Erika Čičmanová: Inspiration comes when I work with hands
Costume designer and scenographer Erika Čičmanová can carve a marionette, cast a mask, stilt through the city, or make an extravagant costume. During high school, she learned how design clothes and sew. Then she studied textile design and scenography at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. “For children it is natural to work with their hands. They keep exploring different materials, and what to do with them. They often use them differently than we are used to,” she says, and adds that this usually goes away with growing up, but she in fact still thinks in this way. She is a freelance scenographer and designer, working with different theatre companies. She also often creates costumes for street acrobats and dancers.
What she likes about theater is that every time she works with something new, uses different materials, deal with different theme and meet new people. “I enjoy connecting these different aspects,” says Čičmanová. She likes finding out what is specific for which material, if it makes any sounds or if it is possible to stretch. „I walk though the city and look around. If I see some interesting material, I try to take a piece, examine it. Then I am trying to figure out what it is, where it came from and where can I get more,” adds Erika, who is not afraid to go to DYI shops or warehouses for her research. Looking around and noticing the world around me is crucial at my profession. „Theatre is about life. The more I observe outside on the streets, the more I can then transfer to the theater, everything is connected.
When she works with traditional theaters, she usually prepares detailed sketches, which are then processed and manufactured. This way however, there is not much space for some last minutes changes during the rehearsals. „I have to think in advance and know exactly what I want to achieve. The bigger the theater is, the smaller changes are possible. When she does smaller things on her own on the other hand, she lets the theme and the material to inspire her. „Certain things cannot be planned in advance, it is often a spirit of the moment kind of inspiration. I look around, and see what I can find at home. If I have some gasket left, I use it. I draw a basic sketch and then let myself get carried away by what I hold in hand.”
For this year’s Expo, she designed costumes for the Czech acrobats. They have spherical shape, they are super light and easy to put on. When it comes to the street theater, it needs to be clear what or who a person represents. In case of theatre productions, she tries to stay as close to the director and the actors as possible. „I like when I can say something with the costume - when it has some effect on people. Sometimes, a person can make a great performance, only because he has one shoe smaller for example. On the other hand, when the costume is limiting in some way, we need to discuss what was my original intention and what does the actor think. He needs to feel good. I am not doing a fashion show, I want for it to work as a whole.” Sometimes, she also designs bespoke clothes. „I could not do any ready made garments though, send it to a store and wait who will buy it... I did it once, then actually met the girl who bought it and did not fit her at all. I wanted to take if off from her.”
According to Erika, for theatre is also specific that everything is done at the last moment, usually something changes only day before opening. However, under the stress, on is usually more submerged in his or hers work. „The ideas come faster.” The only exception was a play that she spent a lot of time on and the theme was a work in progress. It was a dance performance about women, for which she created a changing costume. „Directly during rehearsals, I was adding various items. At the end, the costume had five different layers, which little by little peeled off. One minute the dancer looked like a flower, the other like savage.”
Erika chooses the material to support both visually and technologically her vision. „Silk is fluid for example, and it beautifully tunes a movement. When I need a tough material and do not have it, I take acryl for instance and paint it over the whole costume,” she recalls the making of a costume that ought to look stiffly. She improvises a lot. „During my studies at the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts, we had a lot of time to experiment. I still hold on to what I learned to my professor, Mr. Matásek: It is a constant game, exploring how far one can go in search of hidden meanings, and finding out what things are connected.“
Mr. Matásek kept interfering in their projects and always wrote red question marks and exclamation points in their finished sketches. „It was important for him to taught us that in theatre, everything keeps moving and changing till the last minute. By this, he taught us to constantly reevaluate things and look at them from various points of view.”
She realizes how important is to keep a certain distance from her work as well. „A person often needs to forget everything he learned about the craft, otherwise it might limit him. The techniques you learnt must suit you, not the other way around. You sometimes need to forget the rules, to let the inspiration flow.”
Her work demands mainly creativity, which can according to her also substitute some technologies or materials that are not available. „Every experience counts in this work, whether I use it immediately or in ten years. The more person is experienced and the more he knows, the more he can embed it to his work. ”
4. 6. 2015 Photo and video by Tomáš Princ, text by Tereza Lišková, translated by Kateřina Hendrychová
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