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‘Friends: A Musical Parody’: Interview with the Costume Designer David Rigler

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Where and how did you source fabrics and pieces for the show?

The entire show was thrifted, so a great deal of time was spent pounding the pavement and searching every vintage shop I could. I live in Philadelphia, so all of that exploring happened there. Philadelphia is rich with theater, fashion, art, music, and performance of every kind, so there is no shortage of resources. I even branched out to vintage and thrift shops in New Jersey and Delaware. As daunting as the task can seem, you have to keep plugging away because you never know where that hidden gem will appear. There are items in the show that I purchased at the first vintage shop I visited before rehearsals even started, and items from the very last one just a day before dress rehearsals. Sometimes you really don’t know what you are looking for until it appears in front of you. It sounds odd, but sometimes it feels like the clothes find you. The top that Monica wears for her date is the perfect example of that. I had several other options for that look that were in a completely different direction, which I was very content with, but then while standing in line to pay for my current haul I thought “let me take just one more pass at the racks,” which led to finding one of the audience’s favorite pieces in the show… which is on stage for 20 seconds.

Because each character has their own distinct sense of style, what I realized early on was that I could not shop for all the characters at the same time. I had to do it in waves. I would have to take laps around each store thinking, “OK, this time I am only looking for Rachel… OK, now I am looking for Phoebe.” And as I mentioned, what I found to be most successful was to grab everything I could that fit a character’s style, regardless of where I thought I may have wanted to go with it, and then explore those options with the actor in the fitting. You know you have the right outfit when the actor asks “Can I send a picture to my mom?”

What was the most challenging part of finding the wardrobe for the show?

There are several things that I found to be particularly challenging about completing the wardrobe for the show. One is that you are not going to find the exact item that one of these characters wore at a vintage shop. From the beginning, it was our goal to shop the entire show and not have custom elements built as a way to stay true to the 90’s period, so, you cannot let your mind get stuck on that level of specificity, which can get frustrating when trying to successfully duplicate the style of an iconic character, especially Rachel. Our Rachel, ironically, actually had the smallest selection of wardrobe to choose from in the fitting. Because so much of what that character wore is burned into our memories, I found myself over-editing. I had to define several days as “Rachel Only” days in order open up to everything that would be in her closet and not “spin my tires” trying to find that one “needle in the haystack.” It is a great relief now to hear audiences leave the theater saying “I loved Rachel’s outfit(s).”

Secondly, most vintage items tend to be in the black, grey, white palette. Since what we are doing is musical comedy, that was a palette that we definitely wanted to avoid at all costs. What happens on stage is so fun and uplifting that the clothes had to be up to that level to make the show work and pull the audience in. While you do want the audience to react with, “I totally owned that outfit in the 90’s,” you also want to subconsciously prepare them emotionally for the crazy humor that they are about to experience.

Also, the cast was way too much fun. Far too often I would get distracted in the middle of shopping and start shopping for the actor and not the character. I literally put items in my cart thinking “wow, Katie (Johantgen) would love this,” but then have to disappointedly put it back and remind myself, “No, you are shopping for Phoebe.”

A lot of people don’t realize certain fabrics, colors, and styles are off limits for the sake of movement on stage and lighting. What do you have to avoid using for a show like this? 

For the most part, we want to use fabrics that can be laundered regularly and often during the course of the run. Between the choreography, physical comedy, quick changes, and heat from the lights, the costumes go through a lot of trauma during the course of the show. It is important that the clothes can be washed and dried quickly on site, especially on two-show days. In some cases, the actors actually have under layers on, or “skins” that absorb some of the perspiration and abrasion allowing them to be maintained more successfully. These types of fabrics — cotton blends, knits, stretch fabrics — also tend to be fabrics that allow the actors to move and dance more successfully.

For a show with this much physical comedy, it is good to stay away from any delicate fabrics. Chiffons, netting fabrics and laces, especially made from silk, would most likely get damaged very quickly. They also present cleaning issues which are impractical for this production.

In cases where we were not able to use those types of fabrics, we had to pay extra attention during the costume fitting. Rachel’s wedding dress is a great example of this. Wedding dresses aren’t typically designed for people to crawl over couches and jump over tables with, so we had to take some extra steps to ensure that Patricia Sabulis (Rachel) could accomplish all of those things.  Not only is the train of the dress bustled in a creative way, but the dress itself [also] has extra stretch panels in it to allow Patricia to successful do her choreography. As far as maintenance goes, our wardrobe head, Nilton Emilo, does a fantastic job of checking on it after every show to make sure it is holding up and looking great.

As far as lighting is concerned, you typically like to avoid true white. That color tends to glow on stage and pull focus. The white garments you see on stage are actually “teched” down slightly to prevent that distracting glow. And for the overall palette of the show, you have to collaborate with the lighting designer and the scenic designer to make sure nothing clashes or gets muddy. Working with color has to be a completely collaborative process.

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