In her second blog post, Sophie discusses what she has learnt from a visit from a Tudor group and the difficulties involved in choosing the colour for her costume.
Transcript of Podcast
The Tudor Group
At first I found them extraordinary. I know it sounds mad when you’re an actor and you dress up all the time to do things, but I’ve always found groups that do this kind of historical interpretation fascinating. I’ve always thought ‘what a funny thing to do.’ I dress up for a living so it does seem silly to think that. I suppose they have a different take on the idea of playing a part because they’re living something in a very particular way – they live as Tudors would have done for so many days of the year. That is what I find hard to understand. Ruth [member of the Tudor Group] explained what the Group endeavoured to do – how they hoped to gain a deeper understanding of life by living in this way – and that helped me to understand them a bit better.
Ruth was so open and lovely. She was obviously very passionate about social history, and that was the side of things that I found most interesting in History at school, so it was great to feel her enthusiasm for the subject. She talked about how people in the Tudor period would have lived, and how that reflects upon how we live now. Also, she spoke about change: how little has changed, how much has changed and on what levels or areas of our lives that change is. On many levels, life has changed much less than we may think, but on other levels it has changed a great deal. For instance, religion was obviously a very powerful force in the Sixteenth Century but we can also see how powerful it is in the world today. One of the fascinating things I found out about was how women would cover their heads then, and how similar that is to Islamic belief today. I thought those parallels were really useful – I had no idea about those points of connection. In my costume fitting, I knew from talking to Jenny [Tiramani, Director of Theatre Design, Master of Clothing] that Isabella will have to have something on her head, but I didn’t connect that to religion – Ruth's information gave that detail an extra dimension that reflects back on the world today.
It's fascinating to look at our own social mores and realise we don’t know from whence they came – we simply think that what we do is normal, but actually it's quite odd when you start to ask questions like ‘Why do I stand in that way?’ or ‘Why do I walk like this?’ Take ladies in high heels for example: when I’m dressing up, I put funny shoes on and I can’t walk and I feel uncomfortable – I think ‘Well, what the chickens am I doing? This is really silly; my feet are hurting.’ It was interesting to get a new perspective on modern life by looking at the differences and similarities with the Tudor period. We also did some bowing and curtseying. I know I should have concentrated harder because I’m already panicking about the little curtseys that I have to do.
Usually you’ll be shown a drawing of your character's costume which a designer has done, and you discuss things from that point. What's lovely about Jenny is that she doesn’t work from drawings; you work together right from the beginning so you’re not presented with a designer's idea about what the character should wear. The process is collaborative from the word ‘go’.
We’ve taken quite a while trying to find a colour. That sounds a bit bonkers, but if you’re not going for black (which perhaps you might expect though Isabella's not a nun yet), it is hard to try and find a line between what would have been a well dressed woman wearing good clothes and a woman who is going to become a nun. When you entered a nunnery you weren’t given an outfit straight away, so Jenny and I have come to it through the journey of the play: you would hand over your worldly goods when you entered the Order, and they’d be able to get something for them (to buy necessaries like candles and things), I suppose. Then Isabella perhaps would have had the simplest thing made for her. The colour blue is associated with servility and serving others, so at the moment we’re going for a very pale, blue-grey colour, which has a lot of light in it rather than it being dreary. I’m wearing a corset and all the rest of it too; the shapes we’re going for are obviously very traditional Elizabethan garb, but the dress is the simplest possible under the circumstances. It's as simple as she can go whilst keeping her dress appropriate to her class.
These comments are the actor's thoughts or ideas about the part as s/he goes through the rehearsal process – they are simply his/her own interpretations and frequently change as the rehearsal process progresses.