are going to be moving around a lot: they will be using the space in interesting ways, even climbing on things, and they will be masked. So, our challenge is that they have to be safe, the audience has to be able to hear and understand them, and we want to be able to see parts of their face. There is a lot to consider!
LS: I can’t wait to see what you both come up with. Thank you so much for meeting with me.
CK AND IN: Thank you!