Writing Residency Day 7:
What have Transylvania and the Pyrenees got in common?
It’s easy to find an answer, but can you find my answer? Admit it, you’re struggling, aren’t you?
The answer is Dracula: vampires (hence this post title), although unfortunately not of the Robert Pattinson variety.
Of course, Dracula is no more indigenous to the Pyrenees than marmots and granite, but this summer, from 25th July to 6th August, you will find the Prince of Shadows at Gavarnie.
The theatre company Fébus have been producing outdoor plays with the Gavarnie cirque as a backdrop for 10 years, including Le Cid and Beauty & the Beast.
This year, they’re preparing their own version of Bram Stoker’s novel with their 12 actors, and I was lucky enough to be party to one of their preparation meetings. This involved the costumes, which Véronique Strub has been in charge of for the last 5 years.
If you’ve followed my writing residency posts, you’ll know that Véronique and her assistant Caroline are on a residency here at the Maison des Arts with me. This means that instead of writing in my room in the company of my mountain, I can be distracted and learn all about costume making instead. For a future story, of course. Everything counts as work when you’re a writer.
I was astonished by the rail of clothes already installed, particularly by the flowery frock. I expressed my surprise to Caroline.
“That’s Dracula’s summer dress,” she said.
And I knew we would get on well together. (I was later told that the dresses had just been stocked there in transit for some sale).
Today’s meeting was with Fébus production & admin boss, Anne-Lise. On the table were the sketches Véronique and Caroline had produced so far, and they proceeded to explain their ideas to Anne-Lise.
Caroline has costume-making qualifications, and told me, as she modified her sketches in line with the discussion, that drawing was an important part of her course.
Véronique has done a huge amount of research, including collecting Balkan costumes on Pinterest and visiting the scene of the play so she knows how close the audience will be. This is vital for dimension decisions.
She has, of course, read Bram Stoker’s novel, concentrating on descriptions of the characters and their clothing. She even pulled out a Dracula picture book at one point during the meeting.
I was surprised to see to what extent the costumes were designed according to the physical build and the personalities of the actors. One character is new, added by scriptwriter and director Bruno Spiesser, and it was obvious that this made it more difficult to create a costume for her.
Bruno’s script was to hand, as was a summary of each act, showing who was on stage for each scene. As I listened, I realised that not only the physique but also the physical actions of each actor must be taken into consideration for the design.
For example, the vampires, who have to crawl on the ground at one point, have knee protections incorporated in their leggings. And the material covering their arms must be solid enough to take the weight of the wing supports.
Even the colour of Dracula’s climbing rope posed a problem, as its fluorescent colours didn’t match the décor.
Other parameters to be taken into account include the lighting, since a spotlight on a distinctive part of a costume can help the audience understand what’s happening.
Most surprising of all – yet completely logical, having heard the discussion – was how the style of costume has to correspond to the style of any music the actors play.
All in all, I realised how important it is for the costume makers to be involved with all parts of a play, from music to décor to the stage movements. With a fabric budget of 3000€ and three experienced costume makers working from now until 25th July, the visual side of the show, at least, looks promising.
If you fancy seeing the show, contact www.festival-gavarnie.com. There’s even a shuttle bus from Pau laid on for those who reserve in advance.
It was all very well sitting indoors with sewing machines and mannequins, but outside it was 30°C and the air smelt of newly-cut hay. I left the seamstresses and went to walk and think of writerly things in the shade of the forest above the little village of Sireix.
Since Eole and his sheep weren’t around, I took the opportunity to admire some beautiful trees, some curious insects, an interesting man-made feature – and some rare flowers, thanks to a botanical group I bumped into.
See you tomorrow for the final day of my writing residency.