2014-2015 Season, New Play Program, The Comparables

Costuming The Comparables: Catching Up with Frances Kenny

The following post was written by Marketing Intern Amelia Peacock. 

L to R: Keiko Green as Iris, Linda Gehringer as Bette, and Cheyenne Casebier as Monica in THE COMPARABLES. Photo by Alabastro Photography.
L to R: Keiko Green as Iris, Linda Gehringer as Bette, and Cheyenne Casebier as Monica in THE COMPARABLES. Photo by Alabastro Photography.

Still dreaming about that cream blazer Bette wore, or Iris’s patent, spikey black heels? We know we are! The Comparables may be over, but the costumes are still fresh in our minds. I checked in with The Comparables costume designer, Frances Kenny, to find out more about her costuming process.

ASP: What is your initial approach to costuming a show?

FK: I always start by reading the script to get my first interpretations for each character. From this script, I knew the play was set in a major city, what I imagined to be New York. I also knew that the women in the show were constantly meeting with major, metropolitan clients and must always be professionally dressed.

I also talked to Braden Abraham [director for The Comparables], to gain his insights and to make sure we were always on the same page. This time I also knew the actors I was working with so I could source pictures off the Internet to use in my research as well. Finally, I made a collage of concept images for each character.

ASP: Where there any new costuming challenges you faced during this process?

FK: The fast-paced nature of this show and the fact that there was no intermission brought some unique challenges. Costumes had to evolve from one look to another without a complete costume change. For example, Bette wears one skirt for three scenes with a different top each time. That minor change totally altered her look without derailing the flow of the play.

Contemporary shows are always the most difficult to costume. When you put an actor in 18th century period costume, they don’t necessarily know what it is supposed to look like. In contemporary shows the actor might wear similar pieces in real life, so you must fit each costume to the actor as well as the character to see what is most appropriate.

ASP: What was your approach to the specific characters in The Comparables

FK: I was so fortunate that I had three gorgeous women to dress! Because this show is contemporary, I shopped 90% of the costume pieces. I combed local stores for hundreds of pieces that I thought fit the look for each character.

I brought these piles of shopped pieces back to each costume fitting and they became mini experiments. Both the actor and I knew instantly what worked and what didn’t the moment they tried something on, but every fitting was a surprise.

We learned quickly that soft pieces did not work for Bette’s character. She needed structured looks to highlight her authority. Most of Monica’s wardrobe came from Ann Taylor, very simple and traditional. With Iris, I wanted a very edgy, Soho vibe. I even considered adding a tattoo to Keiko’s leg, but the stiletto heels and tight-fitting clothes communicated the character perfectly.

ASP: Did you have a favorite character to dress?

FK: I loved dressing them all! It was really fascinating to hear the feedback from Seattle Rep staff and patrons. Everyone identified with different characters and costumes. One woman said, “If I could, I would dress like Monica every day.” I also heard, “I love everything Iris wears,” and “I adore that jacket on Bette!”

For me, the real heroes behind these costumes were my tailors in the Seattle Rep costume shop. You just don’t buy clothes off the rack anymore to wear as-is. The tailors made me and those girls look great onstage!

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