BWW Interviews: BCT Series - Artistic Director Colton Berry Talks TARZAN Costumes & Puppetry
Very recently, I saw Bayou City Theatrics' production of TARZAN. I enjoyed the look of the production so much that I decided to look into the newly established theatre company.
What I found intrigued me.
A part of the company's vision and mission is to provide "high-art, conceptualized pieces of theatre" to the Houston audience.
I just had to find out what the hell that meant.
I start off simple in part one of this series. I talk to Colton Berry, Artistic Director of Bayou City Theatrics, about his role as costume and set designer in, what I found to be, an incredibly effective and successful production of TARZAN.
BWW: TARZAN was criticized for lacking structure. I didn't find that to be a problem in Bayou City Theatrics production. How did you achieve that?
Colton Berry: Well, I think a lot of it was due to the conceptual vehicle. Using two companies to represent the natural habitat and the human as well as the emotional levels, I think, picked up the pace of the show. And I think pacing is really the thing that the show lacked, as well as not defining the characters clearly enough. That's where the structure really got lost. The relationships got muddled in the design of the Broadway show. Tarzan's going around grunting and spitting then all of a sudden he turns to the audience and starts speaking in English. [I Laugh] You completely lose all ability to get lost in the story. It also broke down the plot structure. Using this conceptual vehicle, it can almost become like watching a Discovery Channel special with the emotions of the apes being, basically, voiced over. Actually, the voices of the apes are much, much more hidden than they were when you saw the production. They're actually almost never present. It's kind of these omnipotent voices and you can really focus in on the visuals of the dancer portraying the character instead of having a confusing image of two people as one person.
BWW: I loved the costumes. Very unique. Very creative. Please tell me your process and inspiration for the costuming for TARZAN.
Colton Berry: I began by researching West African traditional garb and also religious ceremony. In these ceremonies, specifically in the West African area, they had very elaborate ceremonies that were passing down histories. I wanted to treat TARZAN less like a fairytale and more like a passing down of history.
By doing that, we brought in this storytelling element. All of the of costuming was based off standard images of West African storytelling. So all of the body suits that the apes are in have that kind of handpainted feel. And all of the natural materials used are derivative of West African jungle surroundings.
Puppetry is a huge part of traditional West African storytelling. Like WAR HORSE, a huge success on Broadway, beautiful puppetry, all of that was designed by a company inspired by West African puppetry.
It really transcends modern day puppetry and I really wanted to infuse that, which is why we made the choice to have Kerchak be a puppet and puppeteered the entire time and to have the leopard be a puppet and Tarzan's mother and father represented through puppets as well. All of that construction was done by myself, and our music director and executive producer Jane Volke.
We started with a whole bunch of raw materials and basically hand-crafted everything. There's not a lot of machine work or purchased items in the show. Most of it is hand-constructed. We tried to stay, within reason, as close as possible to the actual process of West African puppetry and costuming.
BWW: I think you know my next question. Did you fix my ape?
Colton Berry: I did fix your ape and he's beautiful!
Because I'm bad at my job, you missed out on TARZAN and the magnificent Kerchak puppet. The show closed this past weekend. :(
But (!), you can still make it to TRIASSIC PARQ which closes this coming weekend! TRIASSIC PARQ runs July 31 - August 9, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8:00 pm at The Kaleidoscope, 705 Main, Suite B (entrance on Capitol St.), Houston, TX 77002*. General Admission: $30 Senior/Student: $25. Tickets are available in advance at www.BayouCityTheatrics.com. Contact BCT@bayoucitytheatrics.com for any questions!
*$5 cash parking is available less than one block from the theater in the Saks Parking Garage located at the corner of Capitol and Fannin.