There are some things that can only be achieved with a healthy amount of mess. If you’d happened to wander into the back room of our Wardrobe Department recently, you would have been greeted by an eye-popping assortment of paints and polishes, rasps and rifflers, sand paper and spray guns. Just a few of the key tools of the trade when you need to make fabrics look as though they were well-worn and heavily-weathered in a time long ago and a place far away. Late 17th century Salem, Massachusetts, to be precise.
Distressing costumes and props is not for the clean freak, as our Art Finisher Josie Johnson will tell you. She’s so used to working with hand-crafted mud, blood, and other messy liquids that she eschews regular footwear in favour of gumboots for work (sparkly gumboots, no less). Her task for our production of The Crucible involved taking an assortment of latchet-style shoes – some new, and some not so new (but still made this century) from our existing stock – and making them look as though they were worn daily by puritan farmers. A messy job if ever we’ve heard of one.
In the case of the new shoes, our Wardrobe team asked local shoemakers to create bespoke pieces. Using detailed descriptions and pictures provided by Costume Designer Dale Ferguson, Prahran cordwainer (that’s a master shoemaker, for those of you playing at home) Jess Wootten created one peasant style and one more refined style (to be worn by characters such as Judge Hathorne and Deputy Governor Danforth). Each pair of shoes took around 20 hours to create, with Jess carefully combining 17th century styling with 21st century stage considerations; for example, rubber soles were a practical (and necessary) addition.
Meanwhile, in a tiny workshop in the Nicholas Building on Swanston Street, shoemaker Brendan Dwyer focused on creating a series of latchet shoes for the peasant characters.
After hours of careful work, these beautiful handcrafted shoes arrived at MTC – and were promptly set upon by Josie. With her array of paints, polishes and tools, Josie added years of wear, tear, mud and sweat, gradually building up the layers until she achieved the desired effect. You can view pictures from the process in the gallery, on the right side of this page.
And now, after weeks of work, the shoes have taken to the stage! You can see more images from our production of The Crucible, and hear cast members talk about their characters and the significance of this powerful play here.
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For your chance to win an incredible package including tickets, a personal backstage tour and the opportunity to join members of the cast and crew at the bar after the show, head to our Facebook page.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller is now playing at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until 3 August.
Published on 26 June 2013