Marina Draghici designed the costumes (as well as the sets) for Fela!, currently at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre on Broadway. She will participate in a special panel on collaboration at the Live Design Broadway Lighting Master Classes (BLMC) on Thursday, May 27, 2010 at Sardi’s restaurant, 234 West 44th Street, Manhattan. The panel also features Fela! lighting designer Robert Wierzel, projection designer Peter Nigrini, and co-writer Jim Lewis. All BLMC attendees will see a performance of Fela! on Tuesday evening, May 25.

The women’s costumes in Fela! were inspired in part by images of the many women in Nigerian musician/activist Fela Kuti’s orbit, known as The Queens. “The idea was to embrace the uniqueness of each dancer and actor—and body type—and not impose an image on them,” says Draghici, who had to design with rather energetic movement in mind. “By the time we got to Broadway I knew the choreography very well, and used fabrics and shapes with that in mind.

Two actors rotate in the leading role of Fela, wearing costumes that evoke what Fela Kuti wore to perform: “He had a huge wardrobe,” adds Draghici, “with a lot of 70s embroidered suits in every color of the universe, with matching shoes.” As Fela is seen on stage at almost every moment in the show, his clothes were designed to really stand out, using an unusual salmon/pink and turquoise to express his outrageousness. “The embroidery on his suits used Yourba and other African symbols,” says Draghici, who found a wedding dress shop in New York City with an African owner who was familiar with this kind of embroidery, to give it an authenticity. Fela’s actual shoes were made of fabric and velvet as he did not wear leather, but the shoes on Broadway are leather—in order to be sturdy enough—with a flexible sole for dancing.

The female dancers wear Go-Go straps on their legs. The straps were adapted from the roughly made, loose ones Draghici found in her research, but made this time in leather with a tight fit as to be sexy and cutting-edge: “They have to allow movement, and we learned where to put elastic in the joints, and improved them over time. Every costume in the show had a long trajectory of discovery.”

Faux Beads For Fela!

A challenge for Draghici was the beading on the dancers’ costumes: “Fela’s women wore a lot of beads including real African beads, which are not very movement friendly,” she explains. As a result she used fabrics that look like beadwork, or faux beads glued securely and covered with net. “I didn’t want to use anything that could break,” she says. “If a necklace breaks you would have beads all over the stage. The alternative beads are indestructible.”

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