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Date: Jun 12, 2008


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Katrina Lindsay is nominated for a Tony for the costumes of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Christopher Hampton's stage adaptation of Choderlos de Laclos' 18th-century French novel of upper-crust lust and manipulation, currently running at the American Airlines Theatre. But it might be fair say that Lindsay's costumes for this revival, by director Rufus Norris, in fact occupy a starring role in the production, so largely do the clothes loom in this tale of power.

"The costumes are definitely a big part of the story of the piece, because the characters are very aware of everybody's positioning, and of the way they portray themselves in public," Lindsay says.

The actors had to become similarly aware, and so even before the final costumes were constructed, it was important to have rehearsal costume pieces available to the performers.

"We gathered rehearsal costumes for them, even if it wasn't exactly the right shape, just to get used to having corsets on," Lindsay says. "Your body has to get used to the corsets and the width of the panniers--those are the hoops that fit on top of the corsets but underneath the skirts to keep those wide angles."

For Laura Linney, who plays the key role of scheming Marquise de Merteuil, costuming is not an insignificant part of her performance.

"Laura especially has a huge train, and a certain large amount of material to negotiate," Lindsay notes. "We gave them as much as we could, really."

By necessity, of course, rehearsals were period clothing-optional.

"At some points, the actors didn't find it useful to have that stuff on—they just wanted to get their emotional route through the piece without having that constricting element. But they always had that option."

As much as they may have relished this early acquaintance with their silhouettes, the actors also wanted to preserve some of the opening-day excitement that comes in the transition from rehearsal room to stage.

"They don't get the final costumes until about a week before we start, and that's always a nice stage for an actor, when they get to put on the final piece," Lindsay says.

And if the costumes created certain constraints on their actor's freedom of movement, designing period costumes has its own set of rigorous challenges. But Lindsay was quick to point out that dressing a period play is not a simple matter of reproduction.

"Although they have an 18th-century quality about them, they're still very stylized," Lindsay says. "They're not completely accurate in every way. After all, though the play is set in that time, we're dealing with contemporary actors and modern audiences. So I did all the research on how the pieces are constructed, and I knew that I wanted to make the lines and the palette very clean."

Lindsay does no less creative work, of course, when designing for a contemporary, modern-dress play, but she admits that period costumes may understandably get more attention.

"All designers know what it takes to do a really solidly costumed world, one that's very individual to the characters and the style of the piece," Lindsay says. "If it's a modern piece, an audience may not recognize it as much. But the craftsmanship that goes into period costumes is immense, and you can't overlook that. That's worth acknowledging. A contemporary piece may not have that, but the skill in coming up with the design is the same."

In a sense, all of this year's Tony nominees for costume design are period pieces, although Peter McKintosh's for The 39 Steps and Gregory Gale's for Boeing Boeing only go back a number decades, while Gregory Gale's for Cyrano de Bergerac, like Lindsay's for Liaisons, rolls back centuries.

In Britain, Lindsay has made her name as a regular designer for Liaisons director Rufus Norris. Together they designed the currently long-running West End revival of Cabaret (distinct from the hit Donmar Warehouse/Roundabout run of the mid-1990s), as well as a well-received production of Market Boy at the National Theatre. Lindsay has also designed frequently for the Royal Shakespeare Festival. And, as is the English way, she doesn't typically design just the costumes.

"The way it works in Britain, you tend to do set and costume," Lindsay. "It can get split up, but mainly designers in Britain do both. It's separated a bit more in America."

She has nothing but high praise for the standard of work among American costume makers. For her Liaisons designs, they essentially did more than construct costumes--they helped Lindsay built virtual suits of armor.

"Merteuil talks about the importance of being buttoned up and not revealing their flesh," Lindsay. "But the layers and layers of clothes they have on really are their battle armor. Everything is about the way they present themselves."