Style & Arts: Studio Style & Arts

November 9, 2008

Standing on Fertile Ground for Creative Expression

In "Grey Gardens," the Tony-winning musical that's landing at Studio Theatre, the start of the second act can really speak to a costume designer. The show's daughter character, Little Edie, is boldly proclaiming her new style with a song: "The Revolutionary Costume for Today." And both her tune and her look say all that Little Edie needs to say about her dazzling creativity with clothes, according to the show's costumer, Alex Jaeger.

The Los Angeles-based Jaeger, 46, hewed closely to the musical's source material -- the same-named 1975 documentary about Jacqueline Kennedy's eccentric aunt and cousin -- to create this production's costuming for Little Edie (played here by Barbara Walsh). Jaeger, who has worked on nine Studio Theatre productions since 2003, explains his approach to dressing a silver-spoon girl who expresses herself amid her slide into Hamptons squalor.

Little Edie's outfit during "The Revolutionary Costume for Today" is pretty much straight from the documentary. She comes right up to the camera and says, "Look, I'm wearing my pantyhose over my shorts and I've made this skirt like this." And at the end of her description, she says, "You know, I have to think these things up!"

It shows you how much thought she put into it and how each thing was deliberate. She didn't just accidentally put her pantyhose over her clothes. There was a reason behind it for her.

It's the top of the second act, the first time we see Little Edie as what she's become, and it gives us a lot of insight into her character. Her fashion sense comes out of a deep need to be creative. And she was fabulously creative. These outfits, she made them out of whatever she had. As strange as they may be, there was a lot of thought put into them, and she would make 10 or 12 a day. She would change her clothes all day long.

Just to be able to come up with that stuff! Who would think that your skirt doesn't fit anymore so you wear it upside-down? Of course. It makes perfect sense. But most people wouldn't be able to think outside of the box like that. It's so interesting to try to figure out how she made these costumes. A lot of them, we can't figure out how they're put together.

I don't think I could improve [Little Edie's look]. What could I think of that's more interesting or more appropriate to her character? I just really couldn't. So it was a matter of choosing the things from the documentary and from her life that were appropriate for the scenes that we're doing.

-- Interview conducted and condensed by Rachel Beckman

"Grey Gardens" runs Wednesday through Dec. 21 at the Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW. $49-$61. 202-332-3300.

PHOTOS: Alex Jaeger - Studio Theatre WEB EDITOR: Stephanie Merry - washingtonpost.com

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