I have been exploring The Metamorphic Costume through the bibliography of Catalina de Erauso (The Lieutenant Nun), published in M. and G. Stepto's English translation in 1996, as a catalyst to highlight the costume as a tool for meaning; as more than fashion. Alongside a script, a character, action, and other theatrical devices the costume can transcend from being merely clothing and instead become a creative and sustainable tool.
Catalina was born in Spain in 1585, after growing up in a convent she escapes just before she is about to make her vows to God. She disguises herself as a man and lives unrecognised. She ends up in South America, becomes a soldier and then a lieutenant, she mistakenly kills her brother in a duel, gets into gambling before finally making her vows to God later in life and returning to Spain. She is gifted a hefty pension by the King of Spain after revealing her duties performed to her country and she travels to Rome to confess to the Pope. He grants her permission to live out the rest of her days dressing as a man, and she does just this.
Her life is spent constantly upkeeping her disguise and The Metamorphic Costume naturally fits into this. Catalina begins her life as a nun and is constantly adapting her disguise and even returns to some of her old clothes. The key to this, however, is not in the process of her disguise but the fact it is always Catalina. She is the core and personality behind every disguise.
Picking the disguises
When I first read her autobiography I noted down 33 times it is explicitly mentioned (or insinuated) that Catalina changes her disguise. I studied the story and highlighted 3 specific disguises that are key to her development in her life, as well as being key to highlighting the opportunity for metamorphosis in presenting her story theatrically. The three disguises (shown in this sketch) are: the Nun, the first male disguise, and the Lieutenant.
Making a Script
I’m not a scriptwriter, but I’ve created a short one woman show that summarises Catalina’s story. The script highlights specific moments that are important to expressing Catalina’s changes of disguise. It is written in a casual and conversational style to create trust between Catalina and her audience. This sets the tone for an intimate and open theatre style where it would not be unusual for Catalina to reveal her many hidden disguises on stage.
There are multiple ways to go about an experimental process but I explored mine through the key traits needed to represent each ‘disguise’ successfully. Once the character was clear in the design I isolated the key features of each disguise to explore whether this aspect alone could represent the needs of the story. The final step of the process was exploring how it might be possible to begin exploring metamorphosis between the key features of the disguises.
The Making Process
The making process began as a collaborative discussion with fellow costumiers about various metamorphic possibilities. After these discussions I began to explore 2 design ideas. I decided to use standard neutral fabric for this beta version of the costume to allow the process of transformation to be the main focus. There is some character decoration but the aim is that it is open ended so it can easily be drawn from for inspiration. So, I made a skirt to highlight how Catalina turns from Nun to Man and made a shirt, to highlight how Catalina turns from Man to Lieutenant.
The Costume in Action
These pictures and videos show both the skirt and the shirt in the process of metamorphic transformation.