Melbourne based costume designer, Eugyeene Teh, is a standout in his field, a striking talent with a flair for spectacular, purpose made, fashion architecture for theater. It is this seemingly innate connection to the explicit particulars of dynamic stage costume design that has made Eugyeene the obvious go-to for productions like Nakkiah Lu’s Blaque Show Girls, and Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men.
More recently, Eugyeene has directed his talent into works by Little Ones Theatre, a company he’s formed alongside director – Stephen Nicolazzo, and fellow designer – Katie Sfetkidis, which is dedicated to examining gender and queer aesthetic.
The Moors, by US playwright, Jen Silverman, is the latest in a line-up of Little Ones Theatre releases. It’s a provocative and fantastical tale, set in the dark heath of Victorian England. Two sisters, Agatha (Alex Aldrich) and Hudley (Anna McCarthy), Agatha and Hudley, tread through a dismal, isolated life in an aged and gloomy mansion. The only other inhabitants include their elder brother, Branwell, a scullery maid, and the family pet mastiff. The production, part gothic thriller and part black comedy, works to explore topics of identity, gender roles, and sexuality.
Magdalene H. spoke with Eugyeene Teh about highlights and challenges of designing for The Moors, his personal journey in design, and sneaky insights into his future works.
Magdalene: What led you into costume design?
Eugyeene: I’ve always had a special interest in clothes since I was a small boy, but was never allowed to pursue a career in designing garments due to its associated perceived stigmas. When I transitioned from architecture to stage design (predominantly set design,) I saw this as a welcome opportunity to finally pursue this lifelong interest.
M: We noticed you put together collections in Pinterest, most of which are specific and refined. Does this relate to your creative process when designing? and if so, how?
E: My creative process begins with a collection of information and ideas from absolutely anywhere. It could be at an art exhibition, over a series of Pinterest boards, or walking down a street. This is what they call the dreaming phase. As we all know, dreams come to an end, and at a critical juncture, all the ideas get distilled down to one idea that supports, embraces and heightens the show. This idea then creates a military-tight frame with which I will work to complete my design.
M: The costumes for The Moors include Victorian era style dresses, sans hoop skirts and tight bustles. Clearly, your designs allow for more fluid movement on stage, but what were the other thoughts behind their design?
E: Fluidity and movement on stage are very important considerations, particularly when working on Little Ones Theatre shows. In The Moors, there is a subtle straddling between strict naturalistic 1840’s (early Victorian) costumes and a looser subverted interpretation of ‘period costumes’ in general. The result is quite distinct. When the governess from London punctuates the scene, she appears in a contemporary version of a late Victorian silhouette, while the revolutionary-minded sister lounges comfortably in a nightie and a pair of Cons. These considerations are in synch with the author’spitch of the play as a contemporary satire of the Bronte sisters, complete with cheeky knowing details.
M: Did the play’s exploration of gender roles have any influence on your approach to design? and if so, how?
E: Exploration of gender is always a significant consideration in most of Little Ones Theatre’s shows. The only male character in The Moors, the Mastiff (a dog,) is portrayed as a heightened version of the perceived Male during the Victorian era, and thus wears coattails. This juxtaposition between the male and female costumes establishes the harmful gender roles, creating tension between him (the despised pet) and the women, and then again between him and the female moor hen. This simplistic male image becomes very chilling in one of the last scenes as the tension climaxes between thetwo animal characters.
M: What was your favourite costume to design for The Moors, and why?
E: There is a set of costumes that displays a clear shift between Acts 1 and 2. Agatha appears in the strictest 1840’s dress, caged by the fit and unrelenting checker pattern that is aligned with razor sharp precision. Her image is significantly softened in Act 2, where her hair is let down and she is in a black flowy nightie that I made out of layers of frothy silk chiffon. When Emilie enters in a block-white full-length dress, the image immediately presents an unmistakable status and sexual tension between the two.
M: What were the highlights and challenges for designing for The Moors?
E: The costume budget is $150, so producing eight period costumes and planning to dry clean them after the season for that amount was a challenge. The highlight was overcoming this challenge while still having the details, nuances and narrative of a succinct costume design.
M: Could you tell us if there was anything unique about working with Little Ones Theatre?
E: Little Ones Theatre is absolutely unique as we are unafraid of presenting a style and aesthetic that does not conform to expectation. Having worked on ten Little Ones shows, we have gone from camp and kitsch to a more refined sensory and a wickedly nuanced masochistic expression. Above all that, I always remember Stephen Nicolazzo (our director) saying that the company was created to make shows with heart. This has happened for every single show.
M: Coming back to you as a designer, what are your favourite kinds of productions to design for?
E: I definitely love working on Little Ones Theatre productions as there is a sensibility here that I inherently share. I do, however, also enjoy working on a breadth of works of provocation as they broaden my scope and always present new challenges that sustain me as an artist. As a designer and theatre maker, I am so fortunate to be able to work with the best provocateurs in my industry, including Stephen Nicolazzo, Katie Sfetkidis, Adena Jacobs, Nicola Gunn, Candy Bowers, Samara Hersch, Declan Greene and countless more.
M: Could you share with us any future plans, relative to your designs (or anything else)?
E: My next production, Merciless Gods, again with Little Ones Theatre, opens in less than a month’s time. It is a thoroughly dark and heady production based on Christos Tsiolkas’ book of short stories from perspectives so culturally diverse and fantastical that they are more human than a Michael Gow play. Next year, I will be traveling through Asia on the Keith and Elisabeth Murdoch Fellowship to observe theatre making from urgent and important Asian perspectives and narratives. From this, I aim to further my career critically engaging, as an Asian-Australian artist, with in-depth, considered and knowledge-based dialogues.