Judge John Hodgman Episode 373: Much Ado About Clothing

Monte Belmonte

Jason brings the case against his friend, Francisco. They run a community Shakespeare theatre group together. Jason would like to try doing more contemporary and experimental Shakespeare adaptations, but Francisco is opposed. With Summertime Funtime Bailiff Monte Belmonte!


Affidavit from Marie, costume designer on 2018’s Henry the Fourth, a "Generic Old Timey Shakespeare Land" production:

This past February I was a Co-Costume Designer for Francisco's production of Henry the IV Pt. 1. During that time, it became clear to me that the practice of doing non-descript/non-specific period dress for every production, semi-affectionately referred to as "old timey Francisco land", was wearing on the designers as well as Madison Shakespeare Company. While there are a number of reasons that this has caused some very stressful situations, the larger share of stress and discomfort has been caused by these core elements.

- A fundamental misunderstanding of the resources available to costume designers and coordinators for period dress. When discussing initial designs and resources, it was mentioned that there were a number of resources available to us to find the necessary garments, via costume shops and other companies in the area. This turned out to not be the case and most of the items that ended up in the show were either hand made by us or bought. Very few, in comparison, were borrowed.

- Underestimation of the time needed to complete designs, garments and garment acquisition for non-descript period clothing. Costumes often become an afterthought until about 3-4 weeks prior to opening night. By then, many options are no longer available to us and the cost, workload, and stress begin to pile up. Typical build/acquisition timelines run at least 6 weeks or more.

- Cost is borderline prohibitive. Period costumes cost a lot of money... especially when there is a very short build/acquisition timeline.

- Consistent unclear communication regarding the desired historical period style and general mood of the clothing. When you are not specific about the time period for the production, it is 10x harder to find the necessary garments. Please do not leave us hanging out in a non-specific mood that gives us no real information about what you are looking for. We want to make you happy, please just tell us what you want.

- Unwillingness to consider other, more awesome, modern/post-modern dress design concepts. I would be SO willing to do a modern, post-apocalyptic or even a futuristic design concept, were we not stuck in "Old-Timey Francisco Land”!

- Inevitable use of heavy, synthetic fabrics and the subsequent discomfort of the actors who must wear them. I realize none of us really care how the actor's feel, still . . . It's worth noting. Less time for design means crappier fabric and garment choices.

Affidavit from Bridget, costume designer on 2018’s Henry the Fourth, a "Generic Old Timey Shakespeare Land" Production:

I love me some old-timey Authentic Period Shakespeare as much as the next gal, but one should consider limiting the annual number of productions involving houppelandes, hozen, and paned slops when time, funding, and costume resources are all limited. Do you know anyone who has a spare set of full plate armor that they can loan out for free for a month or so? Have any friends who collect replica medieval turnshoes in a wide range of sizes? Are your sewing skills so mad that you can crank out a corset or ruff collar in a couple of days and still have time to sleep?

Do you enjoy making costumers weep hysterical, hopeless tears into half-cut bolts of upholstery fabric at 2 a.m.?

No? You don't? Then think about a nice contemporary-themed show with stage blacks and some spiffy props and makeup.

Willy Shakes would understand. He was a broke actor, too.


Thank you to Chris Ubben for suggesting this week's case! To suggest a title for a future episode, like Judge John Hodgman on Facebook. We regularly put out a call for submissions.