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  • Writer's pictureeirlyswiggett

Costume as a language: what strategies can designers use in order to translate a meaning in costume?

Below is a copy of my undergrad dissertation. It's quite long but if anyone is interested, feel free to read!


Costume is often studied from a broad view of its history, how to design and make, its relation to fashion, and how to dress real bodies; but there are other interesting points to be considered. Practically, “...costume would seem to be a useless and even “silly” invention, its origins being of an aesthetic, ostentatious, and “immoral” nature.” (Komisarjevsky 1968: 1) as it can be seen as just another aesthetic feature of the stage.

However, costume for the stage has many more uses that are sometimes rendered oblivious to the audience (Mullin 1992:42). Critically there has been a shift in response to the costuming process in recent years and there has been more appreciation for a deeper reading of costume, its limitations and its possibilities. Reading costume from this level, and accepting that it is more than its “‘low-art’ counterpart of fancy dress.” (Hann 2017) brings about interesting questions. If costume can express a variety of things, as Mullin expresses, most significantly the expression of meaning, then how does a designer successfully implicate meaning into the costume?

At surface level, this seems like a relatively simple question, however, there are many ways to view the role of a designer as a conveyor of meaning. I wish to propose a metaphor: if the purpose of costume is to convey meaning, then we must view meaning as a language that the designer has to translate to the audience through their costume.

There are three main processes of this translation that relay and integrate, and when done well, create an interesting and successful language. First, there is the designer who has the power to create whatever language they want (adhering to the creative messages of the other aspects of the show) but who sometimes can be limited by coded design, such as Kabuki theatre. Second, there is the actor, who can greatly affect the overall message of the design simply by the choices they make towards their embodiment of the character - which can contrast to the message being translated through the design. Alternatively, the actor can enhance this meaning by creating a coherent embodiment. Finally, there is the position of the audience who, coming into the space, must accept their role as being open to new messages through the show, and the costume. Perhaps we can refer to these three groups as translator (designer), interpreter (actor), and receiver (audience) of the language to understand the metaphor of costume as a tool of translating meaning.

In this study I am not touching on the role of the other design processes or the director. This is partly due to the fact that in modern directing the process is much more collaborative, with all areas of the company interpreting their own messages; it can be argued that “...even the most autocratic and propositional of directors do not bring their “visions” to the stage unaided” (Billing 2012: 389). However, I am not refuting the work of directors themselves or suggesting that they are unnecessary. It is simply that it is not pertinent to my study. Some critics have already touched on the idea of a language in costume in accordance with archetypes, however, I believe this can be pushed further. “Accordingly, a ‘language of costume’, as with languages of sculpture or painting, can be reviewed through the isolation of archetypes in order to expose how the conventions of that language sustain an ideological predisposition towards particular readings or practices.” (Hann 2017).

With this in mind, this paper aims to explore further into a study of costume as a language that will focus on the discussion of two processes of design: one of complete freedom (which I refer to as ‘artful’) and one that is embedded in codes. I am focussing on these two design processes as I believe they both represent different features of costume and can be used interestingly, for different reasons. The artful design is one I have coined to highlight designs that step away from the boundaries of everyday costumes and instead promote interesting conversations and questions. Coded designs, in this essay, represent costumes that are created with traditional techniques; playing on the audiences awareness of costume in relation to presupposed meaning. Furthermore, how these two processes are affected by or affect the designer, actor, and audience in order to explore if one design process is a more successful tool of translation.


How does a designer create meaning in their language?

Costume, as a tool, can convey a variety of messages if the designer works successfully both as an individual and as part of the production team. In general, theatre makers will agree that translating meaning to the audience can be done through many different processes, such as acting, lighting, costume, and the script itself. Specifically with costume, the designing process can be narrowed to two forms, both of which work at negotiating the characteristics and meaning simply by being a form of the costuming process (Bech & Hann 2014:5).

One way the costuming process can be expressed is through codes. For example, if the designer decides to code the costume through colour, style or theme etc, the translation can “spread ideas” quickly and clearly to the audience (Barbieri 2017: xx). Alternatively, designers can take creative control by using artful designs which creates a discussion for the audience between the language of meaning and the costume. As Barbieri expresses, costume is a process that can take many forms that represent the physical embodiment of thoughts (Barbieri 2017: xx). The most important debate that comes out of these design processes is also one that founds the basis of costuming overall; is the role of the designer to create reality on stage?

With the latter of these two design processes, the discussion is based upon the idea of a designer being creatively minded whilst successfully keeping a sense of reality. I propose that to understand a costume designer’s purpose and best form of designing is to also understand what the purpose of costuming is overall. Many critics argue that costume in the theatre is mostly used as a re-creation of reality, that theatre is a “social reflection” of our everyday lives (Komisarjevsky 1968: 19). We all live in clothes, therefore, if theatre is a kind of reality then so is the design (Green 1966:3). Whatever form a costume takes it is still a form of clothing and thus, surely it must represent some kind of reality. What we all wear and how we wear these clothes can affect the way we move and represents who we are as individuals, a costume must embody this too (Green 1966:3-4). Therefore, if a costume does not represent this reality and instead distances itself from what audiences are ‘fluent’ in, then does it even fulfill its purpose as part of theatre’s universal aim to be a way of reflecting everyday life through creative storytelling?

Perhaps to artful designers, using costume as a “dynamic” tool of translation is a way of making “space speak” in order to change spectatorship reaction and to push audiences to their limits (Hannah 2014:21). Artful designers may find that making “space speak” is more important than creating reality, as more meaning can be drawn from the language as it contains more messages than just everyday clothes. With translation in mind, how does the artful designer successfully allow their audience to understand their idiosyncratic language? In ‘The Translators Task’, Benjamin defines different ways of translating and sharing knowledge successfully to the reader. Of most interest is the description of “critical epistemology” which represents “the true relationship between original and translation”. Essentially, there is no “objective knowledge” in the process of translating. We cannot argue to have pertained any sense of true knowledge of the original language and thus cannot argue that a perfect replica of the language must be created. If the audience, as the receiver of the translation, understands that translation is subjective and can be reimagined in many different ways then they must also accept unique and artful designs. By comparison; if a script was translated word for word from French to English then the English audience would be reading the exact replica but the likelihood of the language being easy to read or even understandable is very low. Therefore, if a designer (as translator) was to reimagine the language creatively but clearly, artful design suggests a technique that uses these two skills in balance to translating meaning (Benjamin 2012:77).

As costume designers rely heavily on meaning to portray a message in their creations, it can often be hard for audiences to “grasp” their reasoning for making certain design decisions (Appiah 2012:332). There is a relation, perhaps, with artful design and audience understanding, the more complex the art the harder it is to translate. Thus, some designers choose to apply codes, by taking characteristics and the play’s meaning, literally, in order to make the translation as literal as possible. By applying codes to each character or the overall design (such as the Montagues (blues) and the Capulets (oranges) wearing their respective colours in Romeo and Juliet), it allows the audience to recognise simple and clear choices. It is easy to see the success of some coded designs by their longevity. Romeo and Juliet is one example of that succession, however there is a far more traditional version of coded design that can be seen in Kabuki theatre. This form of theatre, though different to other variations of coded theatre, is a traditional and unique kind of design. The costumes were designed specifically for each character and actors spend years training in one role in order to successfully fulfill the part (Shaver 1966:24). In terms of the design, little has been done to change it and thus, the audience, and all participating, will be aware of what each character represents and who they are in the story (Shaver 1966:53).

There are similarities between Kabuki and other design techniques used in coded theatre. For example, there are certain characteristics we can recognise in designs based on a traditional character such as the clown, the dame, fairytale characters etc. These simple but effective design decisions are successful forms of translations.

As Appiah (2012) suggests with his example of an English speaker uttering “it is a lovely sunny day” to a fellow English speaker. This translation is simple but clear as the speaker has presented their desired meaning by using an easily understandable form of language and adjectives. Even if it wasn’t “a lovely sunny day” the receiver will still understand that the sentence is a clear statement even if it doesn’t relate to the surrounding environment. The speaker clearly understands what the receiver needs to be able to translate the meaning in the sentence. Therefore, I suggest that that if codes in costume are created in the same way as a conversation (the designer is the English speaker of the sentence and the audience is the English receiver), then it is reasonable to understand why some designers choose to follow codes. However, this is only a simple form of translation and the audience must be aware of the presupposed codes (fluent in the language), Appiah goes on to call these “literal translations” (Appiah 2012:334). Furthermore, coded costumes can be seen as rendering the designer redundant. If characters have presupposed designs as a result of audience needs or the play conventions (pantomimes are a useful example), then costume becomes simply a matter of recreating these codes. In fact, can a coded piece of work even be designed?

This suggests a designer’s autonomy can be limited or even removed if the show is based upon traditional characters. However, it is unlikely in practice that a show will ever have all the characters in coded designs, as it perhaps leads to a too literal language. “When seeking insight into a work of art or an art form, it never proves useful to take the audience into account.” (Benjamin 2012:75). Perhaps the best way to understand the degree to which a designer has freedom can be found in audiences relation to the costume, in the same way a translator of a text will not ignore the needs of their reader. A designer must find the balance between a literal translation and an objective language (critical epistemology) in order to encourage the audience to translate the meanings. Benjamin (2012) also states that things should be “untranslatable to a certain degree...” (76) which furthers the idea that the designer has the autonomy to create something idiosyncratic rather than following codes which can patronise the audience and actually limit their ability to take a creative role in the theatre space. If we consider the audience as part of the creative process, why create something that limits them? There is more possibility in creating a more artistically interesting conversation if a designer invites the audience in with design decisions that are both interesting and clear.


To what degree must the designer account for actor idiosyncrasy?

“Invisible to the audience were also the workers who produced the costumes of the miraculously floating choruses.” (Barbieri 2017: 37).The costume department is a collective of people working tirelessly to reach the same goal and who are perhaps not recognised in the same way other practical departments are. This is possibly because many people believe that a good costume design is supposedly one that the audience doesn’t recognise - if a costume design is bad it means you have noticed the things wrong with it. For example: if a designer created a set of 1960s costume for a working class male character but dressed him in high end 1960s fashion clothes, it would be noticed for the wrong reasons. However, this premise suggests that costume should not be noticed at all. The premise is that it is just the actor and the audience communicating and the costume is not necessary, or perhaps only used to present meaning in extreme situations. It relegates the process of translation through costume to an occasional role in the play. Thus, the translation process is rendered useless. Alternatively, it does highlight how important the actor is in communicating with the audience. If the costume is invisible to the audience then it is the actor who must communicate all meaning.

Whether audiences appreciate or even notice the costume, the actor can be successful in translating the meaning behind the design by understanding the language the costume designer created. A possible reason why audiences don’t recognise the costumes is because the actor is so good at interpreting the language: they appear to be the creator of the language themselves. Moreover, the designer can convey characterisation in their costumes by applying details in each design, so that when worn, “the individuality of the wearer can be revealed.” (Komisarjevsky 1968: 3). If the design was invisible then parts of the characterisation would be limited. Thus, the actor and the designer must work together when creating characterisation and meaning in order to complete the translation to the audience.

If we treat the actor as the interpreter of the translation they are undeniably an imperative in the translation process. Although actors can be trained, actor embodiment is the process of “unique body shapes” forming to a character and thus, designers cannot completely control the reception of the language due to actor idiosyncrasy (Seton 2010:8). As in Kabuki theatre, some form of performance is more controlled than others. Whether a designer is working both artfully or with codes, there will still be uncertainty with the reception of the language as a result of the actor’s role. Many actors add “interiority” (Billing 2012: 395) to their roles, much as a designer will add characteristics to the design in relation to the script in order to communicate with the audience through the actor. If an actor has interpreted the role differently to the designer then it is fair to argue that there will be a mistranslation of the meaning to the audience (Billing 2012: 395).

The next section will discuss whether actors can aid the successful translation by considering the way costuming processes are developed and embodied by the performers. If this embodiment is not successful (if the language is not understood), it will also consider how rehearsal processes or design choices can be made to complete the translation to the audience. There are many questions to consider when covering this topic, as Monks (2010) addresses:

“We could ask how these costumes imagined identity….. What gendered and sexual relations did the performances enact and how did costume make those enactments possible? We could ask what the costumes did to the audience’s sense of the actors presence…. We might ask what the costumes did to the audience’s sense of the actors’ bodies: what did they imagine the actors looked like without costumes on?” (Monks, A. 2010: 5).

Costume is “…a material object through which the wearer becomes other than their everyday self for the benefit of the community.” (Barbieri 2017: 2). It is not just used as a need to show meaning in theatre; that is not the only primary agenda. However, the main question that needs to be explored is “…whether they felt transformed... by the costumes they wore.” (Monks 2010: 1).

There is a comparison to be drawn between the role of the designer and the process of rehearsing a character. Often, until rehearsal processes start “... none of us actually have the vaguest idea what any of these texts contain.” (Billing 2012: 384). Before rehearsals start, the designer must have already analysed the text and created a costume that draws on the meanings in the play. In addition, the actor plays an important role in creating a reality to the text in relation to rehearsal techniques. It is possible to infer, however, that we cannot truly know what the meaning of a moment, character or play is until it is explored in rehearsals. Thus highlighting how an actor is an interpreter of the language.

Though they didn't create the language, the interpreter has a sense of the language by learning the meaning of their character in rehearsals when it has been designed artfully. In turn, the interpreter can then attempt to add an extra layer to the translation by realising the language in front of the audience; they add character specific gestures, intonation, personality traits that the audience can draw together with the costume.

A technique that can be used to make this interpretation stronger is to bring costumes into rehearsals: “Embedded within sensation and imagery, somatic costumes are designed to generate specific body-mind experiences.” (Dean 2016: 99). There are many different forms of designing but some designers will create costumes, or bring in parts of costumes, into rehearsals and evolve the design as the characterisation evolves. This process allows the designer and the actor to work creatively towards the same goal, assuring a clearer language as they write it together, bouncing off one anothers development. As a result, there is more chance for the audience to understand the language. If two out of three members in the translation process have a clear sense of the language, it assures that the final party will receive it successfully. “The translator’s task is to find the intention toward the language into which the language is being translated...” (Benjamin 2012:79) but this also applies to the interpreter.

These rehearsal techniques are successful in answering the questions of how the language can be created between actor and designer. What is still unclear is whether these processes are affected by a design being either coded or artful. Interestingly it has been noted that if costume is created to look interesting, be artful and unique then it becomes a tool of critical costume: “Critical costume practice offers a distinct method in which to study a body caught in the act of appearance.” (Hann 2017). Critical costumes, a costume that defies the norms of everyday costuming and instead presents a message, are most similar to my definition of artful designs. In relation to the translation process, a critical and artful costume will create a more interesting language for the audience to understand. However, if an artful costume makes the actor feel uncomfortable, as a result of feeling out of touch with the language, both the actor and the audience will have to work harder to understand the meaning. This relates to my earlier suggestion that the more the actor understands the easier it is for the audience to read the language of meaning. Even so, if the actor is not fluent in the language but the designer has placed codes for the audience to decipher, perhaps it is fair to suggest that the audience will still be able to decode some of the language. Thus, the easier the language is to translate as a result of codes, the easier it is for the actor to be free to move and act as they want: the costume does not hinder them, it only aids them. With artful costumes, the actor must have a strong sense of the language in order to complete the translation process. Overall, “… costume becomes an object in movement…” (Barbieri 2017: xx) as a result of the role the actor plays in interpreting the language, or said “object”, is incredibly useful to the audience. The designer should anticipate the actor in their language, perhaps by adhering to certain rehearsal techniques, in order to create a coherent design.


The audience and translation: the birth of the reader

As previously mentioned, it is necessary to consider audience reception in this exploration of translation in relation to costume. The audience does not have to completely understand the designer’s techniques or recognise their thought processes in designing unique costumes for each character, as the actor presents the language to them. However, it is important to clarify that audience interpretation is completely subjective and cannot be generalised. Thus, we must look at audience interaction in relation to the reception of the language of meaning more closely.

With meaning comes metaphors, and when attempting to translate these there are various ways to read them (Ricoeur 2004: 231). Within literature, a shift in the role of the audience (or reader) came about with post structuralism. Roland Barthes states in The Death of the Author “...the modern writer (scriptor) is born simultaneously with his text; he is in no way supplied with a being which precedes or transcends his writing, he is in no way the subject of which his book is the predicate...” (Barthes 1968:4). In modern writing, the text is not solely written by the author, instead it is a multitude of other texts and meaning. Barthes finishes his groundbreaking essay with the concept that the shift in the role of the author allows more autonomy to the reader: “...the birth of the reader must be ransomed by the death of the Author” (Barthes 1968:6). This is paralleled in modern theatre with the audience taking responsibility for translating the language hidden within the costume and, as a result, translating the meaning. In translation, there is a clear relationship between the “imagistic and spatial constructs” and the “spectators’ visual and spatial” understanding (Aronson n.d. :88) of these constructs. A question arises: how does a designer anticipate the relationship between audiences understanding of their imagistic constructs?

First, it is important to consider audience reaction and how to measure audience reception. It is easy to call audiences, ‘they’ - a group of people, “a collective” - but this “risks obscuring the multiple contingencies of subjective response, context, and environment which condition an individual’s interpretation of a particular performance event” (Freshwater 2009). To ignore the individual reaction of each audience member would take away their purpose as they bring their own personal reaction to the play, and the meaning, which lead to interesting conversations surrounding the topics in the play. Audience individuals all have their own understanding to the world around them. Therefore, when a play refers to “...political [or religious] beliefs, sexual preferences, personal histories, and immediate preoccupations to their interpretation of a production.” (Freshwater 2009) audiences relate differently in accordance to their sociocultural experiences. Audiences want to see different things in order to draw them in to the story, each audience member needs to feel represented. Not necessarily represented by the characters themselves, but by the ability to find a moment in the story to draw meaning from. Recognising that audiences need these specific moments says much about the “elusiveness” of measuring audience interaction with meaning, and with costume (Barbieri 2017:xxii). Does recognising this, however, make it harder for designers to create a language that all will understand, if all are seeking for a unique reaction? Ultimately, this relates back to the two processes of design - coded and artful - in relation to whether one is more successful at translating the meaning to audiences.

Coded costumes, as explained above, are used to clearly translate meaning to audiences using recognisable design techniques. A colour, though coded, may represent a multitude of meanings to individual audience members. Despite a costume designer’s use of the colour in their language, an audience member may decode it differently. This is not to suggest the designer has created an unsuccessful language. Colour is a useful example as many people have individual experiences with colours. To take the colour red as an example, this can highlight danger, desire, anger, lust, violence, power, or passion etc. If a designer were to use the colour red to represent a character as dangerous, but the audience read it as anger or power this is not a miscommunication. Instead, it highlights how meaning is transcendent to the language.

The most important thing to take from this is that the colour is translated in relation to the audience member’s personal interaction. Thus, one can argue that a coded language is not fully written until the audience views it. Audiences must be viewed as the third translator in the process of decoding meaning in costumes. Perhaps each party in the process (designer, actor, audience) can perceive the language meaning differently whilst still understanding the language as a whole. Audiences are aware that the designer has used the colour for a reason and the translation is completed by them formulating their own variation of the language. As Jakobson (2012) express, “transmutation...” (one of his three definitions of translation techniques) “ a translation “of verbal signs” through “nonverbal sign systems” (127). The designer uses costume, a “nonverbal sign system,,,”, as a “verbal sign system...” through codes such as colour which translate to the audience. The designers are literally creating a language through signs and they must be aware that audiences will each translate the language differently and individually.

However, a designer must be aware that codes can patronise the audience if they treat them as a whole, rather than individuals. If the designer strives to create a simple and clear translation by making no room for personal meaning then the audience has no freedom to relate to the piece. If an audience cannot draw meaning from the costume then there is the possibility that they will draw away from the whole play. In the earlier reference to costume being invisible, if a designer patronises the audience with one language, without room for personal relation, then the costume is noticed for the wrong reasons. For example, an audience member might think of a character differently to how the language within the costume aims to represent them. If the codes are more open to interpretation it allows the audience to be able to relate to them how they wish.

Of course, artful costumes can suggest a multitude of meanings due to the open-ended discussion they can often create. When a designer creates these costumes the concept is the strongest driving point, they look deeply into the traits of the character and try to express this through “nonverbal” systems. In contrast to coded work, an artful design may not use colour, or other techniques, in the way audiences may be used to. Thus, the audience is less likely to be patronised by the language it is much more complex with many possible meanings for audiences to personally relate with.

However, the designer must know the limit of this language. If the conversation is too open-ended, with few recognisable features in the costume, then the audience may struggle to relate to it for different reasons. In pantomime, the language of a dame character’s costume is created to draw out the humour in the overall show. For example, if a designer were to view this character more artfully, they may take away the traditional caricature nature of the costume, perhaps aiming to represent a different version of a ‘widow’. In turn, the audience may perceive the character differently and seperate themselves from the play as a whole if there are no recognisable parts of the costume to draw meaning from. However, audiences must also accept, if willing parties of the translation process, that meaning can be drawn and they should be active participants in the conversation created from the costume designer.

With artful costume designs, “…what the senses immediately tell us is not the truth about the object as it is apart from us, but only the truth about certain sense-data which… depends upon the relations between us and the object.” (Collins & Nisbet 2010:15). The artful design expresses meaning over recognisable codes in order to create a more interesting language. If the audience is unable to translate the language, it is not the fault of the designer but more a suggestion that the audience have not been as willing to take part in the translation process as the designer may have predicted.

For this part of the translation process there is a strong reliance on the unpredictable relationship between designer and audience. Essentially, it is hard to quantify how audiences will interpret the language, and it is hard to quantify how the designer will anticipate the audience. A designer, however, cannot presuppose an “”ideal” audience” (Benjamin 2012:75) as it renders the art unnecessary. The designer is using their costume as a tool to say something about the character, the play or the wider society; how it is received cannot be predicted due to audience individuality. Instead, the designer must view the audience as an extension of their design, the final translator rather than a receiver. Furthermore, designers may have different reasons for using different design techniques (codes or art) depending on how they want the audience to be an active translator.

The two forms of design create two types of translator. Coded design allows the audience to recognise meaning through techniques they are aware of whilst still allowing them to create their own interpretation. They translate a language already structured and try to find the recognisable words and syntax within it. For example, when abroad, tourists try to draw on similarities in the language when reading signs to be able to understand the language; they complete the final part of translation. Whereas, artful design allows the audience to create their own language based on a broader sense of meaning. They are given the tools to translate in relation to their own personal experiences, if willing. Depending on how the designer sees the role of the audience may affect the way they design the show.



Overall, there is undoubtedly a clear distinction between the translation of codes and of artful design and this distinction is also continued through to the audience. It is unclear as to which state form of designing is more successful at translating than the other as both appear to speak to the audience for different reasons. In addition, it is perhaps impossible to state the true impact of the designing processes due to the individuality and idiosyncrasy of the audience. Ultimately, the designer is able to implement many processes to aid the translation but as the audience is a subjective group made up of individuals there is no way to predict their understanding. The chosen design processes used allow the designer to assure the costume is successful at translating, both come with their own advantages and disadvantages.

In coded theatre it is clear that audiences are likely to be aware of these processes as they are replicated in all forms of theatre by many designers and it allows the audience to take an active role in the translation. That is not to say that we should disregard artful designs as they are successful tools of translation if you accept that audiences are open to reading new meanings within the theatre. It is important for the designer to recognise the actor within both of these processes - who can assure further translation in the effect of the costume by adding characterisation. It is fair to argue that the process a designer decides to use is integral to the overall translation of meaning within costume, as the chosen techniques affect the actor and the audience accordingly. A designer must make creative decisions that work within the show as a whole, but a good designer must be able to determine what is best for the actor and audiences as well. They must make a decision on whether to create an artful design or a coded design based on the relationship between all three elements. Furthermore, a good designer may be able to identify the positives and negatives of each designing process and strike a balance between the two.

Coded costumes play on visual aids, where the designer can create a language that the audience can translate by applying recognisable characteristics. However, if a designer wishes to create a coded costume due to its clear format, they must be aware of certain things. For example, a designer must try not to create a too literal translation as this not only disregards their own work but can go as far to patronise the audience. They must also, perhaps through rehearsal processes and design plates, make the actor aware of important codes so as not to confuse the language.

If a designer chooses to create an artful design they must be aware that the language must accept room for multiple translations and that their own translation may be read differently by the actors and the audiences. Designers choosing this method of design should also be aware that working in rehearsals can aid the language further as it allows one on one development with the actor. They can see how the language changes in relation to the way the actor has perceived the character and adapt accordingly. This design process is most successful when audiences are willing to become active participants in the translation process and there is less risk of the audience feeling patronised. However, if a designer takes away all recognisable features of a character it can cause the audience to feel distanced from the material.

Designing is a process of implementing techniques, as seen in relation to the rehearsal process and the role of the actor, and it is important to recognise that a designer can cange and develop their language skills over time. There is not necessarily one single meaning to be presented in the language - there are many. A designer must be able to anticipate the needs of the other translators (actors and audiences) and create a language that is open for interpretation: this can be done in both forms of design. In addition, a designer can work closely with the actor to build a cohesive language but must still anticipate the unique and individual audience relation to the language. A costume designer must be recognisant of the audience in the sense that each language created says something new to each member and thus they must allow the audience to find the interesting meanings in their costumes.


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