The problem in making a mermaid costume is making sure that the actor is able to walk across the stage fluidly, or “fish-like.”
For Angela Balogh Calin, this is the first time she’s ever designed a mermaid costume — or a bearded lady or a three-legged man, for that matter.
“It’s not as much the design part that was challenging,” she said, “because it was easy and so pleasant and exciting. The challenging part is that once you have the designs, you have to turn them into the costume.”
Calin is the costume designer for Chautauqua Theater Company’s production of The Comedy of Errors, which plays at 6 p.m. Saturday and runs through Aug. 16 at Bratton Theater. She said that after getting the aquatic details of the mermaid smoothed out, the next challenge was figuring out a way to make the three-legged man’s limbs move realistically.
For Calin, entering the world of Shakespeare is always a great creative process, and it gives her the opportunity to truly design from scratch.
“I think of all the worlds, Shakespeare is one of the most generous playwrights, letting designers and directors and actors craft and run with imagination,” she said. “This particular play, because is such a fun, very energetic, very dynamic play — it lends itself so beautifully [to the creative process]. Plus, it’s timeless.”
Calin said that she worked closely with scenic designer Tom Buderwitz while designing the show’s pieces. (She also noted that the two have worked together for close to 15 years.) She had to work hard to make sure the costumes would pop against the vibrant reds, yellows and blues of the set, and that the actors wouldn’t completely disappear into the world of the circus.
At a young age, Calin had a love for the theater; she knew she wouldn’t make a good actor, but she was certain that she wanted to try out costume design. She said that she always loved drawing and wanted to follow in her parent’s footsteps, without treading too closely — her mother was a graphic artist and her dad was a sculptor.
Now, making her debut with CTC, Calin has worked on more than 100 regional productions and has costumed 16 films in the United States and in Romania. She has won several Los Angeles Drama Critic Circle Awards, as well as a handful of Drama Logue Awards.
“I’ve worked with [Comedy] director Andrew Borba back in Los Angeles a few times,” she said. “He invited me [to Chautauqua] and I gladly accepted, because I have never been in this part of the country. It’s a lot of fun. I think Comedy is perfect for a summer night; it’s light, it’s breezy, easy and fun, and I truly enjoy the process of designing or coming up with the choices with [Borba]. I also enjoy the research part of it.”
Researching for this production of Comedy was a true collaboration between her, Borba and Buderwitz, Calin said. She gathers many images for costume inspiration, and she also likes to go the old-fashioned route — a trek to the library to check out some books.
She noted, however, that when she cannot get to a library, the Internet is a great substitute.
“Type in ‘bearded lady’ into the browser,” she said, “and you’ll get images you never thought existed.”
The designer also looked at several high-end fashion and runway shows for inspiration. Additionally, her work on children’s shows costuming several different creatures proved useful for this particular production.
“Usually in costume design, people are more restrained, and not that many shows lend themselves to lavish and fun and imaginative and a crazy world,” Calin said. “When you finally encounter a play like this … it’s fun to just let go and do the wildest color combinations that otherwise you wouldn’t use in a play.”