Dressing Demons: Creating Costumes for The Loser Letters

A costume rendering for the Shadow character by Emily DeAngelis.
A costume rendering for the Shadow character by Emily DeAngelis.

Inspiration often comes at unforeseen times. For costume designer Emily DeAngelis and her team it came when a ballerina was walking in a circle skirt.”We were working on these bat wings.” Note: It should be stated here that Emily is designing those wings for the character of the Shadow. Played by Olympic gymnast Chellsie Memmel, the Shadow is a nonhuman character who will be executing otherworldly physical feats throughout the show.  Costuming is no easy task. “Even a simple handstand – she has to be able to get her arms all the way over her head with no resistance from what she’s wearing.”

Back to the bat wings. While some of the members of her team were working on a project for the School of Richmond Ballet, one of them realized a circle skirt would solve the problem. “It was something we’d been agonizing over for two weeks and it just took one moment of a student walking in front of them wearing a shape that could potentially work for them to say, ‘that’s what we’ll do.'”

Starting With the Script and Manipulating the Eyes

The first task was to change the way that the audience is seeing the person playing the demon. Director Jeffrey  Fiske had stressed that the Shadow was clearly not human. There had to be elements in the silhouette that change what the audience sees. “Rather than having eyes that were discernible as human eyes, just having these ocular cavities present in the mask. Creating some kind of shape to the head that doesn’t look like a human skull shape.”

While also making these shapes she had to be aware of the shapes that Chellsie would create with her body.  “So I’ve honored the intention of creating this other human character while still making the very human, lovely athlete that we have inhabiting the character able to execute what she needs to do in order to tell the story with her body.”

Creating the Costume

To construct the costume itself, Emily reached out to colleagues at the Richmond Ballet Costume shop. They started problem solving to figure out how to construct the garment.

This also included creating prototypes of various pieces for Chellsie to use in rehearsal. There is a hood prototype that Chellsie has been working with for a few weeks. Chellsie has been training with it and giving Emily feedback on how it works given what she needs to do in the show. Fittings also require Chellsie to move around a great deal.

Right now Emily and her team are in the final phases of constructing the garment before going into tech rehearsals next week.

More on Instagram

Follow @theloserletters on Instagram to see renderings of costumes for other cast members of The Loser Letters.