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Interview with Costume Designer, Michael Krass

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated? How did you become a costume designer?

Michael Krass: Born in Connecticut, the first plays that I saw were Broadway plays, so it set a standard in my head and eye. I went to school at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, which meant that I did a bit of everything-when I got out, I had designed a lot of scenery, I thought acting was not for me and that I wasn't smart enough to be a director, so I came to New York and talked my way into a job at a costume company. I actually had never designed costumes before, and I never had a costume class.

TS: I want to talk about your approach to this specific show, Machinal, because if I am not mistaken, there is an extraordinary amount of costume changes.

MK: When I met with Lyndsey Turner, the director, for the job interview this summer, we talked for an hour. She only looked at three images from my portfolio, total. She really just wanted to know who I was. We had a great talk, and she politely warned me that there would be a huge amount of costumes, and I said, "Bring it on." There are transitions between each scene full of characters who may or may not be in the text, but certainly are in the play. So, yes, it's enormous. There are already six full racks of clothes and we are adding to that. Lyndsey just got to New York and she looked at the racks yesterday. We spent two hours talking through everything. Every single thing that she said about the clothes she saw was in response to the story-only the story-not personal taste or judgments-and that was great.

Clothing racks from the rehearsal room.

TS: What did you do to get inside this particular play?

MK: I started by looking at images of the 1920s in New York, while simultaneously keeping my eye on today's clothing. It is always important to look at it with a modern eye because that is how the audience is looking at the play. Lyndsey and I sent images back and forth to each other and started to narrow down the world. I would send her ten images saying, "What do you think of this? What do you think of these kinds of people?" And she would send back three of the images and would say, "I think this kind of thing because of this, that and this." It became clear that every garment would be authentic to the '20s. I am in fact using a great number of garments that were made then, which has taken a good amount of work. In some cases we will have to copy them because they are fragile. And then what I developed on my own here, when Lyndsey was working with Es Devlin on the scenery in England, was a color palette. I thought we needed to tell an emotional story through color, and so I proposed a color journey which came from the emotional feeling of each scene. Everything is chosen very specifically per scene. There may be a shoe from 1923 which is perfect, but if it is not the right color, then it is not in the play.

Rebecca Hall and Michael Cumpsty in Machinal. Photo by Joan Marcus.

TS: Weren't the 1920s a radical shift for clothing? Can you fill us in on that?

MK: It's the most enormous shift in fashion history. Following World War I, life changed, social life changed, the class system changed, women left the house, women had work, women played sports, and classes mixed. That all happened during the 1920s. Hair was cut during the course of the'20s, and for the first time in history, women were showing their legs, arms, back-it was a very, very fast race away from the horror of the war. Simultaneously, we entered the machine age, and there was speed, there was movement. The '20s are about physical freedom. The beginning part of the play we are setting in the early '20s when things were just shifting. Dresses are long, men's collars are very high and formal and then, in the later part of the play, you will see more leg, more flesh, some amount of color and some amount of sleekness. We are aiming at 1923 for the early scenes and about 1928 for the later ones.

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Roundabout Theatre Company Roundabout Theatre Company is a not-for-profit theatre dedicated to providing a nurturing artistic home for theatre artists at all stages of their careers where the widest possible audience can experience their work at affordable prices. Roundabout fulfills its mission each season through the revival of classic plays and musicals; development and production of new works by established playwrights and emerging writers; educational initiatives that enrich the lives of children and adults; and a subscription model and audience outreach programs that cultivate loyal audiences.