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Utah Shakespeare Festival offers free seminars

Published: Saturday, Aug. 16 2014 12:00 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, Aug. 18 2014 4:13 p.m. MDT

Nancy Melich, literary seminar director for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, discusses "The Comedy of Errors" with festivalgoers in July 2014.

Rachel Brutsch, Deseret News

CEDAR CITY — As the Utah Shakespeare Festival continues in full swing, audiences can continue to delight in and be enlightened by the productions they attend. But also available to festivalgoers, free of charge, are additional events to help patrons get the most out of their experience and gain greater appreciation for the work that goes into the shows they view.

“(The festival) happens through a great deal of care and consideration to make the right choices so that the scenery, the lights, the costumes, the acting — everything — tells the story and brings that home to the performance and the audience,” said Jeffrey Lieder, costume director for USF. “And through these backstage seminars, people get a glimpse into what it takes and appreciate it more deeply.”

In addition to the seminars featured here, play orientations, in which festivalgoers can learn more about the show they’re about to see, and actor seminars, in which festival actors talk about their roles and experiences, are also available free of charge.

For a schedule of the seminars and play orientations, as well as other festival offerings, visit bard.org.

Costume seminars

To begin his presentation at a recent costume seminar, Lieder, who is in his 29th season with USF, displayed some sketches by the costume designers and showed how they demonstrated the characters’ clothes, manners and hairstyles.

“These are beautiful drawings, but they’re really the blueprints for what ends up on stage,” Lieder said.

He gave a brief overview of the process to take a costume from a drawing to a completed garment: Once the final sketches are in, he and his staff break them down to try to fit the materials and labor costs to their budget. With the costs approved, they move on to production, and 55 measurements are taken of the actor’s bodies. A draper makes the costume patterns by hand, and a muslin mockup of the costume is tried on and adjusted so no expensive fabric is cut until it’s certain that everything will fit perfectly. Then the final costumes are created.

Lieder explained that the costumes have to look the same throughout the season. Washing the costumes is kept to a minimum, with dress shields and other undergarments used to help keep things clean.

Beyond the technical side, Lieder discussed what costumes can do for an actor’s art.

“The creation of the character that happens in the fitting room is really quite magical,” he said.

In some productions, Lieder said, actors may have as little as 20 seconds or even less to change their costumes between scenes. “It’s a beautiful ballet that you’re never going to see,” Lieder said, comparing the process to a NASCAR pit team servicing a race car.

Some actors require extensive costuming to match them to their role. Henry Woronicz, who plays Sir John Falstaff in “Henry IV Part One,” wears a special fat suit to help him fill out his part. The padding in the fat suit gives him the bulk he needs, and ice packs placed within it help keep him cool onstage.

The costume seminars will be offered at the festival through Aug. 29.

Prop seminars

Creating props for a show is a whole different animal from costumes — or in some cases, a whole bunch of different animals.

USF’s 2014 production of “Into the Woods” includes 12 perched birds, 19 “flying” birds, one hen, two cows and a wolf’s pelt and skull.

Benjamin Hohman, properties and display director, has worked at the Utah Shakespeare Festival for 21 seasons and hosts the festival’s free prop seminars.

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