Interlude: Costumes, inhabiting the Character

After dressing up for the Wagner operas and then seeing the outrageous outfits in Ahknaten it really got me thinking about how clothing can change a character.

To help my art students appreciate Art a little better, I think it helps if they can feel some kind of empathy or sympathy for the characters within a picture. One way I do this is to ask them to “strike a pose” similar to a character. I think can briefly inhabit the role of the character by changing their own posture and expression to match, thus appreciate the world from the character and artists point of view.

Give it a try:

For a moment did you feel a little less like yourself and a little more like character?

Anthony Roth Costanzo, the counter tenor who sang Akhenaten described beautifully in an interview that a singer cannot fake their way through a performance, that the voice will give it away. Somehow they have to inhabit the character.

So I wonder how does a performer inhabit the role. How does a contemporary man with a cell-phone in the dressing room and a closet full of sneakers not turn around and just feel like it is all contrived and ridiculous.

Photo Credit: Met Opera

One approach I guess is to go like Costanzo/Akhenaten for the first six minutes of the opera and go it naked, but that would get cold after a while.

As I unravel what this thing called opera is all about I want to consider that it is the costume that connects the singer to the to the character and the nominal world created on the stage. It is the costume that makes them feel of another time, place, and class.

I think that not only can the garment be a way for the performer to connect with a character I think the audience (with a little imagination) can also use it as a tool to feel more deeply connected to the characters they are hearing.

The next time you go to a museum or opera imagine yourself wearing a garment from the painting or actor. I think you’ll be surprised at how quickly your emotion and posture shift. Does the garment hold you up or weigh you down emotionally? Would you feel pretty, ugly, or invisible? Imagine running your hand down its sleeve to feel the texture. How would others treat you differently? There is no mistaken the characters of Akhenaten, the Egyptian Pharoah for Wozzek, the neurotic WWI functionary. The other characters see how their dressed and treat them accordingly.

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