Getting Immersive For Holiday House: Costume Design

Holiday House photo by Arion Doerr
(Holiday House, photo by Arion Doerr)

Written and performed by Tracy Weller, Holiday House: Christmas Bends is an immersive tale that was presented by Mason Holdings at the Fourth Street Theatre. The creative team included director Kristjan Thor, set and prop designers Justin and Christopher Swader, lighting designer Zach Blane, costume designer Natalie Loveland, and sound designer/composer Philip Carluzzo. Read all about the lighting and scenic design here and space issues and sound design here.

Party Dress

Natalie Loveland, the costume designer, was one of the last members to join the team. Originally, Weller thought she would provide her own costume, but the scope of the design, even though she was only one performer, needed more support than that. Loveland’s design, like the set, lighting, and sound designs, also felt like it held memories. “Tracy seemed to have a specific memory in mind for what it meant for her,” says Loveland. “As a design team, when we all entered the space, there were details we all recognized from our own pasts. We wanted to evoke people’s memories and wanted it to feel right.”

For Loveland, this also meant embracing the audience’s memories. So the dress needed to feel like the 1960s and 1970s, not necessarily be of a specific moment in time. From the first production meeting, Loveland says she “brought in a bunch of images of vintage items I could purchase right away. We found a dress from an Etsy seller. It was kind of the perfect thing.”  Online shopping has really opened up a new world for Loveland and other costume designers. “Vintage shops you would not have had access to can now mail things to you that you find on Etsy.”

The dress itself needed a lot of alteration and distressing but, for Loveland, it felt like “the most right thing.” She even made a matching dress for a doll in the show from the extra dress fabric.

Photo by Arion Doerr

The intimacy of the space had a huge impact on Loveland’s work. Everything was going to be seen super up-close. So she was initially somewhat tentative on her distressing, and she started with temporary products. In retrospect, this actually made it harder because it affected maintenance and had to be reapplied. Likewise, Weller began the play on the floor as though she had fallen through the ceiling. After much experimentation to make believable-looking plaster dust, Loveland says, “We went with rice flour that is a little grainier than wheat and used Dirt Works distressing powder.” Weller did her own doll-like face makeup, and Loveland added very subtly scrapes and bruises using coagulated stage makeup.

All of the designers of Holiday House are moving onto exciting new projects. Loveland is designing Stupid Fucking Bird at Ohio University, Babel Off-Broadway at the 14th Street Y, and Busted! at Lehman College. Carluzzo is continuing to compose, first for a web series being shot in Alabama and then for a show that his silent film music ensemble is performing at Atlas Theatre in DC in late February. Blane and the Swaders will collaborate again soon, on a national tour of Crane: On Earth, In Sky, created by Heather Henson and Ty DeFoe, directed by Maija Garcia, with puppets by the Jim Henson Company.

Holiday House was probably the most unique experience this team will have for a while, though. Justin Swader explains that, “For this piece, everything was custom built, but we wanted it to feel site specific. In the end, it really felt like we were on a sound stage.” That experience really solidified for the team. “It was a tricky space to tech in. After a while, it felt like we were in a little dollhouse at night.”

Natalie Robin is a NY-based lighting designer and the visiting assistant professor of Performance Design and Technology at Alfred University. She is also the associate producer and a founding company member of Polybe + Seats, an associate artist of Target Margin Theater, and a proud member of USA 829.

For more, read the February 2017 issue of Live Design as an interactive PDF. 

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