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Costume Designer for Upcoming "Much Ado About Nothing" Production Finds Inspiration in the 1950s

Lydia Mae Graboski-Bauer's Work Featured in Show April 28 to May 2

By Rukhmani Desai (B.F.A. Theatre '10)

Lydia Mae Graboski-Bauer designed the costumes for this April’s mainstage production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Graboski-Bauer, who began doing costume designs for university productions in 2005, completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Wisconsin Stevens Point (UWSP). After graduating from UWSP in 2008, she continued her design studies at SMU. Although she did not design costumes until she was in college, she says that she has always been interested in “clothing, costumes, and style since I was little.” She brought this same passion and enthusiasm for design when she was assigned to work on the costumes for Much Ado About Nothing.

Directed by Associate Professor and Head of Acting Michael Connolly, this production is not a typical period piece. After much discussion, Graboski-Bauer and Connolly decided to set the play in an environment that reflected the lavish and wealthy lifestyles of some of the central characters in the show. Though Graboski-Bauer’s initial research consisted of looking to the excess of the infamous Studio 54 of the 1970s and the couture of the ‘80s, she ultimately decided not to give the play a pinpointed setting.

“As we continued to discuss we decided that we didn’t want the show set in some very specific place or time, because the play is not about a certain place – it’s about the action of the characters, and my costumes needed to help tell that story,” she said. “We really did not want to put another layer on top of Shakespeare’s work. So we landed on what we have today, which is a world that is extremely expensive and lavish inspired by runway couture.”

The design team thought it best to set the play in a contemporary time, incorporating vintage flair of the 1950s and 1960s. Work began last November, when Graboski-Bauer met with Connolly, set designer J.J. Wickham, and lighting designer Joshua Cutler a few times to discuss initial ideas for the project. Following these meetings, she spent her holiday break shopping online, making sketches, and even watching episodes of the popular CW series Gossip Girl to find inspiration for her designs. After returning from break, she began work on her sketches, eventually creating more than 50. She was assisted by SMU senior Lauren Biedenharn. Although many of the costumes consist of elegant suits and dresses, there are also military uniforms in the show, as Don Pedro (Olubajo Sonjabi) and Claudio (Joel Heinrich) are among many soldiers returning from war. The watchmen have their own uniform as well.

When asked about her favorite costumes in the show, Graboski-Bauer spoke about creating Hero’s (Lauren Zbylski’s) wedding dress. “This dress is going to be built in the shop,” she said. “The dress is based after a contemporary Oscar de la Renta runway design, but the design itself is very ‘50s inspired. The lines of the dress are definitely ‘50s, but I’ve chosen a modern fabric for its construction. The dress will be very sweet and lovely.”

Another favorite outfit is the dress Beatrice (Cheryl Lowber) will wear for Hero’s wedding, one that was actually pulled from stock in the costume shop.“It is a beautiful vintage dress, probably from the ‘50s, dark pink with a hand-made lace overlay,” said Graboski-Bauer. “This dress is truly amazing! It was a donation from someone in Dallas and it has never been on stage before. When it was purchased new it would have been very expensive. The dress fit the actress almost perfectly and I think it really reflects the character.”

The show runs April 28 to May 2 in the Greer Garson Theatre at the Meadows School of the Arts. For tickets or more information, click here.

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