An ‘armour’ against anguish: Costume design considerations around protecting actors in emotionally distressing roles

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Studies in Costume & Performance, 2020, 5, (2), pp. 239-253
Issue Date:
Full metadata record
Actors and singers frequently portray characters who experience distressing events, yet this may cause anguish for the performers themselves and require them to perform personal emotional management to cope with their own feelings during a production. This case study discusses and documents my costume design ethos and processes for the Sydney 2018 production of Clare Barron’s play, You Got Older (2015), which required the two lead actors to play characters who were experiencing profound fear, grief and loss. The design approach drew on Monks’s work on the relationship that actors have with their costumes and d’Anjou’s interpretation of Sartrean ethics within the context of a design practice. Once I had determined that the nature of my role as designer for this production would be to offer the actors emotional support through costume, I applied Woodward’s notion of comfort in everyday dress to the context of performance costume to ascertain how costume might contain a talisman and/or function as a form of psychological, ‘soft armour’ within the context of the play. Finally, this report uses Tonkinwise’s writing on ethical design alongside a semi-structured interview with the lead actor in You Got Older, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, to examine the forms that such protections took within my designs for the play and offers methodological considerations regarding designing costumes to protect and comfort performers playing emotionally distressing roles, should the actors require it.
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