Friday, November 30, 2018

Designing Asolo Rep's "The Music Man" with Tobin Ost

Tobin Ost
Tobin Ost grew up with dreams of a future in architecture. But when Tobin approached the lone architect in his hometown with a request to shadow him, he was shown the door. Tobin wandered across the street to a small theater. Would they happen to have use for his eager young mind?

Architecture's loss quickly became theater's gain. By the time Tobin headed off to college, he had already fully designed both theater and opera productions.

In college, Tobin studied art history and theater with a plan to pursue a career in set design. He said he soon realized, "Costume design is just a different form of architecture." And doing both set and costume design for a production made sense to him. "It's the same eyes looking at both," he noted.

Happily for Asolo Rep and its audience, the multi-talented Ost is a member of the creative team for "The Music Man," the theatre's season opener. Ost shared his insights -- and his enthusiasm -- about the design process with theater lovers at a Designer Brunch.

Tobin brought a truly fresh set of eyes to the design process for the show. Somehow, he had never seen either the movie or a theatrical production of "The Music Man."

As Ost and director Jeff Calhoun began going through the script, a vision formed. He recalled the Victorian architecture of his hometown of Adrian, Michigan. While the set design plays with this idea, it's actually fairly minimal. Cleverly, Ost relies on the ornateness of the Mertz Theater itself as part of the design. And the red and gold band uniforms echo the colors of the theater, making the audience an extension of the production.

Both Ost and Calhoun favor letting the costumes play a significant role. "Multiple iterations of the same costume can become a set," Ost explained. This concept came to life with the costumes for the Pick-a-Little ladies. In fact, the team added two women to the original cast to make this group more fulsome. Their silhouettes, aided by some fabulous hats, command the stage.

As always, learning about the costume design process was fascinating. The period in which the play takes place was a transitional one as women's fashions shifted from morning glory cuts to corseting with bustles.

For the Pick-a-Little ladies, Ost used a 1908 Hobble skirt design. The style was inspired by a bit of practicality employed by Edith Berg, the first female American to fly as a passenger in a plane. Before taking to the sky with the Wright Brothers at a demonstration of their aircraft, she tied a rope around the bottom of the skirt so it wouldn't blow up during the flight. When they landed and she hobbled away from the plane with her skirt still securely in place, a French designer at the event took note and replicated the style. Not surprisingly, its popularity was short-lived. But it works for the Pick-a-Little ladies, who don't have to dance in the show. (Ost adopted the more comfortable morning glory style for the female cast members who twirl around the stage.)

And then there are the hats. The blue hat above includes eight different fabrics and was built by a millinery expert who previously worked at the Asolo. The flowers for all the hats were created by a shop in New York that's been in existence for over 100 years. The cabbage roses shown here are exquisite and, absent discounts, would run $70 per bloom.

The costumes worn by the men in the production might be less flashy than the womenswear, but they were no easier to make. For Professor Harold Hill and the other traveling salesmen, Ost chose a Norfolk style jacket. David Covach, Asolo Rep's costume shop manager, brought in a master tailor to hone the skills of his staff to enable them to make the suits.

In total, the production required an astonishing 110 costumes, at least 80 of which were built in-house at the Asolo under Tobin's watchful gaze. The hard work and countless hours that went into creating Ost's designs paid off. As planned, the costumes set the stage for this joyful production.

"The Music Man" runs at Asolo Rep through December 29. Click here for more information. It's a great outing for friends and family this holiday season. A word of warning if you go, though. You might find yourself randomly breaking into a rousing rendition of  "Seventy-Six Trombones" instead of the more seasonal "Jingle Bells."

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