By: Curious Theatre Company On: February 04, 2016 In: Curious & Curiouser Blog Comments: 0

Sex with Strangers 5

Sex With Strangers Costume Designer, Kevin Brainerd, says “the costumes should not overshadow the actors’ performances. If the audience is unaware of my design, then it is successful.” Indeed, in Sex With Strangers, the costumes only get in the way of the characters’ desires. We talked to Brainerd about what it was like to design for a show where his work would end up on the floor in most scenes.

As is the case with plays, audience members depend on proper costuming to accept the world that they are watching. If that world is not believable or consistent, the viewer won’t connect with it. Each costume choice for Sex With Strangers gives the audience subconscious clues about the characters. The function of those clues are essential to the perceived realness of the production.

Brainerd waited until actors Paige Price and Michael Kingsbaker were hired before purchasing costumes. He wanted to customize his design to their skin tones, hair colors and character choices. He wanted them to be able to fully embody the brilliant writer in a rut (Olivia), and ambitious writer with a chip on his shoulder (Ethan). “Sometimes in shows” Brainerd says, “costumes need to be ‘costumes’, and sometimes they need to be ‘clothes.’ In Sex With Strangers, Ethan and Olivia need to have ‘clothes’ which reflect their personalities, ages, and situations in life, all within the context of the action of the play.” For this, Brainerd turned to the script. What did playwright Laura Eason tell us about the characters? Who are these people and what are their lives like? And, perhaps most importantly, how have the characters changed.
We see the growth of both characters reflected in their dialogue, but Brainerd also infused these changes into their clothing. He says, “Ethan embodies the modern. He is young, bold, cocky, gritty, and a little edgy, so his clothes show younger, more casual fashion choices. Olivia, on the other hand, is more mature, secure, and comfortable in her life. Her clothes reflect her more classic, yet stylish fashions.” Of course, our characters spend a great deal of time taking their carefully chosen costumes off, but even that action had an impact on Brainerd’s choices: button flys and skinny jeans were just not going to cut it for this production. While wardrobe was painstakingly and specifically chosen, the essential function of the costumes in this show is to come off. The apparel became a terrific plaything for the actors: How was Olivia going to take off her shirt? Would Ethan help her out of her skirt, or would she do it herself? Who would initiate clothes coming off and what does that imply about who has control in that scene? The costume elements, therefore, became a unique story-telling element, allowing actors Paige Price and Michael Kingsbaker and director

Christy Montour-Larson to make intentional choices in order to communicate the state of Ethan and Olivia’s relationship.

When Ethan walks in on Olivia’s snowy retreat, she immediately judges him based on his sharp, stylish jeans, impractical but chic outerwear, and fast-talking urban accent. Similarly, he judges her based on her comfy pajamas and over-sized sweater. These costume choices set the tone for how these two interact at the top of the show. It soon becomes clear to both of them, though, that there was more to the other than their outfits. In order to get to know the stranger in the room, they would both have to talk each other out of their clothes.

Sex With Strangers is a play about what happens when our clothes are off and we are left with the naked honesty of our bodies. The costume choices made by designer Kevin Brainerd not only dictated how clothing was taken off, but it perfectly matched the people underneath. Join as at Curious for another weekend of costumes on (and off) the actors.