To fash­ion a cos­tume, con­sider ac­tor, set, and lights, and that’s just the be­gin­ning

Cos­tume de­sign is like psy­chi­a­try, says PAUL TAZEWELL, who out­fit­ted the cast of Hamil­ton. There’s a lot of lis­ten­ing—to ac­tors and au­di­ences.

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - CONTENTS - Paul Tazewell

The­ater de­sign is par­tic­u­larly col­lab­o­ra­tive. My work’s al­ways in­formed by what the di­rec­tor wants, what the piece is say­ing. It has to jibe with what the set and light­ing de­sign­ers are do­ing. And it has to make sense for the ac­tor who’s go­ing to re­al­ize who this per­son is. I’m try­ing to make de­ci­sions that will keep it all to­gether and make the most sense for an au­di­ence. It’s

an odd mash-up of work­ing with my hands and fab­rics, re­search­ing and telling sto­ries, work­ing with peo­ple and move­ment and act­ing, and be­ing a psy­chol­o­gist. I sit in the fit­ting room with an ac­tor who’s in a very vul­ner­a­ble place. Maybe they have no clothes on, and I’m try­ing to get them to wear some­thing that feels re­ally for­eign. We’re

re­defin­ing how they see them­selves day-to-day and as this char­ac­ter. If they’re squirm­ing around, I can read it on their face.

You’re also think­ing about the au­di­ence’s emo­tions. For Hamil­ton, we made the de­ci­sion to have the pe­riod rep­re­sented from the shoul­ders down, and then ev­ery­thing from the neck up was con­tem­po­rary: A rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the ac­tor and what they brought to the char­ac­ter, un­adorned. We didn’t want to get trod­den down by all the pe­riod stuff, where you start to not lis­ten to the story. Oak Onaodowan [who plays Her­cules Mul­li­gan and James Madi­son] used to wear a ski cap in re­hearsal. So as an ex­per­i­ment, I put it on him. I said, “Can you go out in that? Do the scene in that ?” He was up for it.

So much of it is get­ting out of the way—strip­ping down the idea so it can breathe more. I can only rely on how I feel about it. That’s what I trust: if I feel a heart­beat com­ing off of it.

Pho­to­graph by Tina Tyrell

● Tazewell in the fit­ting room at the Richard Rodgers Theatre

● The cast of Hamil­ton on­stage

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