Princeton Research Day: Spotlight on Costume Designer Julia Peiperl ’17

Princeton Research Day (PRD) is an annual celebration of the research and creative endeavors by Princeton undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. The campus-wide event serves as an opportunity for researchers to share their work with the community and includes research from the natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, the arts and humanities. In this post series, PCUR correspondents cover a range of topics relating to PRD and highlight the valuable lessons this event has to offer.

This year, PRD will be taking place on Thursday, May 11, 2017. You can learn more about participating in or attending Princeton Research Day by visiting the official PRD website here.

~~~~~~

The idea of research often conjures up images of scientists with microscopes and lab coats. But, for many researchers, the process looks very different. Take theater student Julia Peiperl ’17, for example. Rather than wearing the coat, she designs it.

An example of the research that went into Julia’s designs for Elektra.

“Lots of people don’t realize how much research goes into theatrical design,” she told me as we sat down to chat about her experiences at Princeton Research Day last May. Presenting on her costume designs for the Lewis Center’s February 2016 production of Sophocles’ Elektra — which she had developed in a class on Advanced Theatrical Design — she hoped to showcase the detail and research that goes into such a creative endeavor. As an actor in the play, I was excited to learn more.

As a maid in the Greek Chorus, I was lucky enough to wear one of Julia’s costumes!

 

Clothing, after all, tells worlds about a person. A costume designer may spend weeks or months researching images that suggest a time period, an archetype, or even an emotion. For Elektra, a Greek tragedy, Julia found inspiration in the image of a 1950s “brush doll” provided to her by the lead actress: brush on the bottom, doll on the top. Much like a document might inspire a historian to turn to the archives, this image led Julia to do more pictorial research, eventually settling on a time period (the 1950s) and a color scheme (pastels). After designs were presented to the show’s director, they were given to the Lewis Center Costume Shop to make a reality. This was not the end. In the coming weeks, just as a researcher continues to make changes and discoveries throughout the writing process, Julia worked with each cast member to refine the pieces and make them comfortable to wear. For my character — a maid in the two-person Greek Chorus — the director wanted me to seem “otherworldly.” Hoping to convey this through aesthetics, Julia would bring in new costume and makeup ideas, even in the few days leading up to the show.

Continue reading Princeton Research Day: Spotlight on Costume Designer Julia Peiperl ’17

Reading Your “Script”: What Theater Can Teach You About Research

The more I do theater, the more I understand its parallels to academic research.

Recently, I attended a workshop with John Doyle, the renowned theater director and Princeton professor. He shared two details of how he begins a creative process. First, he reads the script only a few times before beginning rehearsals. Rather than getting mired in the script’s details, he likes to let ideas brew and leave space for his collaborators’ input. Second, he stresses the importance of entering rehearsals with unanswered questions — because if you already know the answers, your questions aren’t rich enough, and there’s little point in bringing people together.

Approaching my first thesis meeting, I’ve been thinking about this advice.

As I have written (both here and here), I spent this summer in Rio de Janeiro, researching the legacy of art-therapy pioneer Nise da Silveira. During that time, I conducted over 15 interviews, attended numerous workshops, and collected various books and documents. Recorded on audio files and scribbled in notebooks, these constitute — in a sense — my “script.” It is a body of research so juicy, varied, and detailed, that it tempts me to dive right in and begin working my way through problems.

Yet, as I prepare for my first meeting, the most helpful thing I can do is not read over all this material. Delving in right away, I would get lost in details before I have a sense of what interests me. For the moment, it is more valuable to step away from my “script” and reflect. To think critically about my two months in Brazil. To ponder what confused me and what seemed contradictory. To come up with questions that I cannot yet answer.

20160204_elektra_fw_006
Snapshot from the Lewis Center’s production of Elektra in February 2016. I’m the possessed-Chorus-maid on the right!

This strategy has worked for me in theater. Last year, in Elektra, I acted in the two-person Greek Chorus. Following our first read-through, we developed some big questions about the Chorus: Who are we? Why are we here? What makes us otherworldly? What grounds us in the physical world?

These questions, for the most part, went unanswered. But asking them from the start gave us time to test out answers every day, playing with different kinds of movement, costume, intonation — and, of course, finding new details in the script.

Continue reading Reading Your “Script”: What Theater Can Teach You About Research

The Project That Made Me a Researcher… Sort Of

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will explain how they found their place in research. We present these to you as a series called The Project that Made Me a Researcher. As any undergraduate knows, the transition from ‘doing a research project’ to thinking of yourself as a researcher is an exciting and highly individualized phenomenon. Here, Dylan shares his story.

~~~~~~

The Project That Made Me a Researcher. Hmm. It’s a loaded topic for me because it makes a big assumption: Am I a researcher? It feels awkward to ascribe the word to myself, like a shirt that doesn’t quite fit right.

I definitely do research. And I definitely love doing it. But a researcher? Something about it seems so … prestigious, perhaps? Important? World-changing? Where do I fit in all this?

Located in Lincoln Center in New York City, the NYPL for the Performing Arts is an excellent resource for anyone researching theater, dance, or other forms of live performance.

The project that comes to mind is my freshman writing sem paper. I looked at how La Cage Aux Folles — the first Broadway musical to portray a gay couple at its center — tamed its queerness for a commercial 1983 audience. It was the first time I’d discovered that my niche interests could be considered academic, and I felt compelled to go out of my way to learn more than I might otherwise have. My ambition pushed me out of Princeton — twice — to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, where an extensive archive of video recordings of theatre is maintained. There, wedged into a small cubicle with an archaic looking TV screen, I watched the original 1983 production and, on a second trip, the 2004 revival. Sitting there, surrounded by a smorgasbord of theater junkies fixated on their own little screens, I had an epiphany: research is fun.

Continue reading The Project That Made Me a Researcher… Sort Of