Costume dramas: Fishes, foam and fabrics

It’s just over three weeks till April school holidays and I’m on the phone with a costume-maker discussing the merits of various types of foam and fabrics being used to make fins. Can foam be painted onto? Should the fabrics be sparkly or matte? Stuffed or wired? Blue fish or red fish?  Decisions, decisions! The costumes are being custom made for our Autumn Kids on Deck program Fish Fantastic. Inspired by a selection of works in the upcoming exhibition FISH in Australian Art, they will allow children participating in Kids on Deck to dress up and recreate these famous artworks as tableau vivante or living pictures.

fish costume sketch based on Outhwaite's Elves and Fairies

Back before the wireless, the talkies and tv, a live pose to recreate a famous historical moment or classic work of art was the height of popular entertainment. Often part of a royal court ceremony, a special religious service or a theatre production, tableau vivante recreated images in painstaking detail, the participants often painted head to toe as well as costumed to reflect the particular qualities of a painting. While we may not be going to so much detail this time around we will have four special costumes inspired by Deborah Halpern’s Neon Fish, Kenneth Macqueen’s The Beach Fisherman, Anne Zahalka’s The Cook, and Ida Rentoule Outhwaite’s illustrations from Elves and Fairies to spark some imaginative pretend play.

Fisherman costume sketch based on Macqueen's The Beach Fisherman

Bringing paintings and sculptures to life will be just one of the fun and fantastic activities in this program being designed and produced by some creative friends and volunteers. Aside from our museum design team who often create spectacular paper craft for our children’s activity space, there are many minds and hands that contribute to the making of a Kids Deck program. We also have our faithful and very talented volunteers Jon and Terri producing handmade lino-cut prints of fish scales for printing onto calico bags. Jon and Terri have made all sorts of wonderful custom made designs for us over the years- shark rubbing templates, plastic stencils for Batik inspired by Indonesian folktales, prints inspired by the travels of Sindbad the Sailor and a suite of beautiful wooden toys.

neon fish costume sketch based on Halpern's Neon Fish

But back to the question of foam and fins…..we’ve decided to experiment and hope for the best. And yes to sparkles! I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

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