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darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:03 AM

Costumes for a High School Stage Play
Greetings gang!

My name's Roberto, and I work as a High School Performing Arts instructor here in New York City.

I wanted to share some costumes and other production material that I've designed and put together for a stage play that I am writing and working to produce and direct with several of my student actors over the summer.

The play is semi biographical, focusing on the collaboration of young cartoonist / artist Bob Kane and his writing partner Bill Finger in 1939 as they created The Batman mythology. The play frequently shifts to the world of fiction as the creation of the two young men comes to life on other parts of the stage...

I hope you enjoy. :yay:

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:04 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

My personal preference for the costume designs of Bat-characters leaned strongly toward the so-called classic “Bronze Age” of DC Comics (published between the early 1970’s through the early 1990’s.)

But as I already knew, there would still be a lot of room for personal interpretation of the costuming details once I got started on design and construction.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:04 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

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 cheap, 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 be strategically 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.

But it’s the primitive, tribal aspect of the costume that 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 and instead went with a charcoal grey Supplex material with a matte finish. But my motivation was also firmly intended to stay true to the color scheme of the costume 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 sillhouetted 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.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:06 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

Obviously, The Batman cowl has undergone numerous design changes in the comic books over the years. As it happens, I am a fan of the long-eared cowl design, since it appears most Bat-like and imposing to me. It also more accurately reflects the character’s appearance during his earliest years (late 1930’s – early 1940’s), and my preferred era, the Bronze Age of comics (early 1970’s – early 1990’s).

A licensed, store-bought cowl was not even an option for me since virtually all that was available were warped rubber cowls based on the designs from the recent Chris Nolan films or the early Tim Burton films.

What was called for was a clean, straight, and sharp rendition of the cowl as seen in the comic books.

Fortunately for me, premiere cowl sculptor (and all-around nice guy) Shawn Reevz produces a stunning cowl that was PERFECT for what I needed.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:08 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

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 16 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 used to create the shorts for the uniform.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:09 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

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.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:10 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

Conventional wisdom holds that The Batman utility belt is either styled as an ammunition pouch belt OR as the more modern tube vials belt.

I saw no reason why the belt could not be both. Certainly, the costume designers of the 1960’s Adam West Batman costume, and 1980’s artist Norm Breyfogle felt the same way.

My goal was to create a utility belt that was VERY faithful to the comic book belt, combining design elements from the various belts that appealed to me over the years. But at the same time, I wanted a belt that reflected some of my subtle creative license. I knew I wanted the belt and all of its accessories to be colored in a bright golden yellow, just like in the comics. In this instance, I found it un-acceptable to “interpret” the color of the belt’s hard items (Re; belt buckle, tube vials) as polished brass or metallic gold in tone (as with Adam West’s buckle).

I built everything upon a basic golden yellow pleather waistband that would fasten from behind. The pleather ammo pouches were cannibalized from a different source and then re-colored to match the golden yellow of the waist band. I purchased plexiglass tubes and half-moon end caps from a local supplier and got to work on building the storage vials that are so characteristic of The Batman’s belt. After sanding, and priming the assembled tube vials, I coated each one with 10 coats of Tamiya Chrome Yellow spray enamel, and two clear gloss coats.

The Batman’s classic Bronze Age square utility belt buckle featured a latch tab off to one side that never really appealed to me. I preferred a simpler, slicker, more streamlined buckle, and therefore employed some creative license to create a gently curved, large rectangular buckle with a thick, prominently raised border edge. I hand-fashioned the main buckle shape out of sheets of ABS hard plastic. I then used white styrene strips to build the buckle’s thick outer border with fine styrene rods as the border’s raised lip. White squadron putty filled the seams on everything. And after a good sanding prep and primer, I shot the buckle with 12 coats of the Tamiya Chrome Yellow, and 2 coats of gloss clear.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:12 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

Batman costumers everywhere have been talking about a wonderful new boot that has been commericially available for a while, very affordable, and is perfect for dressing as The Dark Knight. Funtasma’s Pleaser “Gotham 100” boots did NOT disappoint when I bought them, and with the quality that they were made with, I would have GLADLY paid double what I did to own them…and even THAT would have been a bargain! I loved the generous length of the boot shaft, coming up to just below my knee cap (I am 6’ 2”), 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 did spend an additional $60 to have the tops of the boots professionally re-shaped into a more extreme “Batman Point”. But the final look of the boots made it SO worth the money and effort!

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:14 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

There were some VERY specific things that concerned me when I set out to create the chest bat emblem for this costume:

Firstly, I intended to use the “new look” concept Batman chest emblem ushered in by Julius Swartz in 1964. This was the one that featured the black bat encased within a golden yellow oval. I found this far more visually appealing than just the large black bat against the dark grey tights (which I knew would be tough to see on stage with spooky shadowy lighting). The yellow oval provided a nice contrast for the bat to be seen and gave the uniform some added visual interest with a splash of color picked up from the prominent utility belt.

Secondly, I needed the emblem to be fashioned out of something that would be flexible and TOUGH, and also be VERY sharp and clean in its presentation.

Thirdly, the size and position of the chest emblem was also a consideration. For example, I always found Adam West’s bat emblem to be slightly small and positioned too low on his chest. The optimal size and position would have to be experimented with.

Fourthly, the specific design of the Bat-silhouette itself would need some “adjustment” on my part since I did not really care for the Adam West design, nor any particular bat-shape from the comics.

Lastly, I wanted this chest emblem to have a subtle sculpted look rather than a flat, printed one. To me, that meant that the emblem would have to be “assembled” and painted in separate layers, and then combined.

I began with an Adoble Photoshop rendering of my own preferred design for the shape of the bat silhouette. I encased it within an oval, ensuring an even border space all around the bat. I then printed out my design and checked its size and positioning on my planning mannequin until I was happy.

Next, I used my printout as a pattern to cut a template of the basic oval out of thin, white, flexible styrene. I spent several hours sanding the edges smooth and even. I then used the same pattern to cut a template of the bat itself , also out of the white flex styrene. I sanded the edges perfectly round and smooth and checked the fit against the base oval. Perfect fit. Once the two parts were painted separately and then glued together, the final emblem was stunning, with an edge to the bat that rested in raised relief on the surface of the base oval.

The emblem is permanently affixed to the grey bodysuit with 3M spray adhesive. Strong stuff!

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:14 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

I’d like to get something out of the way before I get too deeply into discussing my creation of the Robin outfit.

I have always loved this character… the original Richard 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 depictions of Robin done either on TV or in theatrical films. To my mind, he has yet to be performed as he was originally presented in the comic books when he was introduced… as a laughing daredevil boy wonder COUNTERPOINT to The Batman’s deadly seriousness.

All of the actors have been far too old to portray a 13 year old Boy Wonder. And their portrayals of the character have been way off the mark. Even Burt Ward (back in the 1966 TV series) played a basically high-strung, (borderline) angry youth who was ready to spit venom at every villain in sight. And he was an age-inappropriate 20 years old at the time while wearing those pixie shoes.

It is my firm intention to remedy this matter within my own stage play by portraying Robin not only as The (classic) BOY Wonder that he was always intended to be, but also as the “laughing daredevil” that we have virtually NEVER seen depicted by any other actor.

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 Richard Grayson mixed with an occasional helping of artistic licence 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 night time alley or rooftop DARING you to pull your gun on him… while he giggles as you. 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 also found myself taking some cues (in terms of textures) from Burt Ward’s 1966 costume which was actually very well- designed and executed.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:15 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

I purchased some very nice hat felt to fashion Robin’s mask. I created a pattern based on the face shape of the young student I cast to play the Boy Wonder. After the mask shape and eye holes were cut, they were treated with watered-down white glue to prevent fabric edge fray later on. The mask fastens in the back with a small Velcro strip.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:16 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

Your mother always said that your greens were good for you!

Well... they certainly are for Robin's costume... when done properly.

I was absolutlely determined that ALL the green portions of Robin’s costume would match each other EXACTLY… no matter what. One of the things I never liked about Burt Ward’s (otherwise excellent) suit was the mis-matched greens (Re; gloves much darker than T-Shirt and shorts. Pixie shoes in a slightly different shade than everything else.)

I was fortunate enough to locate three fabric textures that matched color shades perfectly, and then fashioned all green garments with the three of them. I began with a Hanes Kelly Green boy’s cotton T-shirt, and I matched it PERFECTLY with some Kelly Green lycra spandex and some Kelly green calf skin leather that I purchased from a supplier.

I went to LeCrasia Gloves here in NYC and brought them a full pattern I had created for Robin’s little gauntlets (based off of a ladies evening glove with an extended gauntlet cuff sleeve). I supplied the Kelly green leather, and three days later I picked up a stunningly beautiful pair of custom-made green leather gauntlets!

The Kelly green Lycra Spandex I found was intended for fashioning Robin’s green shorts. And even though they matched the cotton green t-shirt and leather gloves perfectly, they also had that excessive “Halloween costume” shine that I really did not care for. Under certain lighting conditions, the shorts actually appeared brighter than the cotton T-shirt and finished leather gloves.

The truth is, I expected that situation, but I did not care. I intended to alter the shorts in a way that few Robin costumers have done in the past: I planned to add the “scaley” chain-mail pattern to the surface of the shorts (as seen in the comics) using hundreds of ¾ inch circles die-cut from the Kelly Green leather I bought and glued directly to the spandex.

The job took about 5 days, but when I was finished, the shorts had a richness of detail that was incredible!! And of course, they perfectly matched the previously-made gloves!

The original plan was to make the little pixie shoes out of the same Kelly green leather as the gloves using a professional boot-maker here in New York City. However, I discovered to my dismay that custom-made shoes were well beyond my budget for this project!

I got creative and looked for a way to fashion the booties myself quickly, and inexpensively. I managed this by purchasing 3 pairs of basic black canvas kung-fu slippers for $7 each. I then used some extra green T-shirts that I purchased as raw fabric to laminate the kung-fu slippers and make them into flared pixie shoes.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:16 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

I purchased some really nice thick crimson red cotton polyester satin blend fabric and fashioned Robin’s tunic vest out of a pattern I originated. I added ¼ inch eyelets for looping yellow laces, and a felt letter “R” attached over a black silk screened circle on the left lapel. I designed the tunic as a pull-over garment with a small zipper and eye-hook in the rear neck.

Once again, being wholly faithful to Robin’s costume seen in the Silver Age comics, I limited the number of yellow cross laces on his tunic to six (6) (a nice, even, average number as seen in most renderings of the character during that period).

I realize that when Robin was first introduced in the 1940's (comics' Golden Age), the first drawings of the character depicted many laces on the tunic.

And the live action versions of Robin’s costume (like Burt Ward’s in the 1960’s) depicted the number of laces on the tunic up to as many as a dozen.

However, to my eyes, this many laces visually clutters the garment and vertically lengthens its look, while at the same time, making it appear less child-like.


A design aspect of Burt Ward’s TV Robin costume that really appealed to me was his heavy satin cape. It was a no brainer to me to fashion the cape for this costume out of a similar-looking material. It’s the one area that made sense to me to have some sheen and gloss to off-set the predominantly matte textures the uniform.

In the end, I selected a double-weighted, Gold silk charmeuse fabric imported from india to make Robin's cape. None of these photos demonstrate the cape's stunning drape, flow, and elegance. Like all of my cape patterns, this cape is made with a fully-formed shoulder seam, so it rests very neatly upon the shoulder like a tailored garment. In addition, it is even capable of spreading into full-winged glory.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:17 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play

This was one area where I was grateful for the design simplicity of the comic book belt. Burt Ward’s 1966 TV show belt featured six brass tube vials that were not a part of the comic book belt design, and that, frankly, I found unnecessary.

The comic book belt was basically a clean leather band with a round golden brass buckle. Two small vertical rods flanked the round buckle on the left and right sides.

Using “found” items… a combination of flat and rounded plastic ring discs, and a large half-moon button… I assembled together a beautiful buckle design that employed artistic license and still stayed true to the final belt as seen in the comics. The assembled buckle was sanded, primered and painted with 8 coats of bright gold enamel and 2 coats of gloss clear.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:17 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
The Batman and Robin The Boy Wonder uniforms on the planning mannequins.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:21 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
As you can probably imagine, casting this School play with a group of high school and middle school kids from The Bronx has been... a challenge to say the least.

But the kids I've cast so far are hard-working, excited, and VERY enthusiastic for our production to go on!

Our first costume fitting happened in February of this year. Here are some photos of the characters we've cast so far:

The Batman (Age 17)
Robin The Boy Wonder (Age 12)
Catwoman (age 17)
Nightwing (age 16)

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:25 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
The Classic Caped Crusaders

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:26 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
Presenting BATGIRL (Age 15)

darklord1967 05-30-2012 05:33 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
Some Production Set Designs I created for some of our sets:

First up is my set design for Bob Kane's Studio Apartment... the drab, un-decorated space of a 1939 artist bachelor...

Here is the set design for theGotham City Rooftop... site of a considerable amount of Batman action in the play.


The BATMOBILE (14 feet long and over 6 feet tall)!

Rooftop of Police Headquarters
(featuring a full-sized, 6 foot tall, light-up BAT SIGNAL Searchlight prop):


The Joker's Ha-Hacienda

danlav05 05-30-2012 06:16 PM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
I love that you 've gone for this look rather than a more contemporary one - it really brings a nostalgic vibe. Cannot wait to see the villain costumes if you do them.

The biographical element of the play is also something different - would you consider videoing the producitions for those who won't see it?

Either that or do a fanfilm? The costumes are very very good. Robin in particular remnds me too of how Alex Ross paints him.

darklord1967 05-30-2012 07:32 PM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
Shooting video of this play is a virtual certainty. That I can promise you.

The villain costumes are being developed right now, and i'm doing it in the same vein that the heroes were done in.

I never thought about the Alex Ross connection with the Robin costume, but that is certainly flattering!!

danlav05 05-31-2012 04:05 PM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
Very good - your Joker should be interesting as he had a very distinct look in the Bronze Age comics, specially with that chin!!

Rdmaul 05-31-2012 05:44 PM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
This is so awesome!

darklord1967 05-31-2012 08:02 PM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
Thanks guys! I'm still actually working to cast a High School-aged actor to play The Joker for this play. But I must say, since I am trying to be as faithful and traditionalist as possible with the look and portrayals of these characters, The Clown Prince of Crime is going to be TOUGH AS HECK to cast! The manic energy, and acting ability required for that role is going to be off the chart!

I just found a terrific young High School Sophmore to play Edward The Riddler Nigma, and I am working to costume him within the next month.

But The Joker and The Penguin are both being saved for last because of how difficult they are going to be to cast.

3rdstone 06-07-2012 05:09 AM

Re: Bat-Character Costumes for a High School Stage Play
As once as a kid reading the early 70:s and early 50:s Batman comics (from my father's old comics collection, I always liked that version of the Batmobile), I'm glad to see these classic and timeless designs.

Great job on the details of these costumes, and looking forward to see the villain's costumes later on. The story itself involving Kane and Finger of course sounds very interesting too.

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