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Mise-en-Scène: Costume designer gets inspiration from steampunk

A&E Editor

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 29, 2012 01:11

pitts

Kieth Pitts discusses the ins and outs of costume design for the fall musical "Spring Awakening."

When you think of school uniforms steampunk isn’t the first thing that comes to mind is it?

Steampunk, a style of clothing that mixes gothic and Victorian fashion was the starting point for the inspiration behind the costumes of Sam Houston State University’s fall musical “Spring Awakening,” about a group of school kids in 17th century Germany.

Keith Pitts, SHSU alumnus and costume designer for “Spring Awakening”, started out with the idea of steampunk which then turned into mixing the modern world with the Victorian world.  This made sense to Pitts and director Greg Graham because “Spring Awakening” the musical is a mash up of the original script, written as a play in the 1800s and the rock music added in when the play was made into a musical in 2006.

“The mash up of the music didn’t really coincide with the era of the show, so we thought ‘let’s do that with the world of the show and how we will present the world of the show in that way,’” Pitts said.

Pitts and Graham, also an alumnus of SHSU, started looking at mixing the two elements in a way that it looked like the student characters are putting on a concert and went out and bought costumes.

Once Pitts found his inspiration he started looking at school clothes.

“It’s not as easy as, ‘well it’s a school so we are going to do school clothes’ it’s about the idea that the adults are making these children conform,” Pitts said. “The school uniform is going to make every child in a school conform to a unified code.”

In “Spring Awakening” the girls aren’t seen in uniforms, but the boys are. Pitts said he is going to put the girls into uniforms because they are being pushed into conformity as much as the boys.

Pitts could not have done any of this without reading the script first.

“You always start with the script, and you read the script because that is the common point,” Pitts said. “The most important thing in theatre is story, if you lose the story then why the hell are you doing what you’re doing?”

Pitts gave an example of the designing process for the characters with Melchior, who is the bad boy of the show.

“I started off with images like James Dean then going into more modern things such as Johnny Depp back in his ‘21 Jump Street’ days,” Pitts said. “Also I [looked up] Billy Joe Armstrong who is in Green Day that has a ragged image.”

After all of the research is done Pitts started mind drawing which are the first drawings of the costumes. Pitts did these on the back of paper grocery bags, and he gave them a graffiti style.

After the final renderings, costume designs, were drawn, Pitts met with April Keith the costume shop manager, and Carver Upton and his other assistant. They went over the show and the renderings of the costume. He explained to them what he was looking for and they go off of that and the renderings.

“They have done of the heavy lifting,” Pitts said. “I would be dead in the water without their help because the do a lot of the pulling of stuff.”

Pitts will be involved in the show until opening night. They have already had two fitting sessions and the first dress rehearsal will be Saturday.

Part three of the Mise- en- Scène series looks at how lighting and sound are put together.

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