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The Folger Spotlight

Mary Stuart Costume Design: Fit For a Queen (or two)

In Mary Stuart, Costume Designer Mariah Hale has the task of clothing Queens, Lords, Earls, Secretaries, Ambassadors, Nurses, Sheriffs, and all the other inhabitants of Queen Elizabeth I’s court – English and French, traitors and loyal subjects together.

Mariah has worked in design and textiles for 25 years, doing costume design for various Off-Broadway and regional theaters. She was nominated for the Helen Hayes Outstanding Costume Design award in recognition of her work on Twelfth Night (2013) and has been a collaborator on Othello, Henry VIIIHenry V, Richard III, and this season’s Julius Caesar here at the Folger Theatre. A few of her previous designs for the Folger are pictured below – you can see why we are so excited to have her back for Mary!

Mariah was kind enough to share some of her thoughts on the costumes in Mary Stuart with the Production Diary, as well as give us a sneak peek into the design and construction process that goes in to creating the world of the play. Enjoy, and don’t forget to join us – previews start January 27. 

From Mariah: 

Mary Stuart is not a costume drama and our play is not meant to be a heritage production. The characters are complicated and contemporary and we’ve chosen to dress them in clothes rather than in what I like to call “costumes with a ‘K'” – items that distance the audience from the action rather than pull them close.

On a project like this, I would rather be called the clothes designer than the costume designer.  The director of Mary Stuart Richard Clifford and I discussed the design of this production at length and agreed on words to characterize what we are trying to do: Uniform. Puritan. Subtle. Elegant. Good taste.  All in black.

By avoiding doublets and gowns encrusted with gems and jewelry and removing the details and trims we usually see with “Elizabethan” clothes, the silhouette becomes the focus. We want clean lines and simple clothes – the Elizabethan man’s version of a contemporary three piece suit.  I’ve been calling this style “Elizabethanesque”.

We are now in the process of beginning to fit the clothes on the actors. The first step in the process is what are called “muslin fittings”. The garment – in this case a doublet for the actor playing Mortimer – is mocked- up in a combination of french collar canvas, black twill and cotton muslin.  We examine the fit from top to toe. We make changes to the style lines and silhouette as required, re-shape shoulder crescents and sleeves.  To get the most attractive, Elizabethanesque sexy as possible.

After all, we are telling an important story here, but we must look good.

-Mariah Hale