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The Folger Spotlight

Corsets, Curls, and Fontanges! Oh, my!

Hi, Blog-ites! The other Emily T, aka Alpiew, here. So The Gaming Table is officially up and running, and I’ve heard that we’ve received some terrific press, which is lovely and much appreciated. Looks like we have a hit on our hands! Check out some of the ink about us.

One of the most wonderful things about this show I think are the AMAZING costumes, designed by the uber-talented Jessica Ford. The Restoration ushered in an explosion of curls, ribbons, puffs, flounces, and feathers. The actually clothing of the period was fairly outlandish to begin with. Jessica has taken all of our characters’ clothing one notch HIGHER to an even more extreme place! Think incredibly colorful fabric full of stripes and crazy animal prints, covered in tassles and beading and brocade along with sky-high wigs that always remind me of ornate pastries, or maybe ice-cream cones.

Charles II, who was King from 1660 to 1665, was a very well-known philanderer, who reveled in sexuality and freedom. Thus it was if highly witty, playful, and sexually frank literature had court sanction. Restoration comedies, such as The Gaming Table, can provide a very unique window into the sexual mores of the era.

Emily Townley costume fitting

As this was the first time women were allowed on stage, the sex appeal that the actresses’ bodies brought to the stage was a major selling point for theatre-goers. Many plot points were developed by the theatre manager and the playwright simply to maximize a woman’s body. Dresses were designed to be extremely low-cut (and believe me, the costumes in our show most certainly are! There’s a photo of me here during one of my costume fittings that….uh….demonstrates) and women were sometimes completely bare-breasted on stage (that doesn’t happen in our show, so don’t get too excited!). Often scenes would depict women swanning about in their bedclothes which were sheer, gauzy, and clingy (the Mrs. Sullen character in Farquhar’s Beaux Stratagem is a great example). In many stories, the bosom was used as a “letterbox” and women would put letters in and pull them out quite often, just to draw the audience’s attention to that area. And one of the most popular plot points utilized having women cross-dress and wear men’s breeches, the better to show off actresses’ hips, thighs, calves and ankles.

Here are a few photos of Jessica’s amazing work and how it all translated on stage. The first rendering here is of Lady Lucy, the prim and pious voice of the play, who secretly longs for and desires Sir James Courtly under her virtuous exterior.

And then we have here a few photos of Katie deBuys, who plays Lady Lucy.

Here’s another sketch by Jessica of Mrs. Sago, the tacky and striving middle-class wife of a tradesman, who desperately tries to emulate the upper-class characters in the play by mimicking their dress and…doesn’t really getting it right! The sketch is paired below with a photo that features the actual Mrs. Sago costume, worn by the very funny Tonya Beckman Ross, who plays her. In the background to the left of Ms. Ross is Michael Milligan playing Sir James Courtly. He is sporting a Periwig, a wig that gained favor during the time of Louis XIV. Originally these wigs were made to look like natural hair, but during the Restoration they reached outlandish heights of artificial effect and absurd Periwigs, perfected by French wig-makers, were highly prized and valued.

Here’s a rendering of my character, Alpiew. My clothing, of course, is much more simple than the clothing worn by the woman I serve, Lady Reveller, played by Julie Jesneck. Here’s Jessica’s rendering of Julie’s costume, along with a photo of Julie wearing her costume backstage and…um…diligently doing research on gaming (she is SUCH a professional, she never stops working!)

Lady Lucy, Lady Reveller, and Mrs. Sago are wearing terrific, if slightly exaggerated, examples of a Manteau, the formal gown of the period. Traditionally, the overskirt was looped back and held by ribbons and bows. The looped-up folds were often bunched in back over an underskirt of taffeta.

And those fantastic concoctions on their heads are called Fontanges. In the 1680s, the Duchess of Fontanges, having her hat blown off at a royal hunting party, tied her curls in place with her garter, arranging a bow with the ends in front. From that incident a new fashion evolved – a cap of tiers of upstanding wired and pleated ruffles of lace and ribbons. The hair dressed in that fashion was called coiffure a la Fontanges, and the cap with its narrow rising front was known as le bonnet a la Fontanges.

So gussy up in your finest and come on out to see us in ours! And stay tuned for my next entry – it’ll have a really fun little contest with a FANTASTIC prize. Adieu, all!