Costumes and Props

Costumes and Props for “My Dearest Friend”

When thinking about the time period and overall look we wanted to achieve, my first thought was: How will audience members think of John and Abigail at the first mention of their names? The first image that comes to my mind is how they looked in 1776, both the time period and the musical! I think our collective mental time-frame for these two is Revolutionary era, yet their lives spanned almost a century, 1735-1826, in Johns’ case. Abigail died in 1818 and fashion had come a long way: clothing, furniture, household implements, even pens! By that time, John may very well have had a pen with a nib, instead of a goose quill!

The show opens with John writing to John Quincy at the death of Abigail in 1818 – he is an old man. Abigail suddenly comes to life. The play is a memory play, a flash back to times past and how John remembers her at first is as a very young woman at the time of their courtship, 1762-1764. Yet we quickly move forward in time and sometimes move back again. For practical reasons, costume changes aren’t possible, so where to begin? Since my mental image is 1776 – when both were relatively young and in their prime, that is what I’ve settled on for costumes.

Then I moved to the practical. First of all, we are actors and this is a play. We are not re-en-actors and this is not a re-enactment. This is a theatrical treatment of the true story of these two people’s very real, very human lives – their relationship, their beliefs, and their very strong love and respect for one another. Because this is a theatrical presentation, and the romantic reality of the relationship is so strong in the writing, I’ve designed a romanticized version of the costumes of the era. The colors, prints and patterns are accurate to a point, yet I have decided not to be a slave to historical accuracy. The costumes are built for comfort and durability – and yes, I used my sewing machine, complete with its automatic buttonhole attachment!

With the props, set pieces and set dressing, we are progressing slowly, supplementing what we already have by collecting items at antique shops and purchasing a few things online from re-enactment catalogs and sellers on E-Bay. Again, this is a theatrical piece so the props need to be durable and usable, and we are also building it with the hope that it will travel to schools, libraries and museums, so everything must be able to be packed and stowed in the PT Cruiser!

We know the Adams’ were not wealthy people, and lived primarily on earnings from the farm after John was defeated by Jefferson for the Presidency in 1801 and they lost most of their savings after a bank failure in 1803. So, the furnishings need not be sumptuous.
I am hoping to be able to soak up lots of atmosphere and take a lot of photos when we visit Quincy, Weymouth and Boston in July to put the finishing touches on the look we are hoping to achieve.

In the meantime, we’re learning how to write with a quill pen, working on tons of prop letters and journals, and hoping for a practical repair on the beautiful vintage lap desk that Gary bought for Abigail to use onstage in the letter-writing segment of the show

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