by Jeannie Marlin Woods
Author’s Note: As a reviewer for Berkshire on Stage for the last few years, I have seen some wonderfully imaginative costume designs. However, I was completely amazed to view a design exhibit of costumes for INTO THE WOODS, which is now on display at Shakespeare & Company. This article is written in the hope that more people will come by and see this extraordinary work which is on view through December 17th .
(Photo of the artist by Jeannie Marlin Woods, costume shots provided by Shakespeare & Company.)
Christina Beam is a costume designer and technician, based in New York and New England. Her work is wildly creative and charming, as evidenced by the exhibit now on display at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre on the Shakespeare & Company campus in Lenox, Massachusetts. As she explained in her artist talk on October 14th , the artist was challenged during the height of the Covid pandemic. Being isolated and with theatres everywhere being shuttered, she decided to work on a solo project. During those dark days of lockdown, Ms. Beam created a set of costumes she had designed on paper for the storybook characters in the Sondheim musical, INTO THE WOODS.
The costumer started with a quite interesting concept – to create the first act costumes that looked like the pages of the stories – for each story, from “Cinderella,” to “Little Red Riding Hood.” The dresses and tunics would be made out of a fabric that looked like paper, printed with lines from the story. Then, in the second act of the musical (which takes on a darker, more realistic tone), the costumes would be realistic clothing. As she notes on her website, “I wanted the costuming to mirror the characters’ transformations as they veer away from their original stories and become real people. Each character would start the show in a costume that looks like it is made from the pages of their storybook, and then throughout the course of the show the costume would come apart and transform into a more realistic garment—historically accurate and made from fabric.”
Working alone in her studio during the pandemic, the artist took her renderings and began to create the Act I costumes out of actual paper, which would not be practical in a production, but which would bring to life her design ideas. She called it “a paper project based on a paper project.” She moved beyond the parameters of the Sondheim musical, expanding into other characters from classic fairytales, and incorporating ideas from the original tales. In all she has created designs for over 15 characters and is continuing her project to design other storybook characters such as those from “Alice and Wonderland.”
Once she created her full-size paper costumes, Ms. Beam teamed up with photographer Ben Tobin and recruited actors who would don the costumes for a photo shoot. Held outdoors with an appropriate woodsy setting (and social distancing to accommodate the singularity required during Covid), some of the photographs are also display with the costumes. The photos illustrate and confirm how wonderful it would be to see these designs in an actual stage production.
Ms. Beam’s designs are fascinating on multiple levels. First, there are the actual designs, which show such fanciful interpretations of these well-known and beloved characters like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Prince Charming. Then there is the highly detailed and intricate design and construction, such as the shabby dress and the contrasting gorgeous ball gown for Cinderella. Even the under layers of corsets and hoop skirts are realized in paper in these designs. Replete with cutwork and standing collars, and artfully shaped silhouettes, the ideas are truly delightful and inventive. Just as remarkable is the astonishing creativity this artist has brought to realizing her project: she found a printer who could print large pages – about 3 by 4.5 feet. So, for each character, she chose pieces of text from that character’s story, selected a specific font for that character, then had it printed out on the large paper. She then glued the text to Tyvek, which essentially served as a fabric from which she could cut, sew, and glue together her designs. In an actual production, the text could be printed on fabric so the costumes could meet the demands of a performance.
This young designer is talented, ingenious, and resourceful. A graduate of the MFA Program in Costume Design at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, she is the Costume Shop Supervisor at Western Connecticut State University and costumes for a number of theatres in the Berkshires and beyond, including Shakespeare and Company. Her costumes for INTO THE WOODS were featured as part of the Emerging Artist Exhibit at the USITT conference in March and again at the 2023 Prague Quadrennial Emerging Artists Exhibit last summer. For more pictures of the costumes and for further examples of her work, please visit https://www.christinabeamdesign.com/work/ – /in-the-woods/.
You will not want to miss the opportunity to see this exhibit for yourself. Christina Beam’s exhibit, INTO THE WOODS, will be on display at Shakespeare & Company’s Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre in Lenox through December 17. The public is invited to view this fantastic exhibit Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; excluding Thanksgiving weekend. For more information, visit shakespeare.org, or call the Box Office at (413) 637-3353. Tickets are not required for this event.