Thursday, March 2, 2017

Nancy from "Oliver Twist"

My interpretation of Nancy.
Doll by the Nuyens.
Photo by Christopher M.

     Prepare for a long backstory on this project. If you just want to see the pretty pictures, feel free to skip ahead.
     I have been a participant at the The Great Dickens Christmas Fair in San Francisco for about 6 or 7 years now. It is an amazing production put on in the Cow Palace every year on weekends of November and December before Christmas. It's a theatrical recreation of Victorian London, through the lens of Charles Dickens. If you have been to Renaissance Faire, you may have a good idea already. There are several stages with live plays and musicals, ballroom dancing at Fezziwig's Warehouse, meat pies, high tea, "pub" style bars, a children's carousel, Father Christmas, gambling with the "scum" of London, live corset models, fencing, fairy house making, Can-Can dancers, and so much more. There are characters from Dickens' books running around, too. Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, Miss Havisham, Oliver Twist, Fagin, and many more.
     The characters from A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist have stages and scenes from the books that they act out chronologically on stages during the day. These are bigger roles and have to be auditioned for.
I have taught dancing at Fezziwig's for the past 6 or so years, which wasn't a role I had to audition for. I heard that the Oliver Twist cast was holding auditions this year, which interested me. I felt I should push myself and try out for one of these more serious roles. I thought that Nancy, a disreputable heroine who ends up trying to save Oliver, would be a fun role.
     I was so nervous, but I went to the auditions with a short monologue and did my thing. I was asked to read with the actor playing Bill Sikes. Then I went home. A few days later I got a message from the director that I got the role! I was so excited! I was cast as Nancy!
     Nancy is a very interesting and complex character. She grew up on the streets and was given little chance to succeed in life. She became and thief and then prostitute to survive. She made friends with bad people and did many bad things, but, when it came to Oliver Twist, she tried to save him from the life that she had. This leads to her demise. She ends up being murdered by her significant other, Bill Sikes. Her murder is considered one of the most gruesome scenes Dickens ever wrote. Nancy is also considered to be the most complete female character Dickens ever created.
      That said, I needed to make my costume for Nancy. I knew I had to carefully consider how to visually represent this complex character. Dickens wrote her as wearing a red dress and green boots, so my colors were already defined. The dress needed to look like it was second or third-hand, did not fit well, and was really shabby. I felt it should also be a little revealing, since Nancy is a prostitute.

Choosing fabrics. I had some scraps of red velvet I decided
to use on the bodice. The sleeves and skirt were made from
red cotton.

     I chose to make the bodice in red velvet, while the sleeves and skirt were in red cotton. I had seen this on the character Nancy in some of the Broadway productions of the show Oliver! 

     I like the look and think it adds more interest to the costume. I made the sleeves straight, 2/3 long, and a little big so they would wrinkle
   For my skirt, I made it shorter than most mid-19th c. dresses should be and knife-pleated it into a waistband. The whole dress is almost entirely hand sewn in red linen thread and I used as many period techniques and materials as I could. 

The bodice in-progress.

Trying in-progress things on.

Coffee-staining the skirt hem.

     I put lots of patches on the dress and distressed it with sandpaper and brown shoe polish. I also coffee-stained the hem of the skirt to make it look really dirty. I don't have any good construction photos after this. I was in a time crunch. I wore it for dress rehearsal and finally got lace on the neckline around the second weekend of the show. Now, enjoy the photos!

Cast photo! 

Full-length shot of me.
By Christopher M.

     We had many rehearsals before the show, which helped me get a grip on my lines and learn how to inhabit my character. I was really nervous about getting it all right. But once the Fair started, everything fell into place and I had an amazing time. There was much time spent laughing, gigging, drinking, running, "gambling", "pick-pocketing", and rolling around in the dirt.

Bill Sikes and Nancy.
By Louis N.

Bill chases Nancy.

Nancy and Bet get a tintype with their creepy dolls.

The Sikes family gets a family portrait: Bet, Bill, Nancy,
and Bullseye.

Nancy and Bet escape the rain backstage.
By Anders H. 

Bill and Nancy scheme about Oliver.
By Louis N.
Nancy, Bill, and Bet out on the town.

Nancy, Bill, and Bet stomp on all the tables.

Fagin's boys and the ladies prepare to harass the good people of London.
By Phillip P. 

     I had such an amazing cast and director. They made it such a wonderful show and experience. We are all a big family now.

And one final silly cast photo!
By Carl. 

I can barely wait for next year!

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