Pictured: Andy Perkins as Chauncy in Spinning Tree Theatre’s THE NANCE. Photo by J. Robert Schraeder.
By Costume Designer Shannon Smith-Regnier
As with any show, my journey begins by reading the script. THE NANCE is powerful, funny, and relevant, with its powerful look at how society treats individuals that it doesn’t deem “normal.”
For me, this show has to be approached almost like two separate shows. The burlesque scenes are one, and the story of Chauncey, Ned and the burlesque troupe are another. For each character, we knew we wanted to do a common color story throughout, so Joan is purples and pinks, Sylvie is blues, and Carmen is red and black.
As artists, we work to portray characters in a way that is true to them, so the thing that intrigued me most about this script was that even though we are still trying to portray another person’s style and persona, our personal styles and preferences still come out on stage. The same thing can be said about how Chauncey is a gay man playing a stereotypical gay character on stage. He’s playing the person the audience expects to see, but he’s still putting his true self out on stage. What we portray through our art is still a piece of ourselves, and how they handle Chauncey’s rejection by society is quite brilliant.
Andy Perkins (Chauncy) has created such wonderful acting moments with his onstage changes to make them part of what is going on with his character. One specific moment is towards the end when he is hurt and frustrated with being punished for playing the Nance, so he refuses to put on his jacket for the show during a transition. To me, his Nance jacket symbolizes his identity and how he has played a part onstage in order to be accepted, and at that moment his choice to not wear the jacket is a powerful statement.
There is an artistic side to costume design, but in a lot of ways I consider myself more of a “costume engineer” or a “costume maestro.” There are so many moving parts within the design of any show, especially one of this scope and size. Overdressing, quick rigging, and finding pieces that are neutral but can transform into other looks just by adding a few accessories, all factor into the design. THE NANCE provides a very interesting challenge in that part of the charm of the piece is how it shifts from stage to “real life” so seamlessly. This means changes need to be staged in such a way that versatile pieces could be used throughout the show to help create each unique character. Chauncey, in particular, hardly leaves the stage, so his changes need to be quick, and often happen on stage. I give a lot of credit to the actors and crew. You may not see it, but backstage they are hustling to get in and out of costumes and have done so beautifully. A good crew is worth its weight in gold, and we have such a wonderful one backstage.
Burlesque is always fun to research. As a costume designer, I love seeing flashy rhinestone costumes up on stage…but it’s a rare treat that I get to design these types of pieces. The history of burlesque, how it transformed throughout the years, and the costume research was such an inspiration in the design for THE NACE. This show is so large in scope that in order to accomplish many modern pieces, such as bras, needed to be transformed to look like period burlesque costumes. There were many late rhinestone nights, and my two young daughters loved seeing the glitzy costumes up on our kitchen counters. At one point my oldest kept trying to put one of the bras on her head because it looked like frog eyes…it will be a very funny story to tell her when she’s older.
I have discovered I really enjoyed designing and building the burlesque parts of the show, and paying tribute to so many wonderful iconic burlesque performances such as the half-bride-half-groom but doing it in a new and innovative way. This will truly be a design I remember for many years to come, and I’m so honored I get to be a part of the storytelling.
Shannon Smith-Regnier is a Kansas City-based Costume Designer. She is currently teaching costume design at Avila University. She received her MFA in Costume Design from Ohio University as well as her BFA from Wichita State University. She Interned with Martin Pakledinaz on the Broadway revival of Anything Goes (2011, NYC). Some KC design credits include: Spinning Tree Theater, Theatre in the Park, Kansas City Regional Theatre, KCAT, Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre, Quality Hill, and the American Heartland Theater. She has also guest designed at Kansas University and Wichita State University, and designed, worked in the shop and on wardrobe for many years with Music Theater of Wichita. In 2011, she received the
Zelma Weisfeld award from USITT for her costume designs. (www.shannonlynnsmith.com)