Details in the Fabric

The watteau back on the dress Lucy (Sharina Martin) is wearing helps hide the mechanism that lifts her as the monster (Calum Bedborough) levitates her.

How Costumes Make the Magic of ‘Dracula’

By Remy Sisk

Photos by Bill Brymer

Ever since its premiere in the 1995-96 season, Actors Theatre of Louisville’s “Dracula” has been simultaneously scaring and dazzling Louisville audiences. The show’s unparalleled combination of an excellent script, superb acting and awe-inspiring effects has solidified it as a staple on the Louisville theatre scene. And while an audience member of course will remember the blood, the screams and the fire, there’s one aspect of the show that many likely overlook: the costumes.

When the show underwent something of a rebrand in the 2007-08 season, designer Lorraine Venberg elevated the costumes to an even greater level. Not only do the designs crisply evoke the period the show is set in but they also work in tandem with the show’s other elements—specifically, the blood. With several moments in the show involving spurting red blood, the actors’ costumes must be prepared to withstand night after night of being stained.

The custom costume made for Renfield (Neill Robertson) is absorbent white denim, which requires extra precision to remove all the blood after the show.

“We’ve learned throughout the years that polyester is the best fabric for this show, so all the women’s clothes are all basically varying shades of synthetics,” describes Costumes Director Mike Floyd. “And unfortunately, Renfield is the one guy in the show who’s just cotton twill.” Renfield, one of the show’s most memorable characters – and this year played by local actor Neill Robertson – is, unlike the others, dressed in far less well-to-do garb, which helps shape his character but also creates some slight headaches backstage.

The one with the toothbrush scrubbing Renfield’s white denim jacket and pants after each performance is Wardrobe Technician Chloe Hixson. But Hixson does a lot more than scrub; as soon as the show starts, she is always moving. “I go from quick changes into or out of things and then to laundry and then back to a quick change,” she relates. As soon as the actress who plays Mina comes off stage from being bitten by the vampire, she stands in a “blood bucket” that catches the dripping red liquid as her clothes are pulled off and immediately put in the wash.

In addition to working with the blood, the costumes were designed to also support some of the show’s even bigger effects. For example, one of the most mystifying moments comes in the first act when Dracula seems to levitate Lucy as she sleeps on a chaise; however, it is a costume choice that helps make it appear as though the actress is floating. “It’s got two purposes: one, to look pretty and two, to hide the mechanism that is lifting her up,” affirms Wardrobe Manager Anna Jenny.

But at the end of the day, these brilliant costumes are, more than anything, helping to tell this timeless story. “They’re the finishing touches to the story,” Jenney contends, “so you get a time, you get a place, you get what this character is like.” Of the many reasons why “Dracula” has become a time-honored tale at Actors, the intricacy of the costumes is one of them—how they not only tell the story but also make the magic of “Dracula” come to life in the most vibrant of ways. VT


Continues through November 2

Actors Theatre of Louisville