My name is Roberto, and I work as a freelance Teaching Artist of Drama and Vocal Music here in New York City.
I have designed and fabricated some homemade costumes for a non-profit stage play that I am working to produce and direct with many of my teenager student actors over the summer.
The play is titled “FATHERS OF THE DARK KNIGHT”, and it is the story of the creation of THE BATMAN mythology. It explores the relationship between Bronx, NY artist Bob Kane, writer Bill Finger, and artist Jerry Robinson throughout the history of their collaboration. Most exciting of all, we will witness their brilliant Gotham City characters come to life right on stage with them!
As an arts instructor working here in NYC, it is very distressing to me to see my students, year after year have to produce more and more stage work with less and less resources. Of course, it is always the arts budgets that are the first to be slashed in the public school system. Meanwhile, it is the students who are short-changed most of all. A loss of the ARTS is a loss of inspiration for these students to do well in their academic subjects. The future looks increasing bleak for these youngsters every year, I’m afraid.
HOWEVER, two years ago, I promised a bunch of my own students that together, we would produce a really BIG all-student theatrical spectacle… even if I had to pay for it out of my own pocket and produce it outside the school system! I promised them that they would have the VERY BEST production value in their show (Re: costumes, props, sets, spfx, music, lighting, top-notch script, etc.). I promised them that we would produce a play that centered around subject matter that was near and dear to our hearts… rather than the usual stuffy “classics” of “educational / historic value” forced by the school system.
I chose the story of comic book legends Bob Kane, Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson because like my students, they too were poor kids living in the slums of The Bronx NY, back in 1939. Despite their hardships, they created an iconic mythology that has endured for over 74 years, and has stood as a standard of excellence for all that time.
And now, our stage production is being produced with that same standard of excellence, fueled by the inspiration of these three great men. It is my sincere hope that through their involvement in this production, my students will learn that it is possible to create GREATNESS in this world through hard work, talent and perseverance… that their current humble station need not define them for the rest of their lives!
Well, it’s taken me all this time, but I’m happy to say that I have been able to keep that promise to my students! And they are ALL still with me, ready to make student theater history this summer!
FATHERS OF THE DARK KNIGHT is now in rehearsals, and is poised to raise its curtain for some point between late August and late October of 2013!
I am very pleased to present the photos of these homemade costumes that I have created for our student stage play. I hope you enjoy the photos and the detailed descriptions of The Batman and Robin costumes I am sending along.
Clearly, The Batman’s costume was going to be a very important aspect of this play. It had to immediately feel real, legitimate, and it had to illicit the proper mood when first glimpsed by the audience. It was going to need to accept stage lighting well, while not coming off as a garish Halloween costume. The costume’s textures were going to require special attention so that it would feel rich, elegant and organic.
My approach to the The Batman’s overall costuming philosophy was that Bruce Wayne intended to frighten criminals while striking at them from the dark shadows. The only touches of vibrant color on the uniform (chest emblem and utility belt) would strategically be intended to be seen even in low light. This gives the uniform some contrast and visual interest, rather than being monochromatic and dull.
Also, I wanted to approach The Batman’s costume with THREE basic prescriptions in mind:
1) Para-military survival gear, mixed with
2) Primitive, tribal natural organic textures, mixed with
3) Stately old-world Gothic.
For the para-military side, I designed the all-important yellow UTILITY BELT to appear as a bulky, (but neatly organized) collection of ammunition pouches and high tech vials containing The Batman’s myriad of weapons and urban survival crime-fighting gear. I wanted it to look big, well-stocked, and slightly dangerous. I fabricated a 3 inch wide yellow band with a leather belt blank and wrapped it in golden yellow stretch vinyl. I used ammunition pouches and dyed them yellow. I made the canister vials with 3/4 inch plexiglass rods and half-moon end-caps.
The primitive / tribal aspect of the Batman costume is what I think ultimately dominates. Certainly it is the part of the costume philosophy that appeals to me the most. When dealing with this costuming mind-set, I imagined the approach of a fierce, tribal warrior: A large BEAST has been vanquished, and the warrior now wears its outer hide as a symbol of his own fighting prowess. The cranium and upper jaw of the animal is worn as a head dress, with only the lower half of the warrior’s own face exposed. The warrior honors the spirit of the fallen creature by wearing it’s skin and fighting on…
This primitive approach made me look at the Batman’s costume mostly in terms of organic textures like leather. The bat-cowl, cape, gauntlets, trunks, and boots would ALL need to share an identical black leathery texture. By contrast, the accents of color on the uniform (chest emblem and utility belt) would need to feel manufactured and synthetic. The SKIN-TIGHT GREY (middle ground) BODY SUIT bridges the two worlds by appearing not quite synthetic and not quite organic. I studiously AVOIDED fashioning this garment with typical Lycra Spandex due to its glitzy synthetic sheen. Instead, went with a charcoal grey Supplex material with a matte finish. These were simple athlete compression tights.
I intended to stay true to the color scheme of the Batman’s classic costume as seen in the comics to preserve the visual contrasts. Going with a black armored body suit (as is typically done in live-action Batman films) was not an option for me since it would only make the character (unattractively) mono-chromatic in my eyes.
In order to lend the character the stately, old-world, Gothic flavor that I thought was necessary, I paid special attention to the silhouetted outer contour of the assembled costume. The figure’s lines would need to be razor straight, emphasizing a powerful vertical force that was bigger than life. The long ears of the Bat cowl and the fanned-out lines of the cape at rest were intended to give the character height, power, and a Dracula-like presence.
COWL: I needed a clean, straight, and sharp rendition of the cowl as seen in the comic books.
Premiere cowl sculptor (and all-around nice guy) Shawn Reevz produced a stunning cowl for me that was PERFECT for what I needed. I purchased a pair of mirrored Starlite safety goggles to be worn underneath the mask. These give the eyes the spooky blank appearance as seen in the comics.
CHEST EMBLEM: I didn’t want the Batman’s chest emblem to be a simple printed flat graphic silkscreened onto his tights. I did not want the emblem to warp out of shape when it was stretched over the wearer’s chest. It was important to me to preserve the integrity (and proportions) of the emblem design when worn. It was also vital to me that the chest emblem look and feel sculpted … almost as if it were a protective shield. I designed the emblem first in Adobe Photoshop. Then, I transferred my design onto very thin flexible styrene plastic sheet. I cut out the bat silhouette and the oval as two separate pieces, painted them separately, and then combined them. I then glued the entire assembly directly onto the body suit fabric. The finished emblem has a sculpted design with the bat shape sitting in raised relief on the yellow oval.
BAT CAPE: Using a pattern of my own design, I fashioned a scalloped Bat-cape out of 4-way stretch dull black PVC that had the sheen, appearance, feel, and texture of soft leather. It also matched the color and texture of the Bat-cowl perfectly. The finished cape is capable of spreading to a full 12 foot wingspan, and looks elegant and stately when at rest as it hugs the wearer’s shoulder with a shaped seam. I also made sure to create a pattern that would be long enough to drape the bat-scallops along the floor whenever the cape was at rest. This same fabric was also used to create the shorts for the uniform.
GLOVES: The gloves on this costume are tough, durable and custom made. I began with a simple pair of men’s XX-L leather winter gloves and removed the fleece lining from the inside to make them less cumbersome. I then attached an appropriately sized and shaped leather Bat-sleeve gauntlet cuff (with three large Bat-fins) to the wrist gloves. I took some creative license here and made the bat-fins slightly larger than usual to make them seem weapon-like and more dangerous. I also wanted them to have greater visibility during stage combat.
BOOTS: I purchased Funtasma Pleaser’s Maverick 8824 black leather boots as a starting point to fabricate the boots for this costume. I loved the generous length of the boot shaft (more than enough for what I needed), and I really loved the thick, rugged, combat boot rubber soles (which really reflected the para-military/survival gear aspect that I wanted The Batman’s uniform to have.
I went to a local cobbler and spent an additional $60 to have the tops of the boots professionally re-shaped into a “Batman Point”.
ROBIN THE BOY WONDER
I have always loved this character… the original Dick Grayson version, I mean. I think he is an integral part of The Batman mythology and a big reason for its success over all these years.
Having said that, I have NEVER liked any of the live-action costume depictions of Robin done either on TV or in theatrical films. To my mind, he has yet to be presented as he was originally introduced to be in the comic books… as a laughing daredevil BOY wonder counterpoint to The Batman’s deadly seriousness.
All previous actors have been far too old to portray a 13 year old Boy Wonder. And the classic Robin outfit is just not appropriate for any adult male. It is the swashbuckling costume of a young boy sidekick.
As I creatively approached the creation of Robin’s costume for this school stage play, I (once again) prescribed a strong faithfulness to the original Robin costume design worn by Dick Grayson in the comics mixed with an occasional helping of artistic license to help it come alive on stage.
As I see it, the purpose of Robin The Boy Wonder is to function as something of a startling distraction for hoods right before The Batman can efficiently take them out. There is something very unsettling and unnerving about a brightly costumed and masked little boy standing (all by himself) in a dark , creepy alley or rooftop… DARING thugs to pull their guns on him… while he giggles at them. To me, it kind of functions like the creepy little ghost girl seen standing in the hallways of the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining”.
With that in mind, I decided NOT to mute the tones of Robin’s uniform, and to allow them to function in all of their garish, primary-colored glory. I did this knowing that the colors would read nicely in the very dark, shadowy stage lighting of this “noir” stage play.
FACE MASK: I provided my friend Alyssa Ravenwood (of Ravenwood Leather Masks) with a face mask pattern I created in Adobe Photoshop. With this pattern, she laser-cut a beautiful black leather mask for this costume.
TUNIC VEST: I purchased some very nice crimson velvet satin and fashioned the tunic vest from a pattern of my own design. I hand-punched the 12 eyelets on the front of the vest and ran a loop of wide gold lace through them. I used a felt varsity letter “R” as the pattern for the insignia on the left breast. I made my own letter out of styrene plastic so that I could paint it and control the color match with other yellow items on his and Batman’s costumes.
GREENS: The t-shirt is store-bought, Haynes. Using a pattern I created, and some raw Kelly green leather I purchased, I commissioned the fabrication of the green gauntlets with my good friends at LaCrasia Gloves here in NYC. The shorts were purchased as simple green swim trunks. I ordered some circles (1500 pieces) to be die-cut out of the Kelly green leather skin I purchased. I glued the leather circles by hand onto the shorts in a chain-mail pattern. Starting with a simple pair of canvas Kung Fu slippers, I glue-laminated some left-over green material (from a spare T-shirt) onto the shoes and transformed them into pixie booties.
UTILITY BELT: This was made with a simple 1 inch wide black vinyl band. I fabricated the buckle out of assorted “found” items, including a large half-moon button, a plastic “O” ring, and some Plexiglas discs. They were spray painted in bright gold and then clear-coated.
CAPE: Working from my own pattern, I fashioned the collared cape using deep gold satin charmeuse imported from India. It has an incredible flow and drape to it.
On the fateful day that the students were scheduled to try on their costumes, I think I was even more excited than they were! To see students whom I have loved like my own sons and daughters, dressed as classic characters that I grew up with… it is a deeply emotional experience that I cannot quite put into words. You see, for my entire childhood, growing up in the 1970’s, I begged my mother to fabricate a Robin costume for me for Halloween. That was the one character that was never produced by the Ben Cooper costume company. Now here was my chance to do for my students what my mother was never able to do for me. I don’t mind telling you, I became misty-eyed as I saw the excitement in my student’s eyes as they tried on their costumes and embodied these characters!
Hours later, on a rooftop and a photo studio in NYC, I led the students, their siblings and their parents in a publicity photo shoot for our stage production “FATHERS OF THE DARK KNIGHT”. The goal of the shoot was to capture a series of images that would demonstrate the intended mood, tone, and production value of our stage play, and to utilize those images for production fund-raising efforts.
The evening marked the first costume fittings for students portraying THE BATMAN, BATGIRL, THE RIDDLER, CATWOMAN, and HARLEY QUINN… all of them wearing homemade outfits and props fabricated for this stage production!
The rooftop operation began shortly before nightfall. In no time at all, word spread throughout the neighborhood that Batman characters had been spotted on a local rooftop. Shortly after, dozens of stunned sightseers could be seen perched on neighboring rooftops, hoping for a glimpse of the Caped Crusaders and their arch villains. The young performers enjoyed their brush with fame, smiling and waving at the cheering spectators. But when night fell, we all set about the hard work of capturing several stunning publicity images!
Log on to the IMAGE GALLERY at www.fathersofthedarkknight.com to see a whole lot more!