Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of our Halloween monsters? Tom Hammond does. From a rough story line and a few beastly names, Tom and his colleagues in the art of costuming sketched, selected, and sewed the outfits and accessories for an assortment of ghastly characters.
Many favorites from last year will return. (You won’t want to miss Blackbeard or the Coffin Gang.) But there’s a new script for The Curse of the Sea Witch, and that means many new costumes.
A surgeon butcher, the bone collector, demon rum, and a straitjacketed ghoul are some of the fiendish souls who will spring to life to haunt DoG Street next weekend.
A few months ago the Halloween planning committee sent Tom, our supervisor of Research and Design at the Costume Design Center, a list of characters and the scenarios in which they would be placed. Additional inspiration came in the form of images and ideas stuffed into a three-ring binder.
Beyond imagination, the costuming work began with sketches of the characters. Based on the scenarios, we generated different possibilities. (A previous blog post covered the development of the stars of the show, the sea witches.) Our design staff decided to keep a fairly simple look, rather than an over-the-top Hollywood presentation. Staying as much as possible within 18th-century style was a practical and aesthetic goal. We have a lot of appropriate material and expertise, and this is the colonial capital, after all.
Take one example, “the bone collector,” who will be haunting the Raleigh Tavern. With little but the name to guide him, Tom sketched out a couple of possible looks for the character. He approached his vision with the same types of questions he usually asks. What’s his backstory? How is he occupying himself in the tavern?
The first sketch was a sort of raggedy pirate, with a sash and a headband. He tried adding a staff topped with a skull, but dismissed the idea because it would be harder to employ effectively in the tavern. Tom then considered making him a warped version of an 18th-century gentleman.
He has been saving distressed clothing all year for Halloween. Worn-out shirts and pants will get new life in being worn by the creepy and undead denizens of haunted Williamsburg.
The Bone Collector will wear period shirt and trousers, ripped, patched, and sprayed to achieve the desired look. Since it’s going to be dark, Tom’s not too worried about special footwear. Hey, even 18th-century creeps need to be able to walk reasonably comfortably.
To live up to his name, the Bone Collector was adorned with… lots of bones. A bone crown on his head, a couple of bone necklaces, more tucked into his belt.
“Then I thought,” said Tom, “why not give him a whole skeleton?” So now the Bone Collector will haul a complete set on his back, a constant companion that may be both a cause and effect of an unsteady mind. (The character’s, not Tom’s.)
The bones are accessories, and that’s where the alchemy really happens. “The more detailed the costume is, the more real it appears,” says Tom. “If you put a guy in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, it may be entirely appropriate to his wardrobe, but if you add sneakers and a certain kind of socks and a ball cap, and maybe a chain, you’ve more specifically defined him. Details just make it more real.”
The details are fleshed out by our accessories team. They outfit our interpreters with basics like stockings, shoes, and hats, as well as ladies’ caps and kerchiefs, jewelry, and a few military items like epaulets.
A lot of time is spent fitting shoes and lining and cocking hats in various ways, or putting ribbons on women’s straw hats. Additionally, there’s some miscellaneous work: a new uniform for the Marquis de Lafayette, another for Comte de Rochambeau, a summer riding habit and hat for Martha Washington. “The things that need a little more attention come in here,” says Melissa, the accessories team leader.
And now this.
For Halloween, says Tom, “I gave them a few drawings to give them a start and they took off from there.” He holds up a necklace, with “dragon toes,” “shark teeth,” and an actual animal skull. He found it in the woods.
“You collect stuff, what you need,” says Tom matter-of-factly.
For next week, that means things like, staffs, pouches, aprons, and bones. They’ve assembled a number of fun pouches from material around the shop, which will be worn be various characters.
A sea witch’s crown, which was put together by Melissa from pieces crafted by Tom, features shark teeth (carved wood), barnacles (molded clay), “sea pearls,” and seaweed (no idea what that was made from).
Michael is putting the finishing touches on an item for the witch who lures children into the sea. It’s a twisted turn on Mother Goose, with the familiar wide flat-brimmed hat.
Elyse is working on the hat for the “Innocent Witch,” the youngster in the coven, who hasn’t quite graduated from witch school and may be a little ditzy. It’s bright green with a grassy texture, festooned with seashells and starfish. Tom suggests stitching some starfish to the underside of the hat.
Meanwhile, Melissa sews ruffles for the Innocent Witch’s jacket. They were white when they started. They’ve been frayed and dyed a seaweed-y blue-green. Melissa is also our master dyer. That means she gets to play with color, she says.
Outside, she applies her skills to one of the witch’s cloaks. It’s an ombré effect, which, I’m told, is the word for the gradation in tones of color, going dark to light. Melissa sprays streaks of blue and green, which muddle together to create a pretty persuasive found-this-lying-on-the-ocean-floor effect.
Costume work will likely continue on our ghoulish cast of characters up until late next week. They’re hoping to have success developing a new a monster, which you can see part of below. Any guesses?