'The Play's The Thing' For Globe-Trotting Costume Designer

Story posted July 06, 2009

Lily Prentice
Lillian Prentice '10 keeps track of costumes for Guildford Shakespeare Company, in Guildford, England.

During a whirlwind summer of apprenticeships in England, budding costume designer, Lily Prentice '10, is living almost to the letter one of Shakespeare's most famous quotations:

These our actors/As I foretold you, were all spirits, and/Are melted into air, into thin air:/And like the baseless fabric of this vision,/The cloud-capp'd tow'rs, the gorgeous palaces,/The solemn temples, the great globe itself,/Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,/And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,/Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff/As dreams are made on ...
             —The Tempest Act 4, scene 1, 148-158

Hers is no "baseless fabric," however, but the real thing—yards and yards of it. Prentice is assistant costume designer for the Guildford Shakespeare Company, an outdoor English repertory theater. Their stage is indeed a "cloud-capp'd tow'r and gorgeous palace"— the grounds of a castle on a lazy river in Surrey.

Guildford Shakespeare
Actors from the Guildford Shakespeare Company do a (un)dress rehearsal for a production of Taming of the Shrew.

With only two and half weeks to rehearse and mount the show, Prentice has hit the ground running. She is scouring local charity shops—or thrifts—for buttons and bits, fitting and altering costumes, hanging curtains on the set, and will single-handedly help all 10 actors backstage with their quick-changes between scenes for The Taming of the Shrew.

"I've done a bit of sewing, some rooting around, working very full days," she says. "It's kind of a marathon all the way through ... exciting but a little terrifying.

It will only get more exciting. After that show closes, Prentice will head up to London to begin her second theatrical internship, this one at "the great globe itself"—Shakespeare's Globe Theater.

The renowned theater is a reconstructed version of the original Globe, which was demolished at the site in the 17th century. It is faithful to period details down to the thatched roof.

Shakespeare's Globe
From "groundlings" to "nobles," audience members enjoy a performance at Shakespeare's Globe Theater in London.

Prentice snagged a highly-coveted spot at Shakespeare's Globe after spending a spring 2009 off-campus study semester learning costume design at Edinburgh College of Art.

"To be honest," she says, "I'm not entirely sure what I'll be doing at the Globe. Probably getting costumes finished up and helping with tech rehearsals for Troilus and Cressida, which they're doing in classical Roman dress. I really thought this was a long shot. I'm thrilled. It's a dream come true."

It's no accident that Prentice is up to her ruffle in works by the Bard. The visual-arts major has been obsessed by Shakespeare since she attended Interlochen Arts Academy High School in Michigan. At Interlochen, she designed and built costumes for A Midsummer's Night's Dream, and has rendered conceptual designs for Hamlet and his ghostly father, as well as Caliban in The Tempest.

Since there is no pattern for becoming a costume designer at Bowdoin, Prentice has been making her own.

Sketch of Caliban
Prentice's conceptual sketch for Caliban in The Tempest..

She has been developing her technical chops as a work-study student for Bowdoin's theater department, working backstage for productions of Masque and Gown and Bowdoin Theater. "Knowing what is going on, technically and conceptually, with other aspects of a show is very important to a designer," she says.

She got her feet seriously wet in 2008, when she costumed the large-scale production of Suzan-Lori Parks' 365 Days/ 365 Plays. But it was during her semester of study at the Edinburgh College of Art where she learned the finer arts of costume design.

"We learned about interpreting and drawing design illustrations for a production, sourcing the materials, and developing patterns for costumes," Prentice says. From her designs, she created one fully detailed work. "It was amazing to learn that I could do pattern-cutting and hand-make an elaborate costume," she said.

Prentice says one tool is proving particularly valuable as she stitches together her education as a costume designer—scholarship.

Prentice fairy costumes
Two of Prentice's fairy costumes for a production of A Midsummer's Night's Dream at Interlochen Center for the Arts.

"Because Bowdoin is a liberal arts college, I have had the opportunity to follow my passion within the curriculum of several different academic disciplines," says Prentice. "Research is a huge, huge part of being a costume designer, and studying history and English and Shakespeare, writing essays, it's all given me the power to do the research."

Prentice will put both her research and her design skills to the test in fall 2009, when she begins an independent study designing costumes for King Lear.

"My aesthetic is to take it a step further than traditional interpretation," she says. "I've been playing with the idea of creating costumes tailored on the outside as Elizabethan dress, but made out of trash items.

"Lear's two daughters—Goneril and Regan—their language is flowery but inside they're rotten. What if their dresses are made out of Wonderbread wrappers and aluminum cans? Are they really what they seem? Underneath their sugar coating they are trashy ..."

Of her theatrical summer in professional English costume shops, Prentice will "leave not a rack behind." But for an ambitious young designer ready to make her mark, this certainly must be "such stuff as dreams are made on ..."

Prentice's theater internships were supported by a grant from the Nellie C. Watterson Summer Fellowship in the Creative and Performing Arts.

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