How Katrina Lindsay Wove Magic out of Broadway's 'Cursed Child' Costumes

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Photo Source: Manuel Harlan

When it came to wardrobing the wizarding world of Broadway’s “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” costume designer Katrina Lindsay worked closely with other members of the creative team to ensure the world of the epic production would be insulated entirely in magic—starting with those signature cloaks. Just after receiving her first Tony nomination, Lindsay, who also won an Olivier Award for her work on the West End run of “Cursed Child,” discussed how she effectively collaborates with actors, and the major difference between designing in Britain and the U.S.

Going back, how did you come to be involved in “Cursed Child”?
I don’t know exactly how it came about. John Tiffany, who directed it, we’re the same generation of theater-makers. I knew about John’s work for a long time, and he may have known about mine, but we hadn’t actually worked together before. I had done stuff with [choreographer] Steven Hoggett in the past and just before “Cursed Child” I worked with Sonia [Friedman], the producer, so the stars aligned. And John was very clear with the type of theater he wanted to make, and I think all the different creatives are all quite similar theater-makers in some ways, and John knew he very much wanted to create a piece of theater like that.

It seems obvious, but how would you put into words what it is the costume designer actually does?
The costume designer helps put the character onstage and give a clarity visually to what the actors might be doing emotionally. [Theater] is the act of the audience watching something, so I’m very aware of the visual element of that and very aware that I don’t over-clutter the actor so the performance can come through. I can give a sense of character, of period; I can help place the person visually in the picture onstage so that you watch them through scale and through silhouette.

Specifically pertaining to Cursed Child,” how did your costume design contribute to or inform other aspects of the show such as the magical illusions and choreography?
It became very clear at the beginning that the cloaks and the movement of them would be a really useful tool in terms of the transitions between the scenes and the fluidity that we wanted in the storytelling, as well as in terms of creating the illusions and how people appear and disappear. Then it was working very closely with Jamie [Harrison], who did all the illusions. The beauty of “Cursed Child” is there are areas where we all pick up different things from our different disciplines and lead with them, and we mapped it out quite organically through the process. [We think], This is going to be a moment where the story is going to be carried forward through the movement and costume. Or certain things will be done just through the costume changing or illusions or a piece of the magic. It was about the collaboration of all of that, and understanding at what point the costume might lead in certain areas and when it had to be a sort of vessel for somebody else’s area.

READ: ‘Harry Potter’ Star Noma Dumezweni on Indulging the Pain and Gain of Any Moment

In general, in what ways do you work with actors?
The director and I will have conversations about the world and the emotional themes and the characters, and then I will do a set of drawings and kind of get my thoughts down on paper. But I really like having a conversation with the actors, as well, and making sure that we’re both listening to where each other is coming from…. Then there is a whole process of fittings. I feel like in that process, it’s very important to hear the actor and understand how they feel physically in something. [Collaborating with actors] is a bit of a balance. If it feels like it’s going completely off-key, I have to find a way of turning it around a little bit. But they’re the ones who are going to be onstage telling the story, so there’s no point in making something that doesn’t feel right for them.

How did you initially get started in the realm of costume design?
In Britain, as designers, we tend to do both [set and costume design], actually. It’s not often separated as much as it is elsewhere. I like creating the whole world. But for me, the actor and the character being the focus was always something I responded to. When I’m designing, that’s always the starting point for me. I did quite a lot of work at the National Theatre, where they have a big costume department. So [I landed on costume] by always being interested in the character and the way the character is the pivot of the storytelling. It was being in buildings with a lot of amazing crafts people where you realize you could really play with the visual side of that, and it evolved from there.

How would you advise someone who wants to break into costume design?
Go and see a lot of work, a lot of stories being told, and understand an actor’s process. Also, really look at craftsmanship and people who make things, and understand the background to making. They’re the kind of things that you’re playing around with all the time. And then, obviously, you’ll have moments where you’ll have to do historical research, and that’s great. It’s all understanding the maker’s process and also the actor’s process really clearly.

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