As a fan of period pieces and costume history, I naturally jump at the chance to play roles in shows that require historically inspired costumes. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is no exception. Set in Oklahoma territory in 1906, it has given me the chance to break out the turn-of-the-century Americana wear, and experience “how the west was worn.”
I was fortunate enough to have been cast as the comic role of Ado Annie, an iconic role I can now check off my bucket list. For those of you not familiar with the show, Ado Annie is a carefree girl who is especially friendly with the men in the territory. The once flat and scrawny girl has “rounded up,” and her newfound assets have gained her more than a bit of attention from the boys, attention she does not seem to mind one bit. Her marquee song, “Cain’t Say No,” really illustrates the love triangle her dalliances created, and how she struggles with choosing just one suitor. It is a struggle she unabashedly perpetuates when she admits how she prefers whichever one she is with at the moment.
Getting back to the costumes, I was presented with some physical challenges specifically related to period costume and the, how shall we put it, assets needed to embody the character. The first challenge was relaying the character’s promiscuity when the traditional clothes of the time were anything but. Credit goes to the costume designer, Lori Stepp, for finding a dress that takes the style of the period while appropriately representing Ado’s character. Our first costume fitting was especially interesting, as her modifications to a modest country dress did not leave quite enough to the imagination, even for Ado’s liberal qualities.
Once the costume was ready, it was time to apply the finishing touches to complete the portrayal. Now do not get me wrong, I am happy with my figure, but it was important to REALLY emphasize prominent features to drive the point of Ado’s attractiveness home. I first learned a few cleavage-centric theatrical makeup techniques from former castmate Travis Roof, when playing another well-known coquette in Town Theatre’s Grease. For Oklahoma!, I had the help of my fellow cast members, Katie Faris Loeper and David Johnson, to help use these bosom- boosting effects again in order to make sure the harsh stage lights did not prohibit the girls from reaching the heavens from the audience’s perspective.
The historical undergarments have created both challenges and fun for all the girls backstage. A big challenge has been staying cool under the stage lights when wearing layers upon layers of clothing. I feel like I can only begin to fathom what it must have been like in Oklahoma in 1906 when society actually REQUIRED women to wear layers of underwear and corsets, all while raising families and working on the farm. Second challenge: smelly cast mates? On the other hand, some of our undergarment mishaps and funny stories inspired us to create what we call an, “Undercover Wall” where female members of the cast post inside jokes, quotes, or stories onto post it notes on the wall for all to read. The wall has become a unique cast bonding activity that makes backstage a special place for the cast of the show.
My love-affair with attire aside, what I enjoy most about playing Ado Annie is that she is a character who is ahead of her time. She is honest to herself and open about her enjoyment in the company of others, especially of the intimate sort. She does not feel the need to hide who she really is to those in her community, and does not apologize for being herself even though others may judge her. I like to think of her as a rebel, who helps pave the way for other women. In a world where courtship was about impressing the father and playing by the strict rules of society, whether you like it or not, Ado Annie decides to take a flirtatiously modern approach. She makes no excuses and has no regrets, and woe to the men in her life who try to keep her from flaunting her bloomers to anyone who has a mind to look.
~ Sirena Dib
Town Theatre’s production of Oklahoma! will be running this weekend, Thursday October 2 through Sunday October 5, and again the following week, Thursday October 9 through Saturday October 11. Curtain is at 8 PM (except for a 3 PM matinee on Sunday the 5th.) Call 803-799-2510 for tickets, or visit www.towntheatre.com for more info.