Speaking with Costume Designer Wade Laboissonniere and Costume Manager Emme Hall

Today I had the chance to speak with not only the Costume Manager for 1776, Emme Hall, but also the show’s Costume Designer, Wade Laboissonniere. I went to rehearsal planning on only speaking with Hall, so I was thrilled when I got to pick the brains of not one but two creative geniuses.

The first question I asked Laboissonniere and Hall was where the initial research began for a show like 1776. Laboissonniere explained that since there is such a plethora of research available for many of the historical characters in 1776, it makes his job much easier. Laboissonniere takes web, museum and print resources and then develops a variety of sketches for characters. Fabric colors for assorted costumes are then chosen based on character’s personalities as well as each actor’s physical size and stature.

Most of the male characters in 1776 wear one main color, which will help audience members distinguish individuals in a cast of 28. For example, Gregory Maheu, who plays the youngest signer of the Declaration, Edward Rutledge, will wear a vibrant shade of green for his top coat since the wealthy South Carolina senator was likely flashier than the older members of the Continental Congress. Laboissonniere explained that Rutledge was one of his favorite characters to dress because the fabric and detailing on his costume is especially beautiful. Many of the gentlemen’s topcoats contain more than thirty buttons! Audience members should be able to distinguish the different social classes between characters through small details such as shinier shoe buckles and extra trim on top coats.

Hall said that she loved dressing the women of  1776, because dresses from this historical time period flatter the female figure and truly billow in a stunning way when the actress’s move in them. In my opinion, the costumes in the show are like living works of art. I really wanted to try on a corset and dress, and wear it for the rest of the day!

Laboissonniere and Hall collaborated on most of the costume work in 1776, from initial research and design, to ultimately having actors rehearse in the clothes. They both stressed the importance of actors being able to move comfortably throughout the production. Fabrics consist of very light materials but still look rich in design. To demonstrate, Laboissonniere showed me an example of riding pants and a top coat from a production of 1776 produced in the 1990’s, and it weighed more than twice the amount of a costume from this production.

Wigs are another vital aspect to proper character representation in 1776. Wigs range from ostentatious to natural looking, and audiences are meant to know that some character’s wigs are in fact hairpieces. All of the characters in 1776 are wigged because historically wigs were a sign of affluence and were extremely popular, especially for men.

As a girl who is pretty fashion obsessed, getting to peer at the different clothes for this show was truly a dream for me. I cannot wait until I see how the actors bring these costumes to life!

Don’t forget to check out my next blog, when I will hopefully get to post some actual rehearsal videos! Visit my blog for more information.