Let me quote for you an excerpt from a conversation between me and my dear friend Cheryl, who I met through Revels but hasn’t been in the Christmas show in a few years, due to an unnatural preoccupation with such things as “raising small children” and “not failing her classes.”
Me: My whole costume fits on one hanger this year.
If there is one thing I have learned from Revels about people in olden times, it is that they wore a lot of clothes. In 2004, my first year, I was utterly flummoxed by the clothes they handed me at dress parade. I mean, I didn’t even know what order they were supposed to go on. It turned out to be a white shift thing, like a slip, with a long lavender robe over it, then a white aprony thing over that.
I was a medieval cook’s assistant that year, but aprons have been a common theme; last year, for 19th century England, I wore an apron over my dress, which I believe came from a store that specializes in clothes for Civil War re-enactors. That was a particularly complicated year for costumes. There’s the dress and apron and a petticoat, which is three hangers right there. Then the second part of the show started outdoors, so at intermission, everyone had to put on outerwear – I had a cloak and a bonnet and gloves. In 2005, when we reveled Scandinavian-style, I wore a petticoat, an absolutely massive black skirt, a blouse, and a bodice. I wasn’t in the 2009 Italian Renaissance show, but it involved a lot of tying laces.
This year my costume is exactly one piece. It’s pretty, it’s as comfortable as a nightgown, and it goes on in about 15 seconds. The massive strip of snaps up the back is a hassle, but it’s a hassle for the wardrobe volunteers, not for me. I’ve never had such an easy time getting dressed.
Wearing a costume helps me inhabit the show. I feel like a different person. It’s not acting. I have no idea how to act. I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag. When I’m standing on stage having a conversation with the person next to me, and it looks like I’m acting, I’m actually just talking to the person next to me. I’m told that standing around on stage looking like myself works for Revels, so I keep doing it.
But the way the fabric feels and moves and takes up space helps me be a version of myself in 19th century Quebec, or Elizabethan England, or whatever. If I don’t stand tall in this year’s costume, it looks and feels weird. The big swirly skirt I wore in the Scandinavian show connected me with some old-fashioned sense of womanliness that contributed to how I walked and moved, and it was perfect for dancing a schottische.
In this modern life, my body is probably very little like that of my characters in all these different shows. I never milk cows or carry buckets of water and I sit hunched over a computer all day. But at least the clothes push my look – and feel – in the right direction.