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Man of La Mancha

Costume Design Concept


Captured and imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, Miguel de Cervantes embarks on a journey into hell.  Awaiting the Inquisition's summons, he submits to a mock trial staged by his fellow prisoners, and the price for the predetermined guilty verdict will be his life’s work - the original manuscript of the masterpiece Don Quixote. 


In a desperate attempt to save his manuscript from burning, he must justify the life of Don Quixote, the “madman” portrayed in the book.  So, he submits to trial with an added ruse: he begs to dramatize the book as his defense and asks the prisoners to take on roles.  As the prisoners have nothing to hope for, hope becomes their only salvation.  They enter the world of Cervantes’ imagination, playing parts in the quixotic drama. The experience is transformative, epitomizing the finale's noble truth - “God help us, we are both (all) men of La Mancha."


The play, like the book, progresses through a series of episodes wherein Quixote sees life, "not as it is, but as it should be" - noble, ethical, and pure.  The action teeters forward in the tension between reality and fantasy, and as the plot advances, all are drawn into Quixote's imagination as they invest in the drama. Quixote's challenge to the prisoners, and to us, is to live authentically within the reality of despair with impossible hope.


The color story of the costumes mirrors the play.  It begins with Cervantes reality, then shifts to Quixote’s perspective, then shifts back to Cervantes’s perspective. First to appear are the Inquisition Captain and his guards in grays, steely blues, and blacks.  The prisoners are in dingy dark greens, plums, burnt oranges and browns. The first bits of bright color arrive with Cervantes, and as Quixote’s world becomes more immersive, the tones become more vibrantly saturated.  In the finale scene, the palette turns back to blacks and gray, as The Knight of the Mirrors defeats Quixote.


A practical matter suggested by the script is that all physical elements of the story (things like props, costumes, and small set pieces) must come from Cervantes' trunk.  Initially, costumes for Quixote’s reality are produced from the trunk.  But what begins as a visual supposition, gains traction, and eventually manifests its own energy. The costumes progress from simple overlays to fully realized costumes. By the time the final characters are introduced, the story is telling itself, and fantasy becomes reality.  

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