Costume designer and APDG member Chloe Greaves was the costume designer and make-up artist for Red Stitch Theatre Company’s production Oil by Ella Hickson in December 2019. Chloe has allowed us to republish her program notes as part of the APDGreen: A Green Conversation.
When I first read Ella Hickson’s ‘Oil’ the theme that I found most resinate was mans blinkered desire to grow, to continue to evolve. Which raises the question for director Ella Caldwell and I, at what point does this growth become greed?
The fashion industry is a microcosm of this. We have a need to wear clothing but the rate at which we are currently consuming garments far outweighs our need.
Jane Millrun’s book ‘Slow Clothing’ exposed that Australians are the second largest consumers of new textiles globally. Individually we buy and average of 27 Kilograms of new textiles each year and then discard about 23 kilograms into landfill. In 2010 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicated that about 500,000 tonnes of leather and textiles are discard annually. And the majority of this new clothing is made from synthetic fibres, which are derived from petroleum…. Oil.
It is challenging to be sustainable in the theatre industry, the nature of what we do is ephemeral. We will build worlds and characters to fill them and dissipate them mere weeks later. But this play sets a provocation, to make us consider how we can change our patterns of behaviour, to break the cycle and think differently.
I wanted to rise to this challenge, so for this production I set my self the goal not to purchase anything new in realising the costume design. The trickiest element would be how to achieve this for budget, in time without compromising the design.
I was at an advantage working for Red Stitch as they already have sustainable practices for costume realisation in the form of a partner-ship with the Red Cross op-shops. Garments can be loaned from certain local stores and then returned at the end of the shows season. But this particular play whilst contemporary in its themes, traverses 16 decades,160 years, in 5 parts starting in 1890.
I started by going through my own collection considering how I could transform items and then using my contacts in the Melbourne theatre community, to loan pre exisiting garments. Big thanks to Delia Spicer, Head of Wardrobe at Malthouse Theatre, who is a huge supporter of the Melbourne theatre scene.
What I couldn’t find as pre existing garments, I foraged from secondhand shops, op-shops and vintage stores in Melbourne. I sourced a variety of textiles to transform. Old woven blankets have become Victorian peasant skirts, a curtain into a bodice, a fur throw pillow has become Ma Singer’s hat, white linen tablecloths have become Edwardian aprons, and bed sheets, a beautifully wide fabric, have became petticoats.
It was exciting to look at the items in the op-shops in a new way. To see them for a potential beyond what I may have considered before. It is of course important for us to consider the full life cycle of the garments that have been bought or made specifically for this production. They will go into the Red Stitch costume stock, a resource available for future productions and for the Melbourne theatre community.
As a costume designer my favourite part of the process is the moment the actor puts on their costume and it completes the transformation into their character. In realising the costumes for Oil it has also been highly satisfying to take discarded garments and transform them, giving them a new life.
Oil – Photos by John Lloyd Fillingham