Question and answer with Donna Buckley, first-year costume designer at the Hilberry Theatre. Frank Langella’s Cyrano is the first production on the Hilberry stage for which Buckley has designed costumes.
Q: What brought you to the Hilberry Theatre Company?
A: I was a costumer at Oakland University for 11 years, and I wanted to further my education. I knew a lot about the Hilberry’s program, and I’m a nontraditional student with children. I needed to stay in the area for school. The Hilberry has a lot to offer while allowing me to stay close to home.
Q: What was your approach to the Frank Langella’s Cyrano costumes? What informed your designs?
A: Well, right away the director decided that he wanted to do this differently than a traditional Cyrano production because it is an adaptation, and it’s different than a typical Cyrano production right off the bat. It’s paired down to the bare bones of what’s necessary to tell the story. So you don’t have multiple soldiers, additional people, etc. Right away, he wanted to stay true to that and streamline our production. And, he didn’t want it historically stuck in one time period. And it isn’t. So, he wanted to have modern sensibility combined with the 17th century, which is a huge challenge. It was difficult. How do you meld two time periods that are completely different? For a lot of my research for the modern sensibility, I looked to runway fashion to see what was current, and oddly enough there’s a lot out there right now that’s reminiscent of 17th century fashion. They’ve taken corsets, for example, and tweaked them with a modern flair. So, I did that with the women’s corsets. They’re not accurate to the original period, but they maintain a hint of it. When you look at stuff from the 17th century it’s very heavy and silhouetted. My designs combine those two worlds, the present and the 17th century.
Q: What’s it like to work with the Hilberry Theatre Company?
A : Scary (laughs). Not that they’re scary. It’s just the process of doing your first design at the graduate level. It’s intimidating. What was difficult about it is that the process was during my first semester, and I was still getting acclimated to being a student.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about costume design?
A: What got me into costume design was acting. I played a role at the Renaissance festival where I was the Queen, and I was making my gowns. It was the combination of a love of acting, a love of theatre, and a love of history. With costume design you can combine all three. You can take all of those elements and be creative, and make characters come alive visually. It’s not that you’re performing on stage, but your clothes are performing on stage. You’re helping to create characters. The actor brings their elements, the director brings their elements, and then the costumer brings theirs, all to help flesh out this two dimensional character on the page into a three-dimensional character on the stage. I find that process exciting. It’s exciting that you can take theatre and change people’s lives and make them think about things that they wouldn’t normally think about. Sometimes it’s just frivolity, but sometimes it’s a statement that draws attention to an issue in society that we need to look at. Theatre can do that in ways that no other medium can. I like that.
Photo credits: Jillian Zylinski and Alexandra Stewart