Keep 'em in stitches: Costumes are tailored to a 'T' for 'Twelfth Night' for Pittsburgh Public Theater
March 2, 2017 12:00 AM
Actor Mitchell Jarvis, center, plays Feste in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown. From left to right around him are ensemble members Andrew Miller on guitar, Chad Bender on piano, and Don DiGiulio on triangle.
Costumes for Feste, a character in Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.
Mitch Jarvis, who performed the role of Feste in Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," during a fitting with designer Gabriel Berry, left, at the O'Reilly Theater.
Clockwise from top: actor John Ahlin as Sir Toby Belch, Daniel Krell as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Mitchell Jarvis as Feste, and ensemble member Tony Bingham on stage in the Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" at the O'Reilly Theater, Downtown.
By Sharon Eberson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In a corner of a room crowded with clothes and accessories is a small clearing with full-length mirrors. Nestled into the space, awaiting the arrival of actor Mitchell Jarvis, is a rack containing shirts, a blue-and-white plaid suit that practically screamed and a more subtle one with large black polka dots on dark gray.
“I like this one, but I think I would put sequins in here,” says Gabriel Berry, pulling the darker suit from the rack and pointing to the dots.
Ms. Berry, costume designer for Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night,” has just breezed in from New York to check on the wardrobe progress and fittings at the costume shop on the fourth floor of the O’Reilly Theater.
The craftsmanship of clothing at the Public is “always part of the draw,” notes actor Michael Bursasco, who starred in “Private Lives” for the company in 2012.
“With this play, to know the tailoring is so precise, because the language is so precise, what we’re doing is so precise, when you are in clothes that slip on and hug you perfectly, it makes a huge, huge difference.”
Noel Coward’s “Private Lives” had a cast of four, while there are 10 in “Twelfth Night,” which includes the aftermath of a shipwreck.
Valerie Webster, the shop’s manager, has worked with Ms. Berry on several Shakespeare plays, including lavish Public productions of “As You Like It,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Othello.”
Mitch Jarvis, who starred as Feste in Pittsburgh Public Theater's production of William Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," during a fitting with designer Gabriel Berry, left. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)
For “Twelfth Night,” Ted Pappas, the Public’s producing artistic director, has chosen the time period of the early 1900s. While the action takes place in the Bard’s fantasy land of Illyria, Mr. Pappas wanted an upstairs-downstairs, “Downton Abbey” atmosphere of connection between the haves and their servants.
Mr. Jarvis, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate, had been leading the musical “Rock of Ages” in Las Vegas through an extended run and arrived in Pittsburgh in January — minus a coat. Luckily, the packed costume shop had plenty to spare, including one that fit the bill for a 21st-century winter.
In “Twelfth Night,” he portrays Feste, the singing, dancing, wise-cracking fool of Lady Olivia’s courtly household. While Olivia is grieving the loss of her brother and dressed all in black, Feste is under no such sartorial constraints.
Mr. Jarvis, sporting hair that still suggested “Rock of Ages,” arrives not long after Ms. Berry in the crowded shop and immediately tries on the plaid suit, which was then pinned for a tailored fit. After rummaging through a box of colorful bow ties, Ms. Berry instead opts for a purple-print one to try with it.
The hats are next — first a matte black top hat, then a shiny one adorned with a flower, then a small straw hat that sits clownishly atop his head.
The looks are not derived from sketches. Instead, Ms. Berry provided the Public’s team with a binder of era-appropriate images to inspire the wardrobe for each character. The outcome may be a used costume, altered to fit a new character and actor; something store-bought or borrowed from another company; something made from scratch; or something representing some or all of the above.
Mere weeks before Jan. 26, the first night of previews for “Twelfth Night,” Ms. Webster and her team — Venise St. Pierre, Christyanne Trvobich, Candy Callery, Deb Termini and intern Mohan Yeh — gather for actors to come in for fittings. Sherry Deberson also is on the scene, to check for wigs and makeup. For “Twelfth Night,” they are surrounded mostly by subtle shades with the occasional splash of color peeking from the racks.
“This is not a gaudy universe,” Ms. Berry says, “but Feste’s the clown, so he’s the loudest.”
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.