Costume design, vintage sewing machines, painting

Costuming Coraline

As a longtime fan of Coraline, I jumped at the opportunity to design the costumes for the Chicago/Midwest premiere of the musical! The story presented several unique design challenges, and my goal was to find the balance between honoring the source material, presenting a unique vision, and not driving the actors completely insane.

The overall vision for the costumes started with a base of greys, black & white in a variety of patterns and textures to reflect Coraline’s frustrations with her perception of a boring world. Pops of color are added for emphasis and attention, especially from characters that are seeking Coraline’s attention. The overall clothing style is modern, with some nods to vintage/classic ideas. I also repeated motifs of black buttons & visible stitches wherever possible to reinforce the idea that the “Other” world was created by the Other Mother.

Cast of Coraline!

The first major challenge was to create a design for the black button eyes that would be easily removable, incredibly creepy, not too big, and still allow the actors to see well enough to maneuver around the stage. Sticking anything to the actors’ faces was not an option, since they would not be easily removable to allow the actors to transition into other roles. So I knew it would have to be on some type of eyeglasses base. I looked at a wide a variety of glasses including vintage welding glasses, goggles and even custom-building a base before finally settling on a dark-lensed “John Lennon” style of small, round sunglasses. I modified the frames to really mold the glasses to the face, so that the lenses sat flush in front of the eyes. I painted the metal parts of the glasses with a flesh-tone paint to help those parts disappear. I also covered the outer edge of the lenses with narrow black tubing to make it look more like a button, as well as drilling 4 holes into the lenses & stitching in a cross-cross pattern with embroidery thread.

Justin Kimrey, Sheridan Singleton and Ryan Lanning

Another major challenge was to create padded costumes for “Old Spink” and “Old Forcible” that could be removed quickly onstage to reveal the younger versions of themselves. Keeping in mind that it would be in a hot theatre in Chicago in August, I wanted the padding to be as minimal as possible, and only be in contact with the actors’ bodies in the front over the stomach and chest. To that end, I made a standard padded vest with the opening in the back, then layered and attached the outer dress on top of the vest. I split the dresses up the back and closed the whole deal with a long strip of Velcro.

Kevin Bishop and Caitlin Jackson

Kevin Bishop and Caitlin Jackson

The Other Mother’s clawed gloves needed to be adequately creepy, but also allow the actor to do a certain number of required tasks. Since I have kids, I also have a lot of random stuff laying around all over my house, and Other Mother’s gloves were born out of a marriage between Halloween witch fingers and a lone Disney princess glove. From that prototype, I ordered a box of witch fingers and opera gloves and went to work. I trimmed and sanded the witch fingers to look more like claws, then painted them with a spray paint that adheres to plastics. I cut the tips off of the opera gloves and inserted a claw into the tip of each finger, giving the impression that the claws ripped out of the gloves from the inside. I glued them in place and added big black stitches to hold them in place.

Ryan Lanning as Other Mother

Ryan Lanning and Sheridan Singleton

There is so much more that I don’t want to give away! Come see the show, now open at City Lit theatre in Chicago, running through September 2014!

Photo credits: Cole Simon




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This entry was posted on August 9, 2014 by and tagged , , , , .