I’ve not long finished working with Arena Theatre Company as the costume designer for their new show, Robot Song. I got lucky getting the job. Arena have just moved up to Bendigo, and they decided to find some local creatives to work on their shows. A friend of mine had not long started working for Arena as their admin coordinator and she put my name forward as a potential costume designer. I had an interview and after a few days I was notified that I got the job! If it wasn’t for all of that I would have missed out on an amazing experience being involved in a show like no other.
I have some pictures (mainly of Juniper’s costume) which I’ve scattered through this post. There will be more in here than just information on those costumes. It might be a bit dull otherwise. Once again I wasn't great at getting photos of the finished pieces. It’s often because I get too shy to ask the actors, even though the cast of Robot Song were so lovely (more on that later!). The first picture up is Juniper’s costume with the pinafore bib only buttoned on one side like it was on stage.
Who is Juniper, you might be asking? She’s one of the on stage characters in the show. I say on stage because Juniper’s mum is only heard via a pre-recording. The other main on stage character is Juniper’s dad. We also get to see characters like Mario, Terrorshoe, BB8, Juniper’s art teacher Ms Cumings (played by Juniper’s dad), Juniper’s school principal (played by Juniper) and Battletac - the awesome robot who is awesome!
Juniper loves robots in general, but she loves Battletac the most. Battletac is the titular robot from an 80’s cartoon. Juniper watches Battletac with her dad on his old video cassettes. The video cassettes even make an appearance on stage! How’s that for some old school nostalgia?
I still haven’t explained who Juniper is! Juniper May is a creative 11 year old girl who receives a horrible petition from her classmates. In it they say that she’s a total freak, that she’s practically a robot (an insult that confuses Juniper a bit because, as I mentioned above, she loves robots), and that she should never have been born. Juniper, assisted by her parents, puts on a play to tell the tale of the letter and how that’s related to Battletac living in her bin best friend. Juniper's play is what the audience sees.
Juniper’s dad is the other on stage character. He’s there to help out Juniper with her show. He's a caring and funny guy who is clearly concerned for his daughter after she receives the awful letter. He disappears during Juniper’s meltdown which is most of Act 2.
Jolyon, the writer/director, has woven a beautiful story about a girl on the Autism Spectrum without making it ‘a story about a girl on the Autism Spectrum’, if that makes sense. Juniper isn’t a diagnosis, she's a girl who happens to be on the Autism Spectrum which is only part of what makes Juniper, Juniper.
I’m not on the Autism Spectrum myself, but I do have some mental health wobblies and some residual feelings from being bullied which helped me really relate to Juniper. I think everyone I brought along to see the show found something in the story they related to, be it how Juniper was bullied, how she’s different, or dad on his parenting journey. Jolyon has made it accessible to everyone, adults included!
I think it’s a wonderful way to give people who haven’t had much to do with people on the Autism Spectrum a view into the world which in turn will help people understand. Knowledge is power!
On to some costume talk!
I drew up a few designs to show Jolyon and to my delight he picked all my favourite parts! I don’t get precious about the designs so if my favourites don't get picked, or if something gets cut (and something did) I don’t mind. My job is to help tell the story, not to showcase costumes that aren’t needed.
Juniper ended up wearing the pinafore and t-shirt you can see above, some galaxy leggings, cosy socks, and some galaxy shoes. Her dad had on some dark grey jeans, a cosy jumper, a beaded KISS t-shirt (I didn’t get a photo of the final t-shirt, but you can see it pre-beads below), and some galaxy shoes. Nate, the composer and musical director, was side stage on the piano so he also had on a Battletac t-shirt. Most things had a double for cleaning purposes.
Juniper also wears an amazing light suit made by our tech guy, Paul.
I had a costume assistant, Dan, who is a bit of a Juniper himself. He’s a wee bit older, but just as wonderful. Dan helped out with the galaxy shoes that Juniper and her dad wear. It was wonderful working with Dan! He came to see the show twice, and wrote a gorgeous letter with help from his lovely sister who acted as a scribe. You can see his letter along with some other reviews here.
Robot Song is my favourite show I’ve ever worked on. I know, I know, having a favourite show isn’t necessarily the ‘done thing’. I don’t care! I really don’t. Robot Song is such an important and beautiful show that the others just can’t compete!
The cast, crew, and Arena staff are some of the nicest (and funniest) people I have ever met. They all made me feel right at home from day one. I could write a whole blog post on how fantastic they all are. Big love, guys!
The message of the show is beautiful. We’re all different, and different is awesome. That makes us all awesome. Being different is your superpower!
The show finished its Bendigo run two weeks ago after its short time at the Engine Room. Thankfully it’ll be back for a tour next year! If you get the chance I highly recommend you see it.
To sum up the show in three words: It is awesome.
Until next time! xx
I'm Beth the human behind Little Grassbird. Welcome!