The behind-scenes-blog of Bare Theatre and its affiliates.

Much Ado About Steampunk

Steampunk has been gaining popularity in America and around the world in recent years.  If you’re unfamiliar with it, the best description I have come up with is that it is a sci-fi alternate history in which steam power is still ubiquitous.  Therefore, it looks like Victorian-era Britain, North Africa or the wild west, but in the world of steampunk you could feasibly run into a robot.  As long as the robot was all gears and pistons.

There’s been a sort of joke among Triangle theatre companies for several years now about costuming a show in steampunk.

Usually this applies to Shakespeare’s plays, which for some reason in the last decade or three have to always be themed in some time period other than Elizabethan.  Inevitably, the question I get asked when I mention I am working on a Shakespeare play is, “When is it set / What genre are you doing it in?”  The first question.  Always.  I hope to answer one day with “The Paleolithic Era.”  I even mentioned (half joking, half serious) to some friends this morning that I would like to do a Kill Bill-style Coriolanus at some point, maybe even with a female in the title role!

Don’t get me wrong – these type of productions can be a lot of fun, and sometimes pretty brilliant.  We’ve done them, too.  Deep Dish in Chapel Hill recently did a really nice modern Othello, complete with Roderigo calling Brabantio on a cell phone in the opening scene to warn the old man of his daughter’s escapades with Othello.   It’s not bad to re-set the scenes in other times and genres, as long as it works.

So, back to Much Ado.  I was thinking about the look of the show and how to costume it.  The Kenneth Branagh film was in my mind a spot-on production in pretty much every way, including the costuming.  However, I have sworn off the movie just so it doesn’t influence the creation of this show.  We’re not trying to remake the movie; we just want to present the play in a different way.

Some friends happen to be enthusiasts of the steampunk genre, and in talking with them about a month ago, the idea of costuming Much Ado in steampunk came up.  My original reaction was that there was no way we could pull it off, because it would just be too expensive and time-consuming.  But the idea had implanted itself in my brain.

It helped when I realized lots of people are already doing this on their own time, dressing up to go to conventions or parties or whatnot.  Like these folks:

What better way to take a different direction from the movie, or any other production, for that matter?  The location of the play is Messina, Italy, but there is really nothing in the script that ties the events to that region or any particular time.  Messina is mentioned casually, but it is not as integral as say Denmark to Hamlet or Scotland to Macbeth.  Also, a modern American audience is not really likely to have strong impressions of what Messina looks like or how the play should be represented.

The more I thought about it, the more I couldn’t see anything else, and that’s when you know you’re in trouble as a director.  So how to do it with little to no budget?  It occurred to me I would need a lot of help.  I realized that it would be cruel to bring on a costume designer and make him/her create costumes for the entire cast, not to mention we couldn’t afford it.  So I started asking around.

My steampunk enthusiast friends already had a few pieces that we could borrow.  They also had ideas on how to find or create on the cheap.  I kept asking questions and roping more people in.  The great thing is that many people look at creating steampunk costumes and looks as a fun thing to do, so it’s been pretty easy to get people to help out, even if only a little bit!

I decided to try to assemble an army rather than overload a costumer.  By asking everyone I know, I could get many people to do just a little bit, and eventually we would have our wardrobe.  So far, the response has been kind of overwhelming, so I have hope.  If we start now, we might actually get this thing costumed when it goes up at the end of October!

Stay tuned for more details…and if you or someone you know would like to help us go steampunk, please contact me!





One response

  1. We are producing Much Ado About Nothing at Nebraska Shakespeare for our fall tour, 2012. (
    We have set the play just after the American Civil War, 1865. And steampunk.
    The soldiers coming home from the war are Northern (Pedro, Benedick, Claudio) Don John is the defeated confederate, complete with eye-patch and sling. The clowns (Dogberry, Verges) are farthest along the scale; they carry a steampowered bellows and electricity wisk.
    -Vincent Carlson-Brown
    Associate Artistic Director

    September 17, 2011 at 10:53 pm

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