Clothes Make the Bob
Costume designers win awards for the way their costumes look. I’d like to see an award for the way their costumes feel, too. I’d nominate Bob’s designer, Andie Day, for both. And in any argument about the second award – the one about the value of the design to the work of the actor – I’d be passionate.
The putting on of costumes is a critical — sometimes pivotal — part of any actor’s process. This is because the right clothes will change the way an actor feels on the inside just as much as they alter the way he looks on the outside. There is literally a way in which the work of putting on the costume becomes the work of putting on the role.
For me, this happens every night. With Bob, as with almost every other role I’ve done, I find I’ve evolved a very particular ritual around how I dress – both the order of things I put on and the way I put them on. Somehow it helps me gradually distance myself from whatever has dominated Barry’s day to the mindset that needs to rule Bob’s night.
I start with the t-shirt.
True confession: Bob wears a wife beater. I’m not sure what this means or why it needs to be confessed, but we actually had a choice between the more conventional tee and a wife beater. The costumer left it up to me, and I chose the wife beater. I can’t explain it, but then I do not pretend to understand everything about the mind of Bob. But I warm up my body and voice in Bob’s wife beater tee.
When I get back to the dressing room, I remove and fold my pants and put on Bob’s plaid shirt and brown socks. (The image you are now having of a middle-aged man in a dressing room in his shirt, briefs and socks is accurate. Sorry.) Then I sit and begin to prepare Bob’s bad leg – a process that involves using an ace bandage and a very particular arrangement of safety pins to bind a ruler like a splint along my left knee. I put the socks on first because it helps to stick one end of the ruler in my left sock to keep it stable.
With the leg secure, I slip on Bob’s pant and belt and then his shoes. I always put the right shoe on first, because it helps me raise myself enough to slip my now-stiff left leg into the other shoe. Most actors could, by the way, devote an entire blog entry to the importance and the effect of shoes alone. There is often something cathartic about understanding the way a character’s feet connect to the earth.
I put Bob’s watch on my right wrist, something that it is particularly helpful because it is different. In real life, I always wear my watch on my left wrist. Also, I have a pact with myself that whenever in the process I first think about Bob’s glasses I will stop whatever I am doing, take my everyday glasses off and put Bob’s in my shirt pocket. One of my Birdnow nightmares involves accidentally going on stage in the wrong glasses. Another involves going onstage without any glasses at all.
Then I wait.
At five minutes before my entrance, an emissary from the stage manager appears to help me immobilize an arm and put on Bob’s corduroy sportcoat. I’m then left alone to put on Bob’s glasses and focus before going downstairs and making his entrance.
There is something particularly important about these last three things.
Somehow, when my arm is immobilized whatever wants to intrude on my concentration recedes and the monologue feels more accessible to me.
The glasses matter because they literally finish the costume and mark the end of the dressing “ritual.”
When I say “focus,” I mean that I pause at the mirror and deliberately look into my own eyes. This is adapted from the focusing ritual that Kitchen Dog Theater casts always complete just before going on stage – looking into each other eyes until all feel connected. It is not rushed. They take as much time as it takes, and I’m always grateful for the support and reassurance I feel from the other actors around me. It’s like they’re saying, “I’m here and you can trust me. I’ve got your back. Let’s do this.”
It is the one thing left to do once everyone is dressed and ready.
When you’re the only actor in the show, you have to look into your own eyes for those things. I stand and wait and look until my own eyes say, “I’m here and you can trust me. I’ve got your back.”
I am dressed and — thanks in large part to that and to the work of the designer that conceived it all — I am ready.
“Let’s do this.”