A fresh take on iconic French Revolution figures and elaborate 18th century costumes is coming to the Hippodrome, the latest installment in the theater’s #HippAtHome online series.
The feminist-driven comedy “The Revolutionists,” written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Stephanie Lynge, is set in French Revolution Paris and follows four historical women as they navigate themes of feminism, activism, democracy and art. Central figures of the production include Queen Marie Antoinette, journalist and assassin Charlotte Corday, playwright Olympe de Gouges and Haitian activist Marianne Angelle.
Hippodrome marketing coordinator and graphic designer Dee Natour said she believes “The Revolutionists” is a timely and relevant art piece for the Gainesville community and beyond. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, she said the show will provide needed comedic relief and entertainment while also exploring consequential social and political themes people can resonate with.
“It’s very funny, the dialogue in it is so witty, and it’s relevant,” Natour said. “It's kind of like one of those comedies that also is masked with a very serious and important message.”
“The Revolutionists” was originally set to premiere in February, but due to COVID-19 related delays, the show will now be coming in June. In place of “The Revolutionists,” the Hippodrome is streaming “A Show Must Go On,” a Cabaret-style performance, Feb. 12-28.
The production of “The Revolutionists” has been considerably impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Natour said. The actors and production crew have been working within a social “pod” and getting tested regularly for pandemic safety precautions. Rehearsals have taken place over Zoom and online, with safety practices regulated by the Actors’ Equity Association, Kelly said. When one person on the team tested positive for COVID-19, the theater decided to halt rehearsals and move the show back to June, Natour said. Over the next few months, a full run of the show will be recorded, edited and then streamed June 7-13.
“Doing a virtual production is more like making a film than theater, but we still get to tell great stories with great talent,” artistic director Stephanie Lynge said. “I think The Revolutionists is a great story — it's about women kicking ass and taking their futures into their own hands. It's exciting, funny, and inspiring.”
Though historically based, the production blends in elements of modernity in theme and aesthetic design, Hippodrome resident costume designer Clara Jean Kelly said.
“The way we designed the play, we decided that we wanted it to be sort of dream-like,” Kelly said. “And historically inspired, but not 100% accurate — we wanted it to be kind of off-putting.”
Incorporating a blend of historic and modern elements into her designs, Kelly said she researched not only historic silhouettes and designs, but also the characters, their writings and stories in order to build costumes that truly reflected their characters.
“The thing I really like about [costume design] is creating a character,” she said. “You read the text and there’s sort of a psychology aspect to it of like why does this character act the way they do, and how does that affect their dress?”
Applying that research, Kelly said she then redesigned elements of the costumes to modernize and personalize the characters for the show, implementing designs such as see-through or inverted garments.
Kelly also had to alter her design process in creating costumes for the screen rather than the stage, the costume designer said.
“I’m kind of a one-woman team,” she said. “Because of COVID, we can’t have a lot of people on set, we can’t have people in the costume shop, we can’t have fittings like we normally would.”
For the four costumes designed, Kelly said she focused more detail into the shoulder, head and hair elements for an on-screen audience.
Though theater has been considerably hit by the pandemic, Kelly said the industry is built to adapt to these challenges.
“The theater is the only institution in the world which has been dying for four thousand years and has never succumbed,” Kelly referenced a John Steinbeck quote. “I think that this time period really speaks to that,” she said.
Hippodrome staff said the theater is very intent on safety, and that regular in-person shows are still likely a distant reality. In addition to virtual performances, Kelly said the theater may consider outdoor shows in the future. Regardless, she is optimistic about the industry’s perseverance and hopes this period will foster a greater appreciation for the arts.
“The theater as a group of people, as a community … they really work hard to do their art. And I think that not having it for so long for so many people in the community – I think they will appreciate their art a little more, and I think the public will appreciate it more,” Kelly said. “I’m hoping for a big renaissance of all the arts in general when all of this is over.”
In the meantime, tickets for the June streaming of "The Revolutionists" are now available for purchase on the Hippodrome’s website.
Contact Valeriya Antonshchuk at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VAntonshchuk.
Valeriya Antonshchuk is a junior telecommunication-news and political science student at the University of Florida. As a news assistant for the Avenue, Valeriya covers Gainesville's entertainment and culture news weekly. Valeriya was originally born in Ukraine and speaks fluent Russian.