As a costume designer, you can work in theatre, television and film. Each medium brings its own unique challenges, which you need to acquaint yourself with in order to succeed. Helen Beaumont asks: what is the difference between stage and screen when it comes to costume design?
The key tasks of a costume designer are the same, whether you work on stage or screen productions. Throughout your career, you’ll be required to draw and mock up designs, research costumes, find materials, hold fittings and make adjustments. You should remember that your goal is always to create authentic pieces, which draw the viewers of a production into a brilliant imaginary world.
In order to achieve this overarching aim, you will need to learn how to collaborate with actors. Here it is key that you build strong relationships with actors and part of this involves understanding what they need to pull off the costumes you make effectively. This is where the differences come in, as stage and screen actors work in very different environments, so they have contrasting needs.
The Victoria and Albert Museum explains the core requirements for stage costumes. In theatre, you will need to make sure that your costumes make as strong an impression on those sitting in the back of the room, as those up front. In other words, you will be required to make costumes which are bold and feature garish colours, so that they can be seen clearly by audiences wherever they are sitting.
It is also important to remember that theatre productions run for months, even years. Therefore when working on stage productions, it is essential to develop well-constructed costumes. This will allow the pieces to endure the strains of multiple performances, with only minor repairs and adjustments. You should also consider how your costumes will work with the technical aspects of the play, which can involve fitting equipment to an actor’s clothing, to ensure the audience buy a technical illusion.
In contrast, designing costumes for screen productions can seem easier at first glance. You don’t have to worry about ensuring costumes can be read from the back of the audience, so you can design subtler, more intricate pieces. Meanwhile screen clothing may only be used a handful of times, so you do not need to prioritise durability when costume making for screen productions as much.
But when it comes to screen costume making, there is a bigger emphasis on attention to detail. You are dealing with viewers who can see your costumes up close and sets which are incredibly authentic, so there’s zero room for error. It’s also important to note that the pace of filming is incredibly quick so when working on screen productions, you’ll need to turn costumes around speedily and in budget.
There is one handy trick that you can use to master costume making for both stage and screen. Ask yourself, as an audience member, how can a costume transport me to another reality, allowing me to lose myself in the story? By putting yourself in the viewer’s shoes, you’ll automatically take the differences between stage and screen into account, allowing you to develop convincing costumes.
About Helen Beaumont
Helen Beaumont’s career started at Camberwell College of Art, where she studied the History of Art and Design, specialising in costume during her final year. After completing study, Helen became a costume buyer for theatre and opera. She has since become a professional costume designer, with a keen interest in period clothing. Throughout her career, Helen has created authentic costumes for prestigious companies such as the Universal Studios, Disney, BBC, Tiger Aspect and the Young Vic Theatre.