BWW Exclusive Interview: MACHINAL Costume Designer Michael Krass Talks Tony Nomination & More
Costume designer Michael Krass has received a Tony Nomination for his outstanding work in Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Machinal, which ended its limited engagement at the American Airlines Theatre on March 2. Starring Rebecca Hall, and directed by Lyndsey Turner, Machinal is a gripping drama by American journalist and playwright Sophie Treadwell which was inspired by the infamous 1927 murder trial of Ruth Snyder.
Today, Krass speaks exclusively with BWW about designing costumes for this unique production and shares why the experience was "the best job I've ever had!"
To begin with, congratulations on your Tony nomination!
Where were you and how did you find out that you had been nominated?
I was on my sofa in my bathrobe trying to figure out my iPad so I could find out if I was nominated for a Tony.
How did you celebrate the news?
I went to a tech rehearsal, hugged some people, ate some candy, switched some cardigans around, pinned up some hems, and answered nice notes from people I hadn't heard from in ages.
What does it mean to you to be nominated for this particular show?
It's the best job I've ever had, and I knew that as I did it. Lyndsey Turner is an extraordinary director, and her authentically humane approach to the play exactly suited my interests and desires to celebrate human beings and their behaviors and put them on a Broadway stage. and so it's very affirming that work was noticed amidst all the glamour.
What inspired you to become a costume designer?
I think I gravitated to the theatre the same way most people do -Ii was a geek who mercifully didn't fit into the 'norm' and didn't want to. i was a terrible actor (though now I perform every day as a costume designer), had a good design eye, found lumber too heavy and inanimate to be any fun, and was passionate about people and specifically about supporting actors in doing their very brave work. I don't care much about clothes, actually.
Machinal required an extraordinary number of costume changes. How did you approach that challenge?
First we made a big big chart. my brilliant associate and friend Tracy Christensen and i figured it out like a giant ever-shifting puzzle - because it did shift throughout the rehearsal period. Lyndsey (our director) had ideas about specific onstage quick-changes, and we secretly dressed some people as onstage doubles of Rebecca Hall so that she could, in fact, be changing costume offstage - ha!
Then we assembled a ton of period clothing from sources all over the country - including from under my bed - fit and rebuilt the clothes to withstand the changes and usage, built specifics and what we were unable to find, and aged those to blend with the authentic pieces. There were a couple of pretty embarrassing things from the 70s in there, too. desperate measures in a small budget.
Then we had an intelligent and caring wardrobe and wig staff to organize and enact the show. The event backstage was an amazing feat.
The play is set in the 1920's which was a significant period in fashion history. Was it exciting for you to create costumes from that era?
I know the period pretty well - i was tony nominated for THE CONSTANT WIFE, which was set in the more pretty and glamorous upper-class side of things - and to be able to contrast that with the more photographic and beleaguered world of MACHINAL was really satisfying. it's a period of violent change and movement - the machine! - so there's 'freedom', but also a good deal of fear to investigate. we were running from the emotional devastation of the world war as much as we were celebrating in speakeasy's.
What type of historical research did that require in order to ensure accuracy?
The research was joyous. There was, for once, no burden to make the actors look pretty - though some of course were - or to create artifice, so I was able to plunge into photo archives and old books to uncover the quirks that create real people. we all aim to look like some icon or other - consciously or unconsciously - and we all miss the goal, and the places we veer away from looking like a magazine photo are where we are most human, where we betray our actual selves. and so to investigate that in period photographs of real people is a rich and loving activity.