Steampunk Costumes at Oregon Children's Theatre

I try to avoid using the Culture Shock platform to promote organizations and programs with which I am associated, so please forgive an exception. This is the last week for Oregon Children’s Theatre’s production of James and the Giant Peach in the Newmark Theatre, and I want to introduce costume designer extraordinaire, Sarah Gahagan, to any theater folks who do not yet know her work. The costumes she designed, and which her talented team of stitchers constructed, are a highlight of the show. Not to be missed are the exquisitely detailed dresses and wigs of the nasty and mean Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker (portrayed by Stephanie Cordell and Cecily Overman respectively and from left to right).

Sarah is relatively new to Portland, having received her BFA in Studio Arts and a BS in Theatre Art (with concentrations in fiber arts and costume design) at the University of Oregon in June 2007. She has designed costumes for several shows produced by Lord Leebrick Theatre Company in Eugene, and recently designed costumes for ART's production of Eurydice this fall. In summer 2007, Gahagan represented the United States at the Prague Quadrennial, the 11th International Exhibition of Scenography and Theatre Architecture, based on her puppet and set designs for a stop-action animated video, Tailleur, which can be viewed on her website.

For this production of James and the Giant Peach, Artistic Director Stan Foote pushed for a "steampunk" design. According to Wikipedia's definition, “the term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century, and often set in Victorian era England—but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne."

I first ran across the design trend in a Newsweek article that highlighted steampunk designer and builder Richard Nagy. Working under the moniker “Datamancer,” Nagy creates elaborate steampunk contraptions such as this modified laptop with Victorian flairs of wood, brass and leather -- a fully-functional machine that looks like it hitched a ride on the H.G. Wells' Time Machine.

In May, the NY Times ran an article on steampunk in its fashion section, describing it as "a subculture that is the aesthetic expression of a time-traveling fantasy world, one that embraces music, film, design and now fashion, all inspired by the extravagantly inventive age of dirigibles and steam locomotives, brass diving bells and jar-shaped protosubmarines.”

Thanks to a generous grant from the Theatre Communications Group, Oregon Children's Theatre has been collaborating with the NW Film Center to guide participants in its "Young Professionals" program in creating documentaries. Filmmaker Andy Blubaugh was the teacher and mentor for teenager Gabby Walti as she created Stitching a New Path for James and the Giant Peach, a short documentary about the costume design for James.

And if you're interested in seeing snippets of the actual production, as filmed and assembled by the truly amateurish auteur (yours truly), watch this:

James and the Giant Peach will have its final public performances this Friday (7:00 pm), Saturday (2:00 and 5:00 pm), and Sunday (2:00 pm).


culturejock said...

I find these insider insights very interesting! Thanks for posting, MTC. Those are some pretty fantastic costumes indeed! I am sorry I will miss James and the Giant Peach. We used to have a pretty significant children's theater program at my high school, and I played the Centipede my junior year.

MightyToyCannon said...

Glad you enjoyed the post CJ. I would dearly love to see you as a high school junior in a Centipede costume! Any pictures?