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The Folger Spotlight

Behind the Camera with Antony and Cleopatra

The sultry D.C. summer is winding down, but things are heating up at Folger Theatre where we’re preparing for our first show of the season, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Rehearsals begin in September, and work is well underway: preliminary set building (our space will be transformed into theater-in-the-round for this production), costume construction, and the creation of images which will be used to market the show. Scroll down for a sneak peek of last week’s pre-production photo shoot, and a hint of what costume designer Mariah Hale has in store for Antony and Cleopatra.

The photo-shoot kicked off when actors Shirine Babb (Cleopatra) and Cody Nickell (Mark Antony) arrived at the Folger Haskell Center and met with costume designer Mariah Hale, Folger wardrobe head Cidney Forkpah, and photographer James Kegley.

The lobby resembled a cross between a yard sale and dressing room, with bags of shoes, tables of jewelry, swords and daggers scattered on chairs, and a make-shift make-up table. Styling the actors at this point in the process is a combination of preparedness and flexibility, with Hale bringing a variety of options to play with, especially for Babb’s Cleopatra. “For Shirine, I ordered a number of column style dresses in various colors, so that we could decide on the day of the shoot what looked best,” she said. “They are nothing like what Shirine will be wearing, but were great for a photo shoot.” The simple gowns were complimented by “Egyptian style jewelry items handmade from Etsy” along with one very special piece: “I had her headdress custom made by a company called Heartsongs by Ishani, which she will wear in our production as well.”

There’s also hair and make-up to consider, especially for a character who has been re-invented as many times as this famed Egyptian queen. Said Hale, “Shirine and I worked ahead of time with the hairstyle, so a wig wasn’t needed.” There’s the preparedness. And the flexibility? “We did research on the make-up and decided that morning what exactly we were going for in the shoot.”

Cody Nickell (Antony) on a break during the shoot. 2017. Photo: Ben Lauer.

With Cleopatra well in hand, what about the noble Antony? “For Cody, I pulled some belts, leather pants, and boots from our existing stock and ordered some Roman armor and accessories.  I put him in my favorite—a white linen band collar shirt, sleeves rolled up.  It never fails.”

Costume designer Mariah Hale consults with Shirine Babb (Cleopatra) on make-up for Antony and Cleopatra‘s pre-production photos . 2017.

Pre-production photos are tricky: on the one hand, you want to capture the look and feel of the production but, on the other hand, some decisions may still be being made or there might be different considerations for a photo-shoot versus a performance. For example, Hale explained, “The make-up plan for the production will probably be a little different.  There is quite a large discrepancy between an attractive and alluring look for a close shot in a studio setting and a look that is seen on stage for quite some time, full length and in motion.” Hale found by dressing Nickell and Babb in simple, contemporary clothing, she could ensure the photographs would be “in keeping with the concept of the production, as I term it, ‘period/ no period.’  The looks are derivative of the Roman/ Egyptian period and elements of modern clothing or other anachronisms are incorporated.  My personal visual concept for Antony and Cleopatra is that they must look like superheroes.”

Now that the lovers were well attired, it was time to begin taking some photos. Inspirational images had previously been distributed to the participants so that everyone could have a sense of where the day was headed and what kinds of photos were hoped for. The goal was to start with the familiar idea of Antony and Cleopatra’s passionate love, but then show the progression of their relationship through pictures, picking up on the tension just below the surface.

Which images will be chosen, and what can we expect from Shakespeare’s tempestuous love story? You’ll just have to wait and see!

Thanks to Mariah Hale for speaking with us! Follow along with the Antony and Cleopatra production process on Folger Spotlight, and come see the finished product when performances begin October 10. For tickets and more information, visit us online or call the Folger Box Office at 202.544.7077.