Daniel Fine, Paul Kalina, Sarah Hamilton, Chelsea June Regan, Courtney Gaston
Director: Daniel Fine
Scenic Designer: Courtney Gaston
Costume Designer: Chelsea June Regan
Lighting Designer: Courtney Gaston
Sound Designer: Daniel Fine
Budget for this Design Area
Comments by the Designer
Media Clown was debuted at the Prague Quadrennial ’19. It is a devised work that explores the relationship between the analog artform of the clown and the emerging digital technologies that are changing the way we form connections with each other and the world as a greater whole. The performance centers around an analog clown who attempts to set up a concert to perform for the audience, but through a series of mishaps the clown is propelled into a digital world, where he endures the dangerous of doppelgängers, and computer shutdowns. Ultimately is unable to escape without the aid to technology. The clown begins to discover that together with technology he can bridge the gap between the two disciplines and find the means to survive.
As the costume designer of Media Clown, I was able to dive deep into the history of clowning and examine how the clothes worn by Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, and Buster Keaton, affected the scale and effectiveness of their comedy. The proportions of their garments were not tailored to fit like a nice Sunday suit, but rather accentuate how short, or round, or tall, or thin they were. Their clothes aided in providing a visual comedy to each performance. I also looked towards icons like Gene Kelly, specifically from Singin’ in the Rain for color inspiration and how the colors of a costume could heighten his movements. This research helped me create my design as the show developed. During this time I also was applying to grants for travel; our tech process would take us to England for four weeks, and Prague for two as we refined and rehearsed the show, finally premiering it at the Prague Quadrennial. I was award a Felton Travel Funding Award, the Ulfers/Hall Study Abroad Scholarship, and the Summer Funding in the Arts from the University of Iowa. In addition to my own fundraising the project, was awarded several grants to aid in our travel and increase our production budget.
I was allotted the budget of $2000, that went towards fabric, shoes, hats, costume maintenance supplies, and accessories. I was able to then purchase fabric and begin building this costume. However, unlike a typical theatre performance this was only the very beginning of my process. While I had begun to flat pattern the costume, I was constantly adjusting it as we made new discoveries in rehearsal and learned more about the character we were creating.
Unlike other productions I had worked on, this was constantly in a state of flux and needed to be pliable as the character of the clown grew throughout the development of the show. This design was influenced by the clown logic that influenced our entire production design and devising process. During a fitting, in an attempt to shorten the clown’s jacket, it tore in a diagonal and serendipitously looked and felt right for the character. As the costume started to come to fruition, I was not only juggling the normal duties that I had become accustom to, but also the integration of a motion capture suit, Blacktrax sensors and LED strips.
To deal with all of the technology that was going to be integrated on the costume and be on my actor’s body, I knew I had to make not only a muslin version of the costume to fit to the actor, but also a rehearsal costume. This would allow my actor to learn what it would be like to wear this much technology and become familiar with the movement of the costume.
The first piece of technology in the costume was a Neuron suit by Noitom Perception. The Neuron suit had to be integrated into the costume so it could track our clown’s location throughout the show, allowing the digital doppelgänger clown to be placed next to him in space, creating a real interaction between them. Upon the Neuron suit’s arrival, it became clear to me that the sensors were far larger than I had hoped for and they had an LED ring on them that blinked rapidly and brightly. This meant wherever the sensors were placed on our actor, there would be bulges, coming off of his body, and he would be glowing. While initially I was most concerned about the bumps the sensor shape caused, I was able to mask these bumps in the tailoring of the costume. I looked towards my initial research on traditional clowns and was able to make sure the pants were baggy enough that the sensors weren’t being seen and leave enough room in the vest and coat to give the actor a great range of movement and enough room for the sensors, where they were not being caught on fabric.
In the meantime, while I was altering the costume, I was searching for a solution to hide the blinking lights that the sensors admitted. While I had thought about just taping over the lights, in our rehearsal process we began to see the physicality of our show and realized the sensors also needed to be protected from all of the falls and hits that our actor was taking. So tape only solved part of the puzzle. I had experimented with attaching the sensors to the costume rather, than the actor wearing them strapped to the body, but this allowed them to not only swing and hit the actor, but made the avatar of the digital clown flail his limbs about when he should have just been walking. This meant they could not be protected in a pocket, they needed to have some cushion on the actor’s body that could still be removed to allow the sensors to charge between performances as well as mask the blinking. My solution was a mic belt. Specifically, a wireless mic belt that was actually meant to hold wires to a mic stand. It was a small size, but large enough to cover the sensor and mask the blinking; it was made of neoprene which would not interfere with the signal the sensors were admitting and would protect them against the falls to the floor. This was a solution I was able to come to in Iowa, and I was able to completely build the first costume before leaving for England.
Once we left for England, the team spent a lot of time working in previsualization of the set and the lights, while I tackled my next challenge. I had to integrate into the costume were two Blacktrax sensors. These are small white orbs that admit an LED infrared signal to cameras above, allowing us to track our performer with lights. While these sensors are small, they still had to be placed in a position where they could be seen by the cameras, and mostly hidden from the audience. I was able to mask them in the shoulder seams of the jacket. I had to lace them through small tabs I created in between the lining and main fabric of the coat leading to a small opening in the breast of the coat where there was a pocket for the sensor pack that both sensors connected to.
Before I began the construction of the light up jacket, I spent time in the previsualization studio, with our UK team, working on the digital clown. While they had created a 3D model of a clown, he was a white model, with no color or definition to his costume. To aid the audience in understanding that this digital clown, was an avatar of our real clown, it was important to me that they bore a resemblance in the colors of their costumes. I worked with a programmer to design various versions of this avatar to be used in different moments of the show, as well as having one version where he completely matched our real clown. In this time and space I found I was not only designing the physical costumes, but immersing myself in the world of digital costuming and character design.
The last costume element of LED strips led to the creation of an additional jacket. A second jacket, identical to the first and still rigged with even more Blacktrax sensors, had an insert between the lining and fabric that housed LED strips so that our clown could fully become part of the digital world and light up. This also meant and additional pocket in the small of the back where the DMX and battery pack lived for the lights. I made this jacket over the course of two days, while our set was being built and our lights were being focused. We then spent one week rehearsing and teching our show, before bringing it to Prague, and reassembling our entire system.
With the addition of so much technology into this costume design, as well as designing for digital avatars, it made for a truly unique process. My process evolved alongside the story of the show and ultimately aimed to create a character that was loveable and relatable, who could help curate how the audience connected with the piece through the integration of technology and humanity.
Copyright 2020 Chelsea June