William Bezek – “I always ask myself one question: Would I like to wear this?”
If you’ve been to see Les Liaisons Dangereuses or if you are attending in the near future…one thing you certainly will not overlook is the costume design of William Bezek. His work was described in the recent review from Sandy Staggs as “magnificently opulent with both modern and classical attributes” and Neil Shurley from the Greenville News wrote that Charles Murdock Lucas’ set and William’s costumes “…are striking…and accentuate the sense of pageantry on display.” His design pageantry has been seen all over the country. Originally from San Francisco, his recent work in scenic and costume design includes Taming of the Shrew (International Theatre program, University of Rochester), ¡Ay Carmela! (Spanish Rep, NYC), [Glug], Can you forgive her?, Dead Letter Office (Huntington, West Virginia), I Ca$$ie…or the end of days (English Theater, Berlin Germany), poor little Lulu (Cleveland Public Theatre), The Underpants (Beck Center, Cleveland), Tigers Be Still (Dobama Theater, Cleveland), and Emperor of the Moon (International Theatre program, University of Rochester). Will currently lives in NYC and in upstate New York.
We are grateful to have William designing for us and we caught up with him a week ago to talk about this show and his designs. Here’s that interview.
WHT: Will you please share with us a brief description about how you approach designing for the theatre? Maybe give us a hint of your starting points and process?
William: My training was in fine art (painting and sculpture), so my approach is probably unusual compared with most scenic and costume designers. I am not very interested in traditional sets with an abundance of faux painting or “costume” clothing. I am interested in a visual picture as a whole constructed from elements that are based in reality. I think of color, texture, and line to inform my interpretation of the story being told. My starting point for design includes a first impression of the script, researching other productions to see how they were handled and making a point of NOT repeating that, and most importantly, hearing what the Director envisions for the production.
WHT: Tell us a bit about the changes you made in your design from your initial read to the finished costumes.
William: After reading the script, the first question for the Director was, “Are you going to do a period costume play?” I was delighted with his immediate response of, “Absolutely not!” That gave me freedom to be creative with costuming. The overall theme of contemporary couture clothing became punctuated with small choices that are a nod to 18th century fashion, such as the men’s scarves tied as cravats, knee breeches with a modern suit coat, crinoline skirts and up-do hairstyles for the ladies. I was very pleased in the end with the luxury look to everyone’s clothing…the flowing silk dresses, Valmont’s velvet jacket, a few fur wraps, and all the gloves! Who wears gloves anymore other than Queen Elizabeth?
WHT: Talk to us about your color palette. What made you select these colors for your clothing?
William: I think one of my trademarks in costuming is a color harmony on each individual that helps indicate the character’s personality. I often dress an actor in shades of the same color from head to toe. Madame de Tourvel is always in pink and white, Valmont sports a regal purplish gray, and La Marquise de Merteuil wears luxurious smokey browns.
WHT: How much did the concept meetings re-shape your design?
William: They didn’t reshape it at all.
WHT: What about the individual designers? Did another designer on the team influence your decisions in some way?
William: When I saw Murdock Lucas’ beautiful set it reminded me of a fashion runway, so I think it pushed my clothing a little further in a posh direction. I also thought his gorgeous use of red velvet drapery should not have any competition, so I excluded red from my own palette.
WHT: Can you describe the process involved with designing costumes for a “real” place? Not something from a fantasy world, but a place like the settings in this show where an audience will recognize real life and have some expectations?
William: Regardless of realism or fantasy, I always ask myself one question: “Would I like to wear this?” I think my costumes are always flattering to the actor, that is one of the most important tasks a costume designer must achieve. I think a garment that an audience member could see themselves wearing is a great way to bring people into the “world” of the play.
WHT: How much do you think of the audience when you are designing? What specifically do you think about in that instance?
William: I consider the audience often. There are universal cues in clothing that I think most people understand. For example, in this play the Volanges’ wear clothing reminiscent of the 1950s, an era of sexual repression and clearly defined role models for men and women. Cecile Volanges has just emerged from an education in the convent and I think this nod to the 50’s perfect teen helps inform her character.
WHT: Is there something that Matthew (the director) wanted in the design that you simply couldn’t agree with or deliver?
William: No, I think Matthew and I work very well together and are usually in agreement on everything. He is thankfully always very clear about his goals. I would say that even if there was a request I didn’t agree with, I would still make it happen for the Director. It is ultimately my responsibility to assist the Director in realizing his or her vision.
WHT: Where are you designing next?
William: I am thankful to be working with Matthew again in Los Angeles this summer. I will be designing costumes for The Tempest in Griffith Park.
Catch William’s amazing designs in Les Liaisons Dangereuses, playing now until May 28th at The Warehouse Theatre!