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The Costumes of The Steadfast Soldier: Costume Designer Ana Kuzmanic

Michael S. Eddy • Design InspirationJanuary 2021 • January 6, 2021

The Steadfast Tin Soldier, originally produced by the Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago, IL in 2018, re-mounted in 2019 and streamed in 2020, is a spectacular production with stunning, whimsical costumes designed by Chicago-based Ana Kuzmanić. In addition to designing for Broadway, off-Broadway, regional theater, and opera she is also an associate professor of costume design at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. Her costume designs have been honored with Drama Desk, Helen Hayes, Henry Hewes, and Joseph Jefferson nominations and awards.

What are some elements or particular pieces in your design that supports the storytelling?
I developed the costume design for Steadfast Tin Soldier drawing the inspiration from variety of sources. Given the fact that Hans Christian Andersen was Danish, I began by researching Nordic festive traditions, customs, mythical creatures like gnomes and elves, and even festive food traditions like Danish desert aebleskiver – the texture of which inspired some design details. I also researched antique toys as well as animals to be my reference for the rat head, tail and fingers, deer head and the Evil Goblin contraption.

Early on, Mary expressed that the design should capture the intricacy of a glass ornament and the true joy one might feel when opening an elaborately packaged present. I found myself gravitating to my favorite artists like Gustav Klimt and [Friedensreich] Hundertwasser, and remembering my first visit to Vienna during the holiday season – as a young child. It was magical and I was equally mesmerized by the city that looked like a festive ornament as well as by the visits to the museums like Belvedere.

Above is a look at the costumes of Lookingglass Theatre Company’s production of director Mary Zimmerman’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier.This beloved Chicago holiday tradition is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story about a little tin soldier who never gives up. Kuzmanic notes, “The performers in this piece tell the story through elaborate stage movement. The challenge was keeping the integrity of the design while allowing for expressive movement. I collaborated closely with the actors, for example, with Anthony Irons who played the Evil Goblin so marvelously. This costume was constructed with multiple hoops in the skirt which limited the stride and so made it very challenging for movement. We provided the prototype of this elaborate costume in rehearsals, so Anthony could explore the movement in the costume.” (Photos by Liz Lauren)

Tell us about the collaboration of the creative team and also between you and director Mary Zimmermann for this production.
Theatre is a collaborative discipline. The creative team including the director and all designers meet often during the pre-production process. This is my favorite part, because this is when we dream up the visual concepts for the piece. Steadfast Tin Soldier is a piece with so many intersection points between costumes, props, puppets, scenery and lights, so it was integral to keep constant communication open.

As director, Mary is very interested in all phases of the design development. We usually have many meetings where we discuss the visual strategies for every character. Drawing is an integral part of my creative process; I usually go through dozens and dozens of sketches as I develop the design elements. Through drawing, I look at the character from a variety of angles and examine various design propositions as well as costume silhouettes, including the close-up details for each costume.

Fabric plays an important role, and so after the designs were executed on paper, the process still continues through fabric sampling. Mary has an interest in fabrics and was again involved in this process which gave us great creative pleasure. Patterns from my research of Nordic folk textiles, Venetian glass ornaments as well as Hundertwasser inspired the desired textile properties, but many had to be custom fabricated because we couldn’t find what we wanted in the fabric stores.

What would you mention to another costume designer about your approach to this production?
When working on a new piece of theatre we understand that it will progress further in rehearsals. With a design concept as intricate as this, the production took a long time so there was little room for last minute design decisions. As I developed the costume concepts, in anticipation of new developments within my costume design, I made accommodations in advance, by allowing costume pieces the ability to deconstruct through removal, addition or re-positioning of existing costume pieces.

Is there anything that you would like to mention in regards to the costumes for the Steadfast Tin Soldier?
It made me so happy to work on the Steadfast Tin Soldier. There is a reason why a play is called ‘play’ and so I most enjoy designing for the pieces like this. The Steadfast Tin Soldier especially—for me—embodies why I chose to become a theatre artist. It’s beautiful and hopeful and deep, while fully embracing the spectacle of theatre.

Could you tell us who you worked with to realize your design?
As we started the production and fittings phase, Melissa Perkins was a wonderful assistant – as a shop liaison with the makers. Also, Angela Enos came aboard as the shop head. Steadfast Tin Soldier was her first production with the Lookingglass and I am deeply grateful for her dedication and professionalism. Isabelle Coler was fabric sampling assistant for the original production. Rachel Lake, Lookingglass Theatre’s master electrician, was instrumental in figuring out the mechanism of the lights that were to be inserted in the Tin Soldier’s and Ballerina’s costumes.

Steadfast Tin Soldier was first built and produced in November of 2018. So many wonderful artisans worked on the costume production. Kitty Knapp of Seams Unlimited engineered the costume for Evil Goblin as well as the long green coat and tail for the Sewer Rat. Beth Uber built the majority of costume pieces including the Tin Soldier’s red velveteen suit, the jacket and breeches for the Elf, tailored robes for Gnomes and the Deer costume, as well as custom fabric textures that were hand cut and applied to the fabric surface. The studio Craftiga (Caitlin McLeod and Anna Wooden) fabricated the swirly hats worn by Gnomes as well as the papier maché head with elaborate antlers worn by Deer; Blair Thomas and Tom Lee created the sculpted head for the Sewer Rat. For the second production the late Travis Halsey of Halsey on Stage produced the costume for Ballerina. Elizabeth Flauto built the tall lacquered hat for Tin Soldier. This was a triumph of engineering because this hat had to withstand rolling, tumbling, jumping and plethora of other extreme movement.

Most of our fabrics came from New York City. Unfortunately, some fabric stores like Rosen and Chaddick have closed since then and some, like New York Elegant, have relocated to smaller spaces. It is very sad that these iconic resources that are so integral to our business are disappearing.   

You can see more of costume designer Ana Kuzmanic’s beautiful work at www.anakuzmanic.com

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