BWW Interviews: Costume Designer Katherine Snider Talks PETE N' KEELY
It's PETE N' KEELY again! Brought to you by Swell shampoo, of course.
The skinny: Before Jay and Bey were on the run, Pete n' Keely were running the strip. Now, they're two aging stars who will do anything for a comeback - even if it means working together. Five years after an unsuccessful stint at Caesar's Palace followed by a divorce, the couple reunites to stage a career-saving telecast live at NBC television studios in New York City. It's doubtful they'll make it through the show without killing each other.
Recently, I got the chance to talk to Costume Designer Katherine Snider, the woman who helped put the glitz in this glitzy and fun production.
BWW: How did you create costumes that served all the various needs of the script, the actors, and the production?
Katherine Snider: The first thing you do is you read the play, of course. In this one, it's not really clear exactly how many costumes there are, so after I read it, I talked to Kenn McLaughlin, the director. We sat down and had to figure it out. He had two more costumes in his head than I had in mine. He wanted to do a Bob Mackie, which is great with me. I love Bob Mackie, and I've never been able to do that. Then I went out and did a whole bunch of research.
We talked about the other big influence - the arc of the show. We wanted to express, through their costumes, where the characters started out emotionally at the beginning and what they're trying to say. In fact, the last costume, I don't have a rendering for that costume, because when I was doing the rendering, Ken came up to me and said, "I have an idea about changing the arc of the character." And he told me what it was. It was this sense that Pete and Keely have always had this fear of who they are, so they pretend to be something that they're aren't. This is why they make themselves big stars. At the end, we're finally seeing them. Because of that, for the very first time, as a couple, they have a chance. The final costume I had designed was wrong for that idea. So, I changed that costume to fit the arc that he wanted for the characters.
BWW: Could you tell me about the fashion periods you drew from?
Katherine Snider: The late sixties. I love the late sixties. It's the first period I personally remember. I was born in '64, so I was about four years old in '68. I actually do remember that period. In fact, the first outfit that Keely wears in the beginning of the second act, I had a pair of culottes made of almost the exact fabric [Laughs]. And the first person I loved on television was Carol Burnett, who always wore Bob Mackie. So my first love of fashion was from this period.
My inspiration, fashion-wise, for Pete was Bobby Darin. I love Bobby Darin and a lot of his looks are based off older Bobby Darin. He even got his hair [I Laugh]. His suits are form-fitting and the pants - I love the sharkskin. That was a real popular material, especially with the Rat Pack, which I also looked at.
BWW: How do you see the character's arcs as translated through the costumes?
Katherine Snider: The first costume is kind of the statement costume. First impressions are big. That's the flashiest of the costumes. Well, red is pretty flashy [referring to the red matching outfits that appear later in the production]. But, it's the most sophisticated costume. We want to put across the sophistication.
We arc in the first act to red. We go from the white to the red. The red is the happiest look. But, it's also the most extreme in terms of color. It's matching. It's the kitschiest, I think. And that's where they headed in their career.
In the second act, we started off with something that's very different - they're Broadway, and that's fun. But, then we go from there into when they broke up and went into their solo careers. We see a little more of who they are individually. Her costume is beautiful and sophisticated and not at all, I don't think, glitzy. But people didn't accept her in that. And Pete is in pants and a shirt. He's pared down to his essentials. He's much more of a normal kind of guy.
In the end she's wearing a dress that, while the fabric is for television, the cut, the flow, is much more normal. A girl might wear a dress shaped just like that and a guy might wear a suit cut exactly like Pete's. They're becoming real people, as opposed to Barbie and Ken.
BWW: I didn't notice that. I'm happy you mentioned it. I'm really curious about your process. Could you tell me a little about it?
Katherine Snider: For this show?
Katherine Snider: The first thing I did, was I read the play, and I did research. I pulled up a lot of stuff! I put ideas on powerpoints to consolidate it so that Ken, the director, could look at it. Then I took my iPad and I went out to High Fashion, a fabric store downtown - it's fabulous. I looked at fabric and took pictures of fabric and got inspiration from the fabric.
Like, the dress that you like, the white one, with the scales, the wedding dress. That one, the fabric is fabulous. It's almost like a spandex. So, it feels like butter on. It's just the most awesome fabric. I knew I had to use it, only because I could use it, for the wedding. It was white fabric that had interest and didn't necessarily look like a wedding dress right off the bat. It needed to not look like a wedding dress. The dress had to last for when she's a teenager, "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and her wedding. That was the most difficult dress to design because it covered so much time and different subjects.
After I found about three times the amount of fabric I actually needed, I go back and go "These are my costumes. Which ones work for which ones and which ones don't work for anything?"
Also, you have to look at the cut of the gown. Tiffani Fuller, the Costume Shop Foreman loves to collect period patterns. She found some patterns that fit that are actually from 1968. Together, we picked which ones we would buy and then modified from there. That's how the patterns got made. Her assistant, David Jezek, he's actually in the show. He's the guy with the boom mic and the cigarette [I Laugh]. I know, he's fabulous in the show. He sews the costumes together. Then we have a fitting on Suzan Koozin. All of them are too big because you want to make them a little larger then tailor them down.
On the first dress, we had to recut the neck. It didn't lay completely correctly. We had to make the zipper longer. You know, things like that, that you find in fittings.
In rehearsal you discover other things. With the "Black Coffee" dress, we realized that in order to get up on the cake, which is that form in the middle of the stage, she had to have a slit in that dress. Because if she didn't she had to pull it up around her hips to get up [We Laugh]. It's a continual process.
BWW: What was your journey to this point in your career?
Katherine Snider: It's a weird one! I started out as a fine arts major. I was a painting and drawing major. My senior year in college, I took a theatre course, had to work on a show, and fell completely head over heels in love with theatre. I realized it was something I could do 24/7.
BWW: Do you have any advice for aspiring costume designers?
Katherine Snider: One, it's good to get a good education. A good solid education. My undergraduate degree is in art. I had a lot of art history. Most of fashion before a certain period is art history. So, it's good to have a nice foundation in that.
Then, it's getting out and working and really getting to know directors and producers and finding a place, a theatre, that you really connect with.
I really connect with Stages. To me, it has all the reasons I fell in love with theatre in the first place - collaboration, very caring, very nurturing place. A place where everybody supports everybody else. And I think that's really important.
It's a collaborative effort. It's not an ego thing. You have to be able to work with other people really well.
BWW: Do you have any words of encouragement for the babes in training?
Katherine Snider: [Laughs] Theatre is hard. You won't make a lot of money and it's a lot of hours and the hours are odd. But it's also one of the most rewarding kinds of jobs. Take heart from that. And art finds a way. A lot of times artists have to find other jobs. Many just do. And that's OK. You don't have to be doing art 24/7 to have it be the most important thing in your life.
PETE N' KEELY produced by Stages Repertory Theatre (3201 Allen Parkway) runs July 9 - August 31, 2014 on Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm. This show is approximately 2 hours long including one fifteen-minute intermission. Tickets are $21 - $65. To purchase tickets call 713.527.0123 or visit www.stagestheatre.com.
Costume renderings courtesy of Katherine Snider
All photos by Bruce Bennett