Antichrist Costumes

Costuming the Antichrist was definitely an interesting challenge. I’ve been involved with extensive costuming projects before and I am certainly no stranger to building, but this was by far the biggest and most complex costuming project I have taken on to date. This play required us to build from scratch twelve individual costumes, which would be considered  huge feat for the Vassar College Drama Department’s costume shop, which employs around ten to fifteen people, most of whom have extensive sewing experience, two bosses who have worked professionally, and has back up finishers on hand in case the work flow is too much. For this project, I had four or five helpers with very busy schedules, several of whom had little to no sewing experience, and a fairly small amount of time, as the play was not cast until midway through the semester. Somehow we managed to finish in time for Toronto (though it took two nights in a row of frantic stitching through dawn in the end).

In terms of design concept, because plays at the time tended to be styled in contemporary dress (because that was what was available) and we were concerned with the sixteenth century revival, we chose to go Elizabethan. Professor Kim wanted there to be a commentary on the Papists and the rift between Catholics and Protestants in England at the time,  so the Antichrist was supposed to be modeled on Queen Elizabeth. I tried to accomplish this through the wasp-waist on the bodice. I would have liked to find a crown that had a point above the forehead to get the Elizabeth heart-shape look, but with limited time and resources this idea had to be scrapped. Conversely, the Archangel Michael was based in part on the Raphael painting of Michael slaying the Devil and also in part on a painting claiming to be of the Swiss Guard at the Vatican before their costumes were re-designed and the Counselor’s costume was based on a painting of Robert Dudley, who supposedly was romantically connected with Queen Elizabeth. The two kings were based on Henry VIII and Edward.

I chose brightly colored fabrics for the show because the Dyer’s Guild would have been the ones putting on the play. I thought it was important that the colors be vibrant and flashy because we assumed that the Dyer’s would use this opportunity to really show the community what they could do. The colors used in the show are probably a bit loud to be historically accurate in some places (specifically with the shawls of the two prophets) but because we are doing the show in modern times, I thought that those colors would read to a modern audience the same way that the dyer’s colors would read to their audience.

While in the midst of this project, I was writing my senior thesis about the Medieval demonizing of the Jews in literature and art. Essentially, in a play like this one there would have been startling similarities between the Antichrist, the demons and the stereotypical Jew…especially since Medieval Christians believed that the Antichrist was connected to the Jews or, in some instances, actually Jewish himself. Clearly this is all wildly politically incorrect and extremely uncomfortable in modern times. We obviously had no desire to demonize any religious group or to be offensive to a modern audience, so instead we decided to do something devilish to the Antichrist that would read to a modern audience. We decided to associate the Antichrist and demons with a sin, specifically lust. This is part of why the Antichrist’s bodice is more form fitting to accentuate the body, while the demons are baring the most skin of anyone in the play. It is also why we chose to put such prominent codpieces on the Antichrist and male demon. Also, many medieval illuminations depict demons as being hairy and bestial. We decided that it was imperative to make our demons furry.

This was a very fun project to work on and I’m happy that I get to graduate having done this. The costumes could not have come out as well they did (or at all) without the assistance of my amazing crew, who all put in long hours toiling in the closet behind the auditorium tirelessly to create these wonderful costume pieces, all the while putting up with my often vague, inarticulate requests. My only regret is that I am not able to be in Toronto because the festival coincides with graduation.

Congratulations to the cast and crew! Have fun in Toronto and don’t forget to take plenty of costume pictures!

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