Marissa Skudlarek has some costume tips for Halloween procrastinators.
Without quite being able to articulate why, I’ve always thought there was something a little odd about dressing up for Halloween as a character from a play. Maybe it’s because I feel like the people who are most likely to do that are actors themselves, and as such, dressing up as a theatrical character represents a weird blurring of their personal and professional lives. Like, rather than playing this role in a staged production, they’ve decided to play it for Halloween.
Maybe, too, it’s because there are fewer iconic theater costumes than film costumes. Because theater encourages multiple interpretations of classic plays, the iconography associated with what classic characters wear is more diffuse. There’ve been productions of Antigone where she wears a chiton and productions where she wears jeans.
Nevertheless, Halloween is approaching and for anyone who’s still deciding on a costume, I thought I’d offer some suggestions for Ridiculously Easy, Theatrically Inspired Halloween Costumes.
Hamlet. Hamlet may be one of the most challenging roles in theater, but it is seriously the world’s easiest Halloween costume. Here’s how you dress up as Hamlet:
- Wear a long-sleeved black shirt and black pants.
- Go to a store that sells Halloween decorations and buy a plastic skull.
- Carry the skull around and look melancholy.
Is that not the easiest thing in the world? (And if you’re worried about choosing a costume that requires you to look glum and melancholy, remember that Hamlet also “puts an antic disposition on,” which sounds like a good excuse if you want to go crazy on the dance floor.) I will also point out that Hamlet is a unisex costume – women have been playing Hamlet for hundreds of years. And, if you’re used to thinking of Hamlet as a slim fellow and you’re worried you may not have the physique to dress as him, check out this article arguing that Shakespeare may have intended an overweight Hamlet.
Julius Caesar & Soothsayer. You know what’s a ridiculously easy costume? A bedsheet toga. You know how you can jazz up your bedsheet toga so that it doesn’t look like such a lazy cliché? Get a Halloween blood-makeup kit and paint stab wounds on your arms and torso, and you’re Julius Caesar! If you can, go with a friend who accessorizes his/her toga with fortuneteller-style scarves and jewelry, to portray the Soothsayer. This is my idea of a cute couples’ costume, and I’m not sure I want to know what that says about me.
Stanley Kowalski / Maggie the Cat. If you want a sexy costume this Halloween, no characters from 20th-century theater are hotter than these two. For Stanley: wear Levis and a torn, sweaty undershirt, and stand in the rain yelling “STELLA!” For Maggie: wear a white ‘50s slip (available at any vintage store); carry a tumbler of whiskey; pose in doorways.
The hitch: These costumes are so simple that they really only work if you’re as hot as the young Marlon Brando or Elizabeth Taylor.
The Lady of the Camellias. Maybe this is cheating, because this character originated in a novel, not a play. But I think the play, sometimes known in the English-speaking world as Camille, has become more famous than the novel, so I’m including it. And lest you say “But in order to be Camille, don’t I have to find a hoop skirt and a corset and do my hair in corkscrew curls? That’s not easy!” I will point out that the French title of the play translates as The Lady with the Camellias. That’s all you need. A lady, and (silk) camellias. (And probably some other clothing too; I don’t want these suggestions to get anyone arrested for public indecency.) Traditional productions of Camille and the opera that’s based on it, La Traviata, do require hoop skirts and corsets, but there’ve been modern productions with updated costumes – in the Metropolitan Opera’s current production, the heroine wears a red cocktail dress with a white camellia tucked at her bosom. If you’ve got a sexy red dress in your own closet, go to the craft store, get some faux camellias, put them in your hair or your cleavage, and voila.
This can be a unisex costume, too! Charles Ludlam, founder of the “Theater of the Ridiculous,” became famous for playing Camille in a low-cut dress that revealed his hairy chest.
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. She won’t be dressing up as a theatrical character this Halloween, but she will be wearing the platinum wig that she originally wore in The Desk Set this summer — does that count? For more: visit marissabidilla.blogspot.com or Twitter @MarissaSkud.