As a part of the investment initiative by the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, POP – UP is a project that offers temporarily vacant spaces in The Rocks to artists and creatives alike. Bell Shakespeare has jumped onboard the enterprise, filling a sublime, heritage-listed space on George Street with The Closet, a space established to nurture the talent from the company's costume and artistic development departments for seven weeks.
The space itself is a costume designer’s paradise, with spools of fabric, cutting tables, drawings, shoes, garments and computers galore. The icing on the cake is the Bell Shakespeare's development project, titled Mind's Eye, a space where writers such as Lachlan Philpott, Luke Mullins, Caleb Lewis and Alana Valentine are spending their days tapping away, working on adaptations and transformations of Shakespearean and classical works.
The Closet is less a showcase of past Bell costumes than an opportunity for the general public to have a sneak peak at what costume designers do behind closed doors on a day-to-day basis – perfect stalking grounds for those interested in fashion, costume design, art or theatre.
It's fascinating to watch makers like Kate Aubrey, Mandy Nichols and Jude Loxley work, creating over 40 costumes for Bell's next production of Henry IV.
Aubrey took us through the somewhat tedious creation of the fat suit for Falstaff's costume, played in the production by John Bell himself. “[Falstaff] reminds me of the head guy from Sons of Anarchy…but with a bigger beer gut,” she says. “He's also having a full head of hair, beard and chops made to fit him specifically. Steven [Curtis] has even given us specific directions for where he wants the bits of fat to sit on his character suit.” We were particularly amused to discover that the team inventively use polystyrene beads to create the effect of lumpy cellulite under fabric.
The makers definitely have their work cut out for them. “This one [is different] from the other shows because it's a big buy. It's all very modern. [There’s] not a huge amount of specific makes,” says Aubrey. “Whereas, for Macbeth for example, there was lots of army wear. We employed tailors and amazing menswear cutters. This one has street kids, hookers, tourists, judges, chefs, recruits, thugs, gangs, messengers – the list goes on. It actually ends up being more difficult to buy rather than make. Steven [Curtis] wants the items to look manufactured, when it actual fact they have to fit the actor perfectly without looking tailored.”
Costume sketches line the walls, swabs of fabric litter the cutting tables, boarded by boxes of shoes, magazine cuttings and images for inspiration. All in all, it offers an insightful look at just one of the many hard-working teams behind a theatre production, and one that rarely gets the attention and praise it deserves.
So walk on in, be inquisitive and have a chat to the professionals to take advantage of this rare opportunity to have a peek inside the magical world of Bell Shakespeare's Closet.
Bell Shakespeare’s Closet
123–125 George Street, The Rocks
Wed to Sat 10am–4pm
Until February 22