2013-04-24 / Features

Queens-Bred Costumer Designs For APAC’s Blood Brothers


Queens-bred costume designer Caitlin Cisek. 
Photos Georgina Young-Ellis Queens-bred costume designer Caitlin Cisek. Photos Georgina Young-Ellis Mad Men meets Downton Abbey,” is how Caitlin Cisek characterizes her vision for the costuming of Astoria Performing Arts Center’s (APAC) spring show, Blood Brothers. A show that explores the themes of friendship, love and class in Britain during the turbulent decades of the 1950s through the 1980s, Blood Brothers (running May 2 through 18) was the longest running musical in London’s West End until it closed last year. Director Tom Wojtunik’s deep love for the story and score, written by Willy Russell, led him to want to bring it to the theater that APAC calls home in Good Shepherd Church on Crescent Street and 30th Road. Yet other influences made him feel the time is right for Blood Brothers to return to New York.

One of Cisek’s costumes reflecting the style of the 1950s. One of Cisek’s costumes reflecting the style of the 1950s. “We’re talking about class in America now the way we weren’t in previous years,” he stated.

Consequently, the obvious choice to design the show’s costumes turned out to be Cisek, with her keen awareness of how clothing reflects the social climate.

“Clothes are an opportunity in this show to not just tell the individual stories, but to talk about the world,” she stressed. “The ‘50s was a Victorian revival: narrow bodice, big skirt, the girdle as opposed to the corset...It was a time when we were being obvious about gender. Then gender roles break down in the ‘60s. We start with definition, and as the world breaks down, the clothing mimics it.”

In the blog post she wrote for APAC’s Web site, she takes the idea further: “Act Two of Blood Brothers finds us in a moment in English history, the 1970s in fact, when unions were striking, when our characters are losing their jobs and living off the dole, so were many Americans. The world changes and so do our closets, our clothes, our sense of self. I’m challenged with these costumes to tell each character’s story and each character is subject to the world around them. Just like each of us.”

And another example of period clothing, this one from the 1970s. And another example of period clothing, this one from the 1970s. To fulfill the challenge, Cisek started her journey at the Theater Development Fund’s costume resource in Kaufman Astoria studios. There, among the racks and racks of costumes donated by films, Broadway plays, and other types of productions, Cisek culled the period pieces that will ultimately transform the actors.

“The prints of each decade can snap a person into a time. They’re iconic in their own way,” she remarked. “I also think that because we’re wearing a lot of vintage, watching Mad Men, we’re into these prints, the atomics of the ‘50s, the florals of the ‘60s, the heavy poly of the ‘70s,” as well as the “wools and greys of England”, all of which, she feels, will evoke nationality and era for both actors and audience.

Cisek started forming her ideas of how our clothing choices are informed by the sociopolitical world around us when she majored in Theater and Anthropology at SUNY Albany, cementing her craft with an MFA at UC Irvine in Costume Design. She originally gets her love of theater from her family, coming from two generations of actors on her father’s side. Both her parents were theater professionals in Australia for some years, then moved to New York just after she was born.

“My first memory of the U.S. was in the theater,” she remarked. In college she felt sure acting was the right direction for her, until she signed on to help sew some costumes for a show, and at that moment everything changed. Now, Cisek is a full-time costume designer, and Blood Brothers will be the first show she’s taken on in Queens, the borough in which she grew up.

She’s even about to make Astoria her new home, and is excited about doing so.

“It [Astoria] has become a great neighborhood for the New York theater community. Lots of theater people live here now,” she commented, adding that APAC is well known among them. “Friends of mine who work here are already looking forward to Blood Brothers because of the community APAC has, and its reputation. Now I get to jump in and have a swim in it.”

Costumes, of course, are just one aspect of what makes a production great, and APAC has assembled its usual high level of designers, cast and crew for this show. As Wojtunik promises, “APAC audiences are in for a real treat.”

To experience Blood Brothers for yourself, reserve tickets at APACNY.org.

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