Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Stitching Shakespeare (Part 1)

Several weeks ago, I finally acted in my first Shakespeare play--Cymbeline.  If you reacted to that sentence by thinking, "That's a Shakespeare play?" you are not alone.  Cymbeline is generally considered to be one of Shakespeare's least-performed works.  It straddles the line between tragedy, comedy, romance, and fantasy.  It has a complex plot with a fair number of holes.  Playwright George Bernard Shaw hated the last scene so much that he wrote his own version.

The play was produced by Fourth Room Theatre, a local theatre group that was founded in the last few years.  We were able to perform it free for the public by getting funds through an Indiegogo campaign, which will hopefully become an annual tradition of free summer theatre in our town.  Our setting was on the outdoor property of a local homeowner, who lives on an old 4-acre farm that is just across the street from the university football stadium.  We built a raked wooden stage and hung Christmas lights from the trees, using the natural features in the space for inspiration.

As a way of emphasizing our natural setting and metaphors in the text, the director's production concept involved every character representing a different type of bird.  Birds were used as the inspiration for costume and acting choices, as well as a visual motif for advertisements.

The young male lead was a bald eagle, the female lead that fakes her death was a phoenix, the evil queen was a raven, the king was a blue heron, and so on.  I was part of a group of supernatural characters ushering the action along, wearing black leggings and white dresses to represent swans.  We would put on other costume pieces when we filled in for smaller roles.  

During one of these scenes, I was a parrot and my scene partner was a peacock.  When she put on her feathered headpiece, I thought about this cloth I had leftover from a beginning sewing class.

I thought about the cloth, and gradually formed the idea for my first original project.  I used fusible webbing to create an appliqué of one of the peacocks.  They had a small amount that I could buy at Home Ec Workshop.  The way that it works is that you iron the fabric onto one side of the webbing so that it almost melts together.  Then I cut out the patch I wanted, peeled paper off of the other side of the webbing, and ironed the patch onto the turquoise fabric.  I put the fabric into the embroidery hoop, then used an ordinary #2 pencil to write out a quote from the show.

When done, the quote will say, "How hard it is to hide the sparks of nature."  This quote was highlighted in the advertising for the show, and it highlight's the director emphasis on the role of fate in the show.  I will also embellish the peacock with decorative stitches.  Once it is finished, I will cut away the excess turquoise fabric and leave about 2 inches of it around.  I can then glue this border of fabric to the embroidery hoop and hang it as is.

At first, I felt weird about preserving my cursive handwriting in backstitch.  In my beginning embroidery class, Codi said that she finds embroidery fascinating because everybody has a different style, "Like handwriting."  I replied, "That worries me.  My handwriting looks like a five-year-old's."  Hopefully, those insecurities will go away when I see the finished product, my imperfect handwriting elevated to a work of art.

I have so many ideas for original pieces I'd like to do.  This seemed like a great first project to try techniques like appliqué, transferring designs, and framing.  It's also a wonderful way to commemorate my return to acting after a long hiatus, and all the lessons I learned.  Well, this wasn't actually the first show I acted in after my hiatus, but I am still trying to figure out what kind of project to do for The Vagina Monologues . . .

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